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Autumnal Rambles Among The Scottish Mountains
The Ochils, Alva, &c., in 1849


Many years ago, I visited Clackmannanshire and the Ochils as a pedestrian; but, owing to want of time, could not get to the top of Bencleuch, from which there is the most splendid view of the Grampians that can be conceived. It was my lot to repeat my visit a few weeks ago, under more propitious atispices, when I was gratified to the utmost, by being on the summit of the highest of the Ochils on a very fine day indeed. Along with two young gentlemen, I left the Manse of Alva, one of the most interesting spots in Scotland, soon after breakfast, and we reached the top of Bencleuch by an easy gradual ascent in about two hours. The height is not great, not quite 2500 feet; but, owing to its position, the view of the Highland mountains is most extensive and imposing. The whole range of the Grampians, from Ben Lomond to Ben-y’-Gloe in Glen Tilt, is quite visible^ and, under particularly favourable circumstances, I make no doubt the Aberdeenshire mountains might be seen on the extreme right, though I suspect the Largs and Kilbimie hills intercept the view of Goatfell and the other Arran peaks on the extreme left.

Strathmore, or Great Glen, which extends quite across Scotland, separates the Ochils from the Grampians. It is owing to this that the view of the latter is so complete, there being no adjoining high ground to interrupt the prospect. The more remarkable mountains within sight on this occasion were, Ben Lomond, the Cobler, Ben Ledi, Stuichron, Ben voirlich, Ben Cruachan, Ben Loy.Stobinain, Ben More, Ben Chonzie, Ben Lawers, SchihalHon, and Ben-y’-Gloe. These, with innumerable others of inferior note, were quite visible, some of them marked by streaks of snow. In a still clearer dire, Ben Nevis may also be seen, and I have no doubt of Ben Macdhui and Lochnagar being within reach of the eye, though I could not make them out on this occasion.

From having been on the tops of nearly the whole of these mountains, their shapes and relative positions were quite familiar to me; but had it been otherwise, I could be under no mistake, as a friend in Edinburgh favoured me with a sketch very accurately copied from a panoramic chart, taken on the spot by scientific men employed by Government for geometrical purposes in 1817. This neat little chart I spread out before me to the extent of six or seven feet, though, when wrapt on its roller, I carried it easily in my pocket, it contained all that is to be seen in the larger one, and had all the names of the mountains attached to them—a mpst satisfactory companion to all who visit the top of Bendeuch, so that I hope it will be stereotyped for the use of the public.

The view on all sides of this mountain is interesting, but the Highland district incomparably the most so. The whole horizon is serrated with mountain peaks from S.W. to N.E., their distances varying from 20 to 60 miles and upwards, as the crow flies. The most remarkable were Ben More, Ben Voirlich, and Ben Lawers, with its elegant conical top and huge bluff rocky eastern shoulder, much resembling Meal-fourvonie on Loch Ness.

The Devon rises not many hundred yards from the top of Bencleuch, and, alter a long and singularly circuitous course of more than 40 miles towards every point in the compass, falls into the Frith of Form near Alloa, not many miles from its source, perhaps not above six in a direct line! It reminds one of the hunted hare, which, after numberless doublings, often breathes its last in the vicinity of its den.

It is truly astonishing that so few from Edinburgh visit Bencleuch. There is no mountain of its height more easy of access, and certainly none commanding such a splendid Highland prospect. The whole drive from Stirling, through the parishes of Logie, Alva, Tilliecoultry, and Dollar, is strikingly beautiful, although it has of late been sadly disfigured by huge chimneys, and all the appendages of coal, woollen, iron works, &c. The glens are very narrow and steep. That of Castle Campbell is well known to tourists. On this occasion, I went up the Alva Glen till it seemed quite impervious, as mural precipices arose on all sides in a spot where there is a very fine cataract. Not far from this, there were formerly several deep diggings for silver, which was found in considerable quantities. We entered some of the caves, which are very dangerous to strangers, as they contain uncovered pits of great depth*, and, being quite dark a few yards from the entrance, any unwarned person would, in all probability, be precipitated 30 or 40 feet—a risk which ought certainly to be obviated.

An entertainment of a different kind awaited us in an infant school in the village of Alva. It is attended by about 170 children, who sung some, beautiful hymns, and, in various other respects, did great credit to their teachers. I have reason to believe that this school, as well as others in the vicinity, is much indebted to the Hon. Mrs Johnstone, who takes a warm and judicious interest in everything likely to promote the improvement and happiness of the labouring classes.

Alva House is one of the most beautiful mansions in Scotland. It is situated near the base of what is most appropriately called the "Wooded Hill,” the bald summit of which cannot be less than 1500 feet above the "banks of the clear winding Devon.” The house itself is magnificent, having not long ago been much enlarged; but the scenery around is absolutely like fairy-land. The flower gardens, terraces, conservatories, archery ground, fountains ejecting water in all directions, &c. &c., render this a scene almost unparalleled, and not to be surpassed.

We were privileged with a view of the interior, of the mansion, which quite corresponds with what we had seen without. The paintings are of the choicest description, particularly those representing sea and Highland scenery; and there are many rare and curious articles in the lobbies and galleries, highly deserving the attention of the virtuoso and antiquarian. There is one picture which none can witness without feeling greatly interested. It contains a group of sixteen gentlemen and ladies, eight of each, all the children of the late Mr and Mrs Johnstone, whose eldest son is the present worthy and amiable proprietor. They have all attained the years of maturity, and, in so fax as I have heard, there has not yet occurred a death among them. The picture is ably executed, the grouping admirable, and the likenesses said, in general, to be very striking.

The course of the Devon being so very circuitous, renders the road from the north to the south of the Ochils equally so. This often induces pedestrians to prefer the string to the bow, when, owing to mist or snow, it should not be attempted. Hence, many lives have been lost here and elsewhere. I recollect reading a very simple and effective plan for obviating this risk, viz., let poles be placed at proper distances betwixt the points of danger, and through these let strong fence-wire be run. This might be effected for many miles at a very trifling expense, and could not fail to be of vast utility to the bewildered traveller.

There are many districts where this contrivance is loudly called for, and there cannot be better examples than the routes across the Ochils to Dollar and Tillycoultry, and that from Kingshouse to Rannoch. Of course, the should diverge from the straight line wherever there is danger from bogs or precipices, or to touch at such shepherds’ or foresters’ houses as may not be far from the direction. In many places, large stones would answer better than poles, being at hand, and more durable, and the chain might be. discontinued when such burns and glens have been reached as are known to lead to habitable districts.


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