Yesterday, the last day of my Christmas hols, I took the notion to attempt a wee walk from the house towards Denovan and from there up to Torwood Castle and the ancient broch. The route followed the remains of an old drove road, part of the network of trails over which cattle were driven from various parts of the country to market in the Falkirk area. The Tryst (market), less than a mile from our house, began sales in 1785 but by about 1900 had been made superfluous by the railways. The Tryst common land still exists and fairground attractions still visit on an annual basis mimicking their 19C sideshow counterparts.
The Statistical Account of 1841 threw up an interesting comment about the rise in public houses in Larbert associated with the Tryst market.
It is much to be lamented, that the number of houses licensed for the sale of spirits is so great; and there can de no doubt that the habitual use of ardent spirits has had a most injurious effect upon the morals of the people. The magistrates have endeavoured to check the increase of these houses; but the use of this alcoholic spirit, namely, whisky, is by no means diminished.
Suppose I’d better keep quiet about this as it could have a seriously injurious effect on local house prices.
Ice rutted pavements that had never seen a teaspoon of salt made for a treacherous beginning as The Fatdog and I slipped and slithered our way from the house westwards along the Bellsdyke Road in the direction of the new hospital site. Two weeks of frozen compacted snow, with only a couple of minor ice generating thaws, had created a solid hummocky surface operating on the slip or trip principle. Even my trusty old 3 season Raichle boots were struggling to grip other than at the untrodden edges of the footpaths.
It was a relief to reach the gate at the start of the drove road. No traffic-compacted lethal surface from now on…I thought, somewhat mistakenly as it turned out. It took a further 50m of triple axles, backflips and Beilman spins before we eventually reached some snow crust to crunch through to keep us upright.
This was not the most attractive part of the walk, but it was vehicle free. With the new hospital buildings to our left and the M876 motorway to our right this section of our expedition was one to be tolerated, not savoured.
Crossing the motorway overbridge we moved away from the modern road network to something much older. It was not hard to imagine this trail, now only visited by occasional farm vehicles, packed with hairy mooing beasts and their unkempt drovers. Lined by the rotting remains of ancient trees and crumbling old dry stane dykes time has taken its toll, but there is a special feel to this forgotten track, an echo of an era long forgotten. Take away the modern fencing and you could easily drop back a century or so.
The views to the south and west were hazy in the sharp chill of sub-zero temperatures. The sun pushed hard against the patchwork of cloud but struggled to make significant headway other than in short bursts of a few seconds, before quickly fading back to watery yellow/grey.
We had to take a detour. Our planned “right of way” took a branch off to our right through fields. I had just steered The Fatdog in that direction when I spotted a group of stomping, jacket clad, horses blocking our route. Rather than risk their big toothed wrath we continued to follow the last identifiable section of drove road downwards to Denovan. Two white bummed deer gave us our wildlife bonus for the day bounding away through the trees away from the bouncing Fatdog who was showing unaccustomed enthusiasm for pursuit…well sort of. She did bounce though…albeit on the spot!
Unfortunately the change of route meant a mad skittering dash along a short section of narrow winding country road before any maniac drivers came careering around the bends on the white glass surface. I was glad to reach the “right of way” sign at Denovan Church taking us once more away from a trafficked road. But we now had to endure a few hundred metres of death defying ascent of icy farm track. By this time I was beginning to wish I’d packed the Spiders.
Very soon we were back on our intended route and heading for Torwood via another right of way trail alongside Pamphelgoat Wood, with its views south across Denny to the start of the hills behind.
As we did a year ago, we visited the “blue tank”, took a snap of nearby Torwood Castle then followed the narrow trail through Tor Wood to Tappoch, the Pictish broch sitting on a low hilltop overlooking the carse land below.
Alas from there it was down to the busy A9 and a nervy 15 minute walk on a narrow ice crusted footpath alongside noisy traffic before reaching the relative safety of wider pavements inside the Larbert 40mph boundary. It had been a walk of some 11km, taking us just over two and a half hours of indelicate skidding and crunching.