It’ s one of my favourite walks to do from Alloa through the Back Woods and then return via Mary Woods, following the route of the burbling Black Devon.
You can start the walk just beyond Morrison’ s Supermarket in Alloa. Follow the road to edge of the new housing estate. Go down on to the public footpath and turn right towards the river, crossing over the old stone bridge, then head left into the woods.
It’ s a pretty walk, uphill and down dale. Only a few miles from Alloa but it feels very secluded. You soon reach the wee burgh of Clackmannan.
What a strange place Clackmannan is – it feels locked in the past, frozen at a point in time when it was already in decline. Yet this is a place which was once a bustling county town….
As you leave the woods turn right and head up the hill towards the village centre. When you get to the Mercat cross, turn right and go on up the hill to Clackmannan Tower
On a level with Stirling Castle, nearly ten miles away, it is believed that the two had a communication system – if the guards at Clackmannan Tower saw invading armies sailing up the River Forth they would light a beacon, warning the guard at Stirling Castle and all of the neighbouring tower house and castles. Construction of the tower began soon after 1359, when one Robert Bruce bought the estate from King David II, the son of that great warrior King, Robert the Bruce. Some say that Robert Bruce of Clackmannan was the illegitimate son of the famous King, others that he was a distant relative. Clackmannan became a Bruce stronghold. The last Bruce to live in the Tower was Lady Catherine, who is believed to have knighted the poet Robert Burns there in the late eighteenth century.
Once you’ve admired the views, saunter back into town. In the centre you’ll find the Mercat Cross, Tolbooth and Stone of Mannan. Many of the houses here date from the seventeenth century, and it’s here you really get the sense of a village frozen in time.
This is a wee pen and ink I did of the burgh centre. Clackmannan was a Burgh of Barony – that is, it was created as a burgh by the landowner, who held his estates from the King. It was granted this status in the sixteenth century, but sadly time was not on this pretty wee place’s side. The harbour, so vital to early modern trade, was already silting up. Over the next couple of centuries the Bruce family declined in fortune, and the tiny burgh was superceeded by it’s neighbouring Burgh of Barony, Alloa, oned by the Erskines of Mar. By 1772, Alloa Harbour had overtaken Clackmannan and in 1822 the Sheriff Court transferred to Alloa.
Which brings us rather neatly to the Tolbooth. Another C16th survivor, this lovely little tower was a rather pretty prison. Up until that point, miscreants were either chained to the Mercat Cross or held prisoner in the home of the local Sheriff. Now for those of you who are wondering about silver stars and noon time shoot outs, a Scottish sheriff is a magistrate!! No High Noon for these chaps, simply the duty of overseeing legal matters. One such sheriff, William Menteith, understandably objected to holding courts in the open air of the village centre, and housing miscreants in his home, so he petitioned parliament for a Tolbooth. The Tolbooth’s fortunes relfect that of the Burgh. It was ruinous by 1792 and abandoned in 1822.
Next to the Mercat Cross, you’ll find one of our local mysteries- The Stone of Mannan. Now don’t be deceived- the Stone of Mannan is not the whole structure but the rectangular block at the top. Our victorian forefathers, with a great sense of history, placed the stone on top of a giant whinstone block imported overt the county boundaries from Abbey Craig in Stirling, the very place where William Wallace gathered his troops before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The stone gives the county its name – Cloch being the Gaelic for Stone. Some antiquarians say the stone itself is named after Mannanan – the Celtic Sea God. Others attribute it’s name to the Manau – the Celtic people who once lived in this area. It may even translate from the Irish “Stone of the Monks. There’s a theory that it’s not named for the God, or the peoples, but for a simple hunting glove. You see Mannan is Gaelic for glove and a rather famous glove made its mark on the wee burgh and indeed the whole county.
One Robert the Bruce, yes, THE Robert the Bruce, was said to have been hunting in the royal forest of Clackmannan. He lost his hunting glove. Naturally, he wanted to find it, and ordered his servants and followers too ‘look aboot ye!’ (look about you!). Lookabootye is the name given to the country road leading away from the cross down towards the river, it’s also the county motto! Even my old school used it, it in its latin form Circumspice, as a motto. Now the Stone of Mannan used to sit on Lookabootye. Some say that’s where Bruce’s glove was found….
Time to head home now. Go back down to the woods, but this time cross over the road bridge and return to Alloa via the Mary Woods. There’s one last mystery to look out for. As you reach Alloa, look at the field on the right. You can just make out an ancient celtic cross near the brow of the hill. It’s said that in the eighteenth century, wheen the road ran close to the cross, you could make out the figure of a man and horse inscribed on the stone.
So visit Clackmannan, and remember, when you come- remember to ‘look aboot ye.’
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