Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Darn Road and Abbey Craig

Saturday 27th May 2017

Returning to Scotland I arrived in the city of Stirling early afternoon having travelled up during the morning so with several hours spare I took the opportunity to take a walk around wonderful Stirling. To start I caught a train away from Stirling just a few miles up the line to Dunblane where I found a signposted path called the Darn Road, an ancient trackway that has been in use since Roman times that came highly recommended. In the days leading up to this holiday the weather had been very warm, but by the time I reached Stirling it was trying to rain and soon after I set off along the Darn Road the heavens really opened prompting me to don all of my waterproofs. The Darn Road doesn’t start well as after a very brief passage through trees it passes along the edge of a golf course, which are not the most relaxing places to walk as you have to careful about stray balls. Eventually the path leaves the side of the golf course and begins to descend into the woodland that lines the Allan Water.

The scenery now improved dramatically as covering the woodland floor were bluebells, which are always a welcome sight even though these were well past their peak and going to seed. I had a little wander around this delightful wood, but didn’t stray too far from the Darn Road, which had started descending steeping into Kippenrait Glen. Following the road down I crossed the Wharry Burn and continued along the Darn Road as it follows the side of the Allan Water. The path was lined with many different flowers of varieties that I am not familiar and some that I could identify like bird’s-foot-trefoil and stitchworts. The great abundance of flowers was something special and particularly as many of them are flowers that I don’t see abundantly in Leicestershire, which makes coming to Scotland that little but more special. There are many paths that descend the steep bank to the river and despite the rain I took advantage of these several times to take a look up and down the tree-lined Water of Allan and enjoy the pleasant surroundings.

I enjoyed the wild look to the river and the Darn Road that follows it south, especially at the point where the path drops steeply into a narrow gorge to cross Cock’s Burn. There was a strong spell in this damp ravine of garlic from the ramsons, however these were also going to seed just as the bluebells had been. Unfortunately the hot weather before this holiday had brought many plants to flower earlier than would be usual in this part of the country and many of these spring flowers were now going to seed, but the gorgeous, pungent smell of garlic still lingered. Eventually, and all too soon, this fabulous walk through lovely woodland came an end as I emerged into the town of Bridge of Allan, and at about the same time the rain also finally stopped, but that had failed to dampen my enthusiasm for this great path. I was tempted to turn around and head back along the Darn Road to Dunblane, but instead I continued along the main road through the town and towards Stirling.

A prolonged walk along this road was lightened by the many colours of the rhododendron bushes that seemed to be everywhere. Often when I come to Scotland at the end of May rhododendron is only just coming into flower, but the recent warm weather had ensured that I now had a fabulous display, while ahead of me the National Wallace Monument stood patriotically at the top of Abbey Craig. When I was in Stirling four years ago I headed straight towards Abbey Craig as soon as I got there and now I couldn’t resist coming off the main road to once again explore the woodland that covers this prominent rock. Rather than heading straight up to the monument I came off the direct path and took a route through the northern slopes of the woodland following blue markers. Unfortunately the woodland seemed to be past its best, with the warm weather once again to blame, as there was now a dense covering of leaves that was blocking out all light under the trees and putting a stop to the woodland flowers that are always so appealing in spring. Just as I had seen on the Darn Road earlier the bluebells and ramsons had all gone to seed as their brief opportunity in the sun had ended.

Four years ago winter had kept a hold on Scotland well into the spring so that by the time I was in Stirling, at the end of May, the bluebells were at their peak producing a fabulous display in these woods. Instead, this year I had a rather dark and dreary walk through the woodland all the way to the eastern end before climbing once more along the top of the ridge towards the monument with steep drops down the cliffs to my left. Through the trees there were murky views towards Stirling with the castle standing on its rocky plinth, but the views in that direction were not great however better views could be gained along the ridge at the overgrown crags that make up the rocky spine of Abbey Craig. Foxglove and broom intermingled with the short, exposed trees and provided some colour where under the trees it was all dark green. The walk continued up the ridge until eventually I reached the National Wallace Monument where a short, sharp descent brought me back onto the main road so that I could continue my walk back into Stirling, stopping off at Stirling Bridge where Wallace had his famous victory over the English in 1297.

Four years ago when I was in Stirling I had got into the habit of walking around the city walls and exploring the steep wooded slopes below Stirling Castle. This had been the highlight of my time in Stirling and the main reason why I was happy to return to Stirling this year. Once more I went out after dinner to take in the awesome crags that hold up the castle rock and walk along the great paths around this old part of Stirling. The weather on my short walk along the Darn Road may have been poor, but it held during the rest of my weekend in Stirling ensuring that I was able to enjoy another great time in this awesome and historic city of Stirling.

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