Back on the road after a couple of weeks, back down to Euston in the dark. My left leg and ankle have stopped hurting but the ankle still feels a bit stiff and tight. I probably should have been to see a doctor but I just did not get round to it.
The Virgin Pendelino whisks me up to Glasgow where I have a spot of time between trains so I nip into Tiso in Buchanan Street and buy a walking pole as I have not yet retrieved the one I left in Edinburgh.

At Queen Street I still have a wait for my Perth Train. This stops at Stirling where I can hop off and get one to Alloa but I see that there is a direct Alloa train about to leave. After a struggle with my parsimonious soul about whether it is worth the £5.00 or so extra I elect to get it. A modern train whizzes me through the central belt and soon I can see the familar rambarts of the Ochils through the window.

 And soon after that I am stepping out onto the platform of Alloa's ultra modern little station.

My way does not take me through the centre so if Alloa is more than ring roads, supermarkets and suburbs the more interesting part eludes me, though I pass the town hall buildings which are handsomish.

But soon I am on the long road out to Tullibody. I am, you will understand, distinctly anxious about the shin splints and this road walking is not what I would have chosen to start off with but there is no alternative that I can see. So I press on, a little gingerly, worrying about every twinge in my left ankle.

And I take the chance to nip into a park to get off the road for a little bit. It seems to have houses in it and looks private, but I see a man with some kids walking so hop over a low wall to join a path.

Soon enough I am back on the road though. And after a bit I pass a brand new Academy. A hideous modern building but one that plenty of money has clearly been spent on it.

Almost immediately after this I spot a footpath that takes me through a strip of woodland and off the road. It is a very urban bit of of woodland, all manner of litter strewn around the start of the path. But I am not complaining as it takes me off the road for a spell.

And after a little while it becomes less littered. Positively pleasant, in fact.

Before returning me to the road just as Tullibody starts.

Tullibody proves to be a neat if unspectacular little place.

I turn off to take the road to Menstrie and find myslef passing a picturesque ruined church.

Continuing towards Menstrie, the town gives way to countryside with views along the flat flood plain of the River Devon, itself a tributary of the Forth.  I can see Stirling Castle on its conspicuous hill, and more directly on my route, the Wallace Monument which crowns its own outcrop.

But then I get the chance to leave the road along a footpath again, which I take gratefully. The footpath crosses and old railway line, which still has rails on it.  I suppose this must be the same old line I took from Dunfermline to Clackmannan. A pity that you cannot walk all the way on it. Perhaps one day.

The path returns me to the road. Coming into Menstrie I can see a great, castle like house, which signs inform me is a hotel.

Menstrie is one of the "Hillfoot Towns" that line the road at the bottom of the Ochil escarpment. But it is barely a town really. More a village. I need a toilet badly and am ready for a cup of tea but the only place is a take away called the Pit Stop.  Inside the local policeman is warily joking with three or four kids. I order a tea and ask about the toilet and the very freindly woman serving me directs me around the building to one in a lean too at the back.

I take my tea and drink en-route as the long, long train journey has meant I started walking very late. I had seen the way the Ochils rear up from the flat floodplain on the map but the reality is even more dramatic. The hills just rear up suddenly from an almost completely flat landscape. Even stranger, you could almost draw a straight line, east to west, to describe where the cliff like escarpment errupts from the flat lands.

I chose this way over the parrallel A 917 partly because I wanted to see this formation and partly because I hoped it would be quieter. But it turns out that it also has a footpath on the side which is a real bonus. I just hope it goes all the way to the point where I leave the road.

So apart from nearly getting blinded by some guys herding hedge clippings with blowers, it is easy enough walking. The road is not that busy either which makes for more pleasant going. And I pass a beekeeper tending to his or her hives in a big garden on the way.

As I continue so the Wallace monument gets closer and closer, looking ever more like something Sauron sketched out before really getting into his stride with the Tower of Barad-dûr.  

I get to a roundabout and I am abruptly off the road. I was thinking of taking one of the routes through Stirling University to have a look, but the side road is so utterly deserted of traffic and appealing looking that I got that way instead. Past another ruined kirk. They seem to be de riguer around here. Evil looking monuments, ancient towers and ruined churches. It must be great to be a goth around these parts.

And a little further on the road marked on my map as turns out to be a track along the back of the University grounds. There is an old stone wall to my left and trees to my right and it is really delightful.

I have it to myself too until I hear the thunder of hooves and several people on horses come cantering by as I get off the track. A few moments later I hear more hooves. A guy comes on a horse, still cantering but rather more liesurely.

"Forgot my whip!" He calls to me as he urges his horse on to try and catch up his companions.

