What it's like
Former Stirlingshire was condemned in 1975 to be a nameless fragment - well, unless 'Central' counts as a name. And the label at the top of this page shows a continuing crisis of identity. But until the building of the Forth Road Bridge, this was the crossroads of Scotland, and whoever held Stirling Castle held the country. Seven major battles (including Bannockburn) were fought within sight of the castle walls.
And 300 million years before that, the area was really hot … volcanoes associated with the Lowland Rift Valley have left intriguing small hills which break out suddenly in crumbling crags of black basalt. Stirling Castle perches on dolerite, and super-steep little Dumgoyne in the Campsies is a former volcanic plug. The scarp of Gargunnock runs along a long basalt scarp - sadly that's mostly grouse-moor. The scame scarp runs above Fintry at the edge of the Campsie Fells, the hills that are Glasgow's green (and basalt-black) lung.
But pride of the place is the Ochils, old sandstone stiffened with lava and lifted by the faultline into a steep green scarp above what used to be called the 'Wee County', or Clackmannanshire. Intimate green hollows and airy ridges, all well pathed, lead up to high views across the Forth Valley. Enjoyable in any season, the Ochils are especially so at night above a sea of streetlights, or at dawn above the river mists.
• The Ochils From Alva or Tillicoultry, make your choice of the swooping spurs or the green hollows between. Ambitious and fit? Go for all nine Ochils in a day.
• Dollar Glen At the eastern end of the Ochils, but this is 'into' rather than 'onto' on a path built within a mini-ravine and leading to Castle Gloume
• Campsie Fells Paths lead up out of Fintry and Strathblane, or tackle the small but astonishingly steep Dumgoyne from Glengoyne Distillery.
Must see and do
• Falkirk Wheel This work of engineering is sheer show-off. Why just restore the old canal locks, when you can build the London Eye, but for boats? www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk
• Stirling Castle At the crossroads of Scotland, probably Scotland's most visited building. It's perched at the centre of the handsome old town within sight of seven battlefields. www.stirlingcastle.com
• Paint a blue saltire (Scottish St Andrew's Cross) across your visage Patriotic Scots will already have been to Bannockburn Heritage Centre www.nts.org.uk/Property/95/ on a primary school trip. Those of other nations may contemplate the beginning of Scotland's two centuries of independence. At the nearby Wallace Monument (www.nationalwallacemonument.com) find out that quite a bit of what's in the film 'Braveheart' actually happened. Between the two, Cambuskenneth Abbey claims to be 'the least well known important historical site in Scotland'. It may be the ghosts that repel visitors… www.cambuskenneth.info
Destination County : Stirling, Falkirk, Clackmannanshire & The Campsies