Cutting into the steep southern escarpment of the Ochil Hills above the bustling village of Alva, Alva Glen is a leafy slice of outdoor paradise, a wild, rugged ravine through which the Alva Burn skips.
Today it is a pleasant place to wander, heavily wooded and teaming with plant and animal life, a well-walked path winds up through the valley, following the stream past numerous lively waterfalls, swirling, frothy cauldrons and languid pools before climbing on to the hillside above where cracking vistas abound.
Back in the day, however, it was something of an industrial powerhouse, a trio of dams harnessing the flow for the textile mills around which the village grew and prospered.
The first of Alva’s modern woollen mills opened in 1798 and by 1830 there were nine in operation, the machinery in all of them driven by the beating heart of the burn.
The industry may be no more, the last mill closing in the 1970s, but the water still tumbles down the glen and, along the way, there are reminders of its powerful past and the role it played in the expansion of the Hillfoots community.
A small car park at the foot of the den, signed from Alva’s main thoroughfare, affords access to the trail which sets off upstream, past an old quarry to a viewpoint opposite the lowest of the three dams, a dazzling wall of white water cascading over the high stone weir.
Steps climb into the glen above, the path ducking below one of the old metal pipes that funnelled the water to the mills, before following it up through the den, the route clinging to steep, rocky slopes high above the stream. This is the deepest and most dramatic section of the gorge.
Spotting grey squirrels scampering through the branches above me, I passed the second, smaller dam, the path beyond weaving back and forth across the water as it rises gently to the third and highest weir.
Crossing a footbridge below Alva Dam and its shallow reservoir, the route begins its ascent out of the wooded base of the valley here, emerging from the tree canopy on to grassy slopes above.
The way zigzagging high above the gorge, occasional benches offer fine spots to rest and enjoy the vista south down the glen and over the houses of Alva towards the distant River Forth before progressing towards a rocky prow and viewpoint overlooking the evocatively named Smugglers’ Cave.
Caves, I find, always demand closer exploration and, hopping across a stile, I trod a slim path down to the yawning chasm, the water entering through a well-worn fissure in the rock. Carefully footing is required here as the descent to the cave is steep, the ground loose and the rocks slippery.
Above the cave, a path pushes on up through the valley and it is worth making the short trek north to the convergence of the Alva Burn and Glenwinnel Burn to see the magnificent Spout of Craighorn waterfall.
Back at the viewpoint above Smugglers’ Cave, the return to Alva can be made by dipping back down through the den or, from a gate above the stile, a path known locally as the Pate Road crosses bracken-covered hillside before descending steeper, rockier slopes dotted with prickly gorse bushes to the car park.
1. Bear left out of car park, following broad path upstream.
2. Cross bridge over Alva Burn and go left up to viewpoint opposite dam and waterfall.
3. Ascend steps and, at top, go left up path, passing under old pipeline. Go left, passing block sheds on right, to metal pedestrian gate.
4. Go through gate and follow path up Alva Glen to top dam.
5. Cross bridge below dam and ascend path out of base of glen, looping up slope before heading north to viewpoint above Smuggler’s Cave.
6. Cross stile and follow path up glen, passing above Smugglers’ Cave, to viewpoint opposite Spout of Craighorn waterfall.
7. Return to point 6. Re-cross stile then bear right, ascending to gate.
8. Go through gate and follow hill path south, descending towards golf course.
9. Go through gate and continue to car park, passing through gap in wall.
Distance: 2¾km/1¾ miles
Time: 1-2 hours
Grading: Easy, low-level walk following good paths through valley and across open hillside. The upper section of the route includes some strenuous ascent above steep, unguarded drops. Stout footwear recommended. Keep dogs under close control over open hillside where sheep graze
Start/finish: Alva Glen car park, Brook Street, Alva (Grid ref: NS 884975)
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 58; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 366
Tourist Information: Stirling iCentre, Old Town Jail, St John Street, Stirling FK8 1EA (Tel 01786 475019)
Public transport: Stagecoach bus service 23, linking St Andrews and Stirling, stops in Alva