The only disapointment of this route is that I don't get to see a lot of Stirling University. I do get a glimpse of fairly dismal sixties buildings at one point where the big wall is lower. But I had hoped to see more. Not that I mind really. This track through the woods is great after so much tarmac walking.

It takes me onto a road which is on the outskirts of Bridge of Allen. This is long and straight. OK at first as the substantial Scottish stock brokers houses are worth a look. And there are some huge monkey puzzle trees. But I am flagging a bit and it goes on and on and before long it is getting more than a bit wearisome. Still at last the road meets another one, there is a steep descent and I am on the high street.

I sit on a seat and eat my sandwiches. Then I set off to peruse the shops to see if I can see one that looks worthy of my cappuccino custom. I have got to the bridge, and the end of the shops when I realise that I have left my map back at the seat. I hurry back in a panic but it is still there.

With great relief I stop at the first hopeful looking cafe. It is called the Barga. I have a very decent cappuccino and look at the pictures which are all of Northern Tuscany.  There is also something written about Barga which is near Lucca. I remember passing through it on the train on the way to Castelnuovo de Garfagnana a couple of years back and reading that in that part of Italy a lot of people spoke English with a West of Scotland accent because so many people had come to work in Glasgow and the West of Scotland in the past before returning.

I only realise this later though so don't think to ask the waitress if there is a real connection or if it is just trendy Tuscany love.

And Brige of Allen is the sort of place where you would not bet against Tuscany love. The high street is full enough of upmarket restaurants and posh looking cafes that it would make Hampstead jealous.

I walk on and pass over the railway line. I could call it a day here and get the train back down to Stirling. But I have done well for time and my shins seem to be behaving. So I decide to continue. Here is another dillemma. There are routes through a private estate marked on the map, or I can go by road. The estate if it is viable would be much more pleasant. But if I have to a long way to find if it is possible and then would have to go back.

Being a pessimist, I reluctantly go for the road option.

At first this means a footpath up a busy road that slowly converges on an even busier motorway, occassionaly being binged by cyclists who are the only other users of the path.

This takes me to an absolutely horrible roundabout, where the M9 becomes the A9. Unfortunately I am on the exact opposite side of the roundabout to the road I want to take. And whichever way I go I have to pass over horrendously busy roads.

I really hate this shit. Why can the designers of these things not think about pedestrians? Every now and then, walking through this country, you get a smack in the face to remind you that they really do think that carless is the same as worthless as far as these planners are concerned. No one could hitch from this roundabout because no car could safely stop to pick you up. But though for some reason there are footpaths it is terrifying getting across the roads.

Eventually I manage it though and set off down the B824 towards Doune. Soon I come to woods on my right and a movement catches my eye.  A roe deer stands watching me cautiously from the trees. It is a strange contrast from the roaring roundabout half a kilometre, but seemingly a world or two away.

It has turned into a really lovely evening and I am getting glimpses of hills in the distance. Not the Ochils, nor the Campsies which are rising to my left now, but proper Highland mountains. The Trossachs coming properly into view.

A little further and a buzzard flies lazily across to land on a telegraph post. This is turning into a good evening for wildlife spotting. I am tired and fed up of the road which though not busy has traffic far too fast to be be pleasant, but I cannot complain about what is now a beautiful day.

On my map there is something marked called the David Stirling monument. When I get to it I see a statue and decide to check it out. It turns out that Stirling was the founder of the SAS. He stares towards the Trossachs thoughtfully.

Back on the road and those Trossachs are looking more and more inviting in the evening light. My left ankle feels a bit tight but is not really painful which is great news, especially as I have been road or pavement walking for most of the day.  And the cars continue to speed by at a worrying velocity. I hurry on because there is a bus that I might just catch to Stirling. Of course this is the last thing that I wanted to do, to be hurrying for a bus along a tarmac road. But I don't much want to wait for two hours or whatever it is until the next one.

So I am very glad to see a church tower and other buildings peeking out from trees as I come into Doune.

Doune turns out to be a neat little place. Just as I get to the centre I see a bus pull out which looks a lot like the one that I was trying to catch. The timetables are confusing as is the description on mine of where the bus stop is. But there is another guy at the main bus stop and I ask him.

I did just miss the bus, he tells me in an English accent. He is waiting for one to Dunblane which is due in a short while. I go back to take some photos and check the timetable in the other bus stop before returning. The English guy tells me that the Dunblane bus will take me to the station where I can get a Stirling train.

So I get on it with him. He told me while we were waiting that he is usually the only person on it and this turns out to be true (apart from me). Immediately he launches into a continued conversation with the driver about a radio quiz programme.

And so we whizz along the road to Dunblane. The English guy gets off at the same spot as me and shows me where the station is.  While I am using the toilet a train comes in and it is bound for Stirling, and soon enough I am rattling back, bound for the youth hostel on the top of Stirling hill.



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