In central Scotland, the pretty community of Dollar nestles beneath the picturesque Ochil Hills. My great, great grandmother came from this ancient ‘hillfoot’ town so it always gives me great pleasure to visit. And there’s a secret cleft of nature behind the village.. a gorge which takes you up into the hills!
The walk itself is not overly strenuous but care needs to be taken viewing the precipitous ravines. Well-made paths aid the walker. Tiny bridges criss-cross cascading waterfalls, filled with mossy rocks and fallen trees. Wander through cool ferns and bracken. Perhaps you’ll catch sight of the great spotted woodpecker or a pied flycatcher: a deer might wander past or a cheeky squirrel test your eyesight midst the forest canopy.
Onward, you’ll see signs for the Burn of Sorrow, and Burn of Care, and could be forgiven for thinking that terrible events occurred here: some say a woman was imprisoned nearby long ago. Who was she, I wonder?
In the distance, you’ll catch sight of grey, forbidding walls. Known initially as Castle Gloom (or Glume), it looks eerie but its name may stem from the Gaelic “glom’ for chasm.
A clear statement of power and wealth, the stone tower grew tall in the 15th century. Constructed for John Stewart, lord of Lorn, it was later acquired by Sir Colin Campbell, the first earl of Argyll, who married into the family. Renamed, Castle Campbell served as the family’s lowland stronghold from around 1465 for almost two hundred years.
The imposing ruins are now managed by Historic Scotland whilst the glen falls under the auspices of the National Trust. (A tiny word of warning, there’s currently no cafe so if you fancy some treats, take a picnic and have it on the garden terrace.)
Dollar lies in Clackmannanshire, the smallest county in Scotland. One legend tells of Mannan or Manau, a Celtic Sea God: the Picts believed that a whinstone boulder (or ‘Clack’) on the nearby Forth shoreline was the dwelling place of the spirit of water. The sea is never very far away in Scotland!
Another legend suggests an alternative origin for the shire’s unusual name: when Robert the Bruce was out riding with his men, he left behind his glove on a rock and told Sir James Douglas to go back ”to the Clack, to fetch my mannan (Gaelic for glove)…and the good Sir James replied, “Sire, if ye’ll just look about ye, I’ll be back directly.” Some think that was how the county got its name, and motto: ‘Look about ye’?
There’s even a road up above the castle, ‘Look Aboot Ye’ Brae, as well as the king’s stone. Perhaps Robert was on his way to Clackmannan Tower, set beneath the bare rounded hills, where a later line of the Bruce family flourished. It’s well worth a visit!
The Reformation of the 1550s saw the religious reformer, John Knox, preach a sermon with the full support of the Calvinist-leaning Campbells. And Mary Queen of Scots attended a wedding in 1563 – another in the Stewart/Campbell dynasty. Perhaps a blind eye was turned concerning the queen’s fiercely-held Roman Catholic beliefs.
Embroiled in the fight against the Royalists, the later earls of Argyll were strong supporters and leaders within the Covenanters’ movement when Scottish churchgoers rejected unwanted interference into their long-held religious practices: many were prepared to, and did, die for their beliefs.
A hundred years on, in 1645, and the lands around Castle Campbell were laid waste by Sir James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, and his men, the MacLeans – longtime adversaries of the Campbells. Combine clan rivalry with religious differences and you have a conflagration in the making.
Almost a decade later during the tumultuous English Civil War, Scots – angered by the execution of Charles I – sacked the castle in retaliation for Argyll’s support for Cromwell. But when Charles II ascended the throne, the 8th earl, Archibald Campbell, lost his head for treason in Edinburgh. Archie’s kinfolk decided to leave the building to its ghosts, and moved into a smart town house just down the road from Stirling Castle; now known as Argyll’s Lodging, it is open to the public.
Next came the 1715 Jacobite rebellion which seems to be the last time the castle served a political cause.
Over the years, the forests around Dollar must have echoed with the clatter and jangle of armies on the move, but in later, more peaceful times, came the sound of ponies clip-clopping along the rocky pathways carrying cloth woven in the village homes. With the famous softness of the wool and skill of the weavers, the wool trade flourished and the local people must have been relieved to get on with their lives.
There is so much to see and do in the area but do check out the castle ruins: on a clear day, you’ll feel you can see all the way to Edinburgh and beyond. But when you take in the glories of the glen, don’t forget to ‘look about ye’!
N.B. Marie MacPherson, a Scottish author, offers an entertaining fictional account of John Knox’s life and times in her books- The First (and Second) Blast of the Trumpet, Knox Publishing.