An easy to access 7 mile traffic-free cycle route transports you to the pretty town of Dollar and the spectacularly located Castle Campbell.
Hop on the train to Alloa
Convenient rail access makes this an easy day trip from central Scotland. Direct trains from Glasgow to Alloa take around 55 minutes. From Edinburgh it takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes with a brief change of trains at Stirling.
The final 12 minutes of the journey between Stirling and Alloa is very scenic. Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument loom into view and there is a panorama of the Ochil Hills.
This outlook onto the hills is what makes this cycle path special. Route 767 is signed from Alloa station, so you can quickly leave behind the large car park, huge supermarket and uninspiring surroundings.
The Devon Valley Railway closed to passengers in 1964 and now you can cycle where there were once train tracks. It must have been a treat sitting in a carriage with these views of the hills. It is just as good on a bicycle and during my visit the hills had blobs and lines of mist that added to their mystical beauty.
A photographer had his tripod setup alongside the path to capture the scene- there is something about hills with mist that stirs your emotions. Later I spotted a robin hopping from branch to branch and low flying blackbirds crossed from one end of the path to the other. A friendly horse strolled up to the fence and I gave him a pat.
There are some remnants of the railway to look out for. Bridges are the most obvious, but there is also a gradient post with the black writing still very clearly announcing "1 in 436." And at Dollar the cycle route sweeps alongside the remains of the gently curving platform, now with patches of moss.
Possibly the most impressive relic is at Glenfoot, near Tillicoultry, where the pillars are all that remain of a dismantled bridge. The old track bed, raised above the surrounding fields, follows on from the old bridge with a backdrop of forest and steeply rising green hills. It is magnificent and a poignant reminder of a once extensive rural rail network.
A Moment in Nature
Autumn is a perfect time to experience this route because it is thick with trees that turn golden. The air is fresh and earthy from the fallen leaves that crunch when your tyres run over them. At one point a shower of leaves fell and some hit off my head. It was a magical moment in nature. I happened to be there at that exact time when these leaves detached from the tree.
The route provides access to Stirling Mills Outlet Shopping Village where there are retail chains and somewhere to get a coffee. Despite a large number of cycle racks it is a place geared to car drivers where they can park up and then walk around a pedestrianised "village" of retail units, designed to mimic a high street. I found it boring and lacking in atmosphere, so I would recommend pushing on to Dollar, which is much more pretty and has a real high street.
Dollar is characterised by neat gardens, cottages and Victorian villas. The most distinctive feature in the town is the burn that runs down the middle of two streets. It is tree-lined and crossed by stone bridges.
There is a small clock tower, a memorial to a doctor, William Spence. It has a plaque that pays tribute to 'his skill and kindness of heart.'
Coffee and Cake
The High Street is well stocked with a deli, baker, bridal shop, bathroom shop, antique and gift shop. I recommend Cafe Des Fleurs for a coffee and snack. I had a really good, strong cappuccino and a moist lemon drizle cake. Next time I would love to try the 'special hot chocolate' that has a tantalising description in the menu- 'with a layer of delicious melting confectionery.' The interior is vintage style with mismatched furniture and side tables made from old travelling trunks.
To the Castle
The castle is signed from the town, but be prepared for the ridiculously steep road. This road will test the toughest of cyclists and I had to walk the last part of it.
Having seen a great many of Scotland's castles I feel that each castle needs to have something unique about it to make it memorable for me. With Castle Campbell it is the location above Dollar Glen that is the standout feature. From the approach road the view of the fortress, peaking from the tree tops is a moment you will always remember.
The Campbell family once owned a large number of castles and estates in Scotland, choosing the method of strategic marriages to acquire this wealth. This castle, once named Castle Gloom, was their main stronghold in the lowland region. It dates from the 1400s.
There is a lot of fun to be had exploring the staircases, tower house and gardens. It is not a large castle and will not take very long to visit every nook and cranny.
From up here you can see as far as the River Forth, the thick woods of Dollar Glen in the foreground. On the other side of the tower it is completely different with the Ochil Hills looking quite barren in comparison.
There is a slit window in the castle's toilet closet that allows you to hear a nearby waterfall and birdsong, a clear reminder of a peaceful location that is at odds with the castle's owners expectation of being attacked.
I loved the gardens where there is a lawn with picnic benches, gorgeous flowers and buzzing insects. This is a place to spend some time relaxing.
Outside the castle entrance there are walking trails into Dollar Glen. I took a steep staircase into the depths of this beautiful world of trees, waterfalls and wildflowers. Spending longer in this glen is a reason for me to return here one day.
How to get here
Take a train to Alloa (details are at the beginning of this blog). Route 767 is signed from the train station. Google maps is not correct for the beginning of the route as it does not have the bridge over the railway, so my advice is took for the Route 767 signs around the station and just follow these.
The cycle path is mostly tarmac and totally flat. It will not take long to cover the 7 miles to Dollar. It is a further mile to reach Castle Campbell by way of a very, very steep road.
Alloa is home to William Brothers Brewing Company, so why not try to sample one of their beers after your ride? One of my favourites is Fraoch Heather ale and you can read my review of this.
Enjoy cycling old railway lines? Why not try the Edinburgh to Penicuick route?
Read my blog about the Edinburgh to Penicuick cycle route
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.