Not many people visit the moors on the Touch Hills. There is a not bad view of the entire Forth Valley but though it is a nice view it doesn’t make for a particularly photogenic view.
I took a wander up the hills in early spring, there was still snow on the ground after our rather severe late winter and noticed that the Touch Hills Number 2 reservoir was full. (There are three reservoirs up here, numbers 1,2 and 4). No, I don’t know where number 3 is either. Any previous time I have been here ( and I hadn’t been up in a number of years) it had been half empty. I noticed though that a promontory on the far side with some rather windswept trees looked like it might make a nice sunset shot later in the summer when the sun was more in the northern sky. it might look a bit like an island. A place to return to.
Late spring and early summer have been kind to us with long sunny days and warm evenings with some nice sunsets. Time to make good on my idea. I hiked up on to the moors and yep, you have guessed it, the reservoir had been lowered again!
However, I did a bit wandering about and found one spot where I felt it provided an interesting composition with some interest in the trees and exposed rocks….. oh and that sunset.
The photo featured here was one of a number I took early one morning in September 2017. I was due to catch a ferry to Islay, outbound on a week’s fishing trip and had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast all week as I had this idea that in the right conditions there might be a rather nice sunrise as the sun lifted over Arran out in the Firth of Clyde. You can read more on my Islay adventure on my fishing blog, the Unfamous Fly.
As the day approached the weather looked more certain and I decided (Mrs H thinks I am mental) to get up even earlier than originally planned to catch the ferry, and be just north of Carradal on the Mull of Kintyre, before the sun came up.
It was a foggy morning but the drive was not at all bad leaving just after 3am to be there around 5:30am.
Conditions were about as near perfect as you could have hoped for, it was clear with high fast moving clouds, and the sun rose exactly as my TPE App ( The Photographers Ephemeris) predicted.
However what no app had also mentioned and I really had not factored into the equation at all, was the midges. Being a Scot, and a keen angler, the humble Scottish midge and its nasty ways is something I am well acquainted with. Usually, by September they have largely disappeared and having grown up by the sea I don’t recall any particular occasions of where they attempted to strip the flesh from my bones while standing on the sea shore. But they did this particular morning.
I was covered in the wee blighters and they were eager to have me for breakfast. It was all I could do to maintain calm and try take shots as the sun rose.
I got a few I was happy with, though had I been able to tolerate the biting beasties a wee bit more and, had I not had a ferry to catch, I might have hung around another 20 mins. By the time I had packed my gear and was ready to head back to Kennacraig, the sky was all sorts of gold and orange hues. A wee bit more patience and more experience of being up at such an early hour needed there I think.
So I took a number of shots, some I took three and photo stacked near, middle and long distance, however this one was as it came out the camera with only a little post processing.
The DSLR was mounted on a tripod, using a wide angle lens at 11mm, ISO100, f9.0 and 1.30th of a second. I also had a 2 stop hard ND grad and a Polariser fitted
A bit of a forgotten gem this location. There is not very much information online about this places but it is a stunning location if you know how to find it. Unfortunately ( or maybe fortunately?) even with a map it can be hard to find. I have been there 4 times now over the last 10 years or so and still make mistakes each time I go.
A wee bit on pronounciation. “Touch” isn’t said in the same way as “touching an object”, the best starting point is the word “Took” which is near as dammit there. If you are Scottish rolling the “ch” sound won’t be a problem! if you aren’t Scottish, the “ch” is kind of said like you were trying to clear your throat!
About the cave
Legend has it that the cave was used by Charles Edward Stuart while in hiding from British Forces following the failed Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. How he came to be in the area of Stirling I am not so sure, presumably, this would have been on the retreat from the abortive advance towards London that ended in disarray. I have also read it was after the Jacobite army was defeated and spread in disarray following the Battle of Culloden Moor.
Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?
Whatever the truth, one imagines coming anywhere near Stirling then was a risky business it being a garrison town overlooked by the mighty Stirling Castle, but the River Forth would need to be crossed somewhere safe on the way northwards. To have found the cave local help would almost certainly have been needed.
Spending any time holed up there must have been a miserable experience as it’s not what you could call dry. There are constant drips of water raining down inside from the waterfall, and maybe seeping through the rock above. However, it makes for an enchanting spot.
The glen runs pretty much South West to North East and the Cave faces Northward so light here is rarely more than adequate even on bright days.
Finding the Cave and Waterfall
The first thing to know is while it isn’t a really long walk, under an hour by whatever route you choose, it has its challenges. There are some steep sections. Also be aware that if there has been much rainfall prior to a walk, the ground will be even wetter and slippier than normal and actually accessing the cave might require you to get wet feet if the burn is up. I strongly recommend good walking boots and walking poles for stability and balance in some locations.
The Direct shorter route
(red on the Google Map)
Most things I have read of the route to the cave discuss coming from the old waterworks by Touch Hills Reservoirs. As the crow flies it is shorter but the ground is lumpy and it can be a bit hard going, though reasonably flat for the most part.
Certainly my first three visits were this way but the last time I did this, a huge deer fence had been erected and actually getting into the Glen was pretty difficult. Not impossible but difficult. To go this way park near the cottages by the waterworks, (make sure you aren’t blocking entrances or peoples homes) and head across the boggy ground to the west past the old Scout Hut. Keep heading west you will come to a house, detour around the south of this and keep heading west. You can barely fail to come to the deer fence. The going is pretty wet in places. Do not wander off up the slope to your south (you’re left as you head in).
There are a few walls and fences you need to cross. Also, sheep roam free here, so if you have a dog they need to be on a lead. Actually, if you have a dog, I have no idea how you will get it over the deer fences! As you near the glen you will hear the sound of the waterfalls all the way up the ravine.
How you negotiate the deer fence is your business but you will now need to get down the very steep slope into the Glen and locate the old, very rickety “bridge” over the Touch Burn. Last time I came this way you really were taking your life in your hands crossing here as it was so wet and rotten. You do though need to get yourself over to the West side of the glen. From there keep following the glen south. You will come past several waterfalls on the way and if you have never been here before likely you will want to take a look as they are all very scenic in their own right. Some, however, are dead ends and you will need to backtrack out and go round the intervening land as you work your way south. Unless you are seriously into “canyoning” or “Gorge walking” and are equipped with wetsuits, ropes and helmets, do not even try to stay with the burn all the way up.
Nearing the head of the glen you need to get onto the higher ground to the west for a bit and away from the ravine but don’t worry, the ground does steer you back towards your ultimate destination the walk through the trees ( you will be inside a deer fence on the west side of the glen at this point- no need to cross this one). At this point you will see the section of fence mentioned in the alternate route I discuss below. So read on to the final leg.
The alternate ( I think easier) route.
( yellow on the Google map)
The way I went on this most recent visit was I felt MUCH easier. However, there are some caveats. If your sole intent is to reach the cave at the top of the glen this is the way to go. If however you are inclined to detour over the deer fence and down to the burn in the lower glen some of the slopes can be challenging and but you will no doubt see the bridge mentioned above and should follow the instructions from there.
Finding a starting point
So bypassing detours, this way is fairly direct and for about 2/3’s of the way is an easy to follow trail. Assuming you come by car you will want to park somewhere, you can either park at the entrance to the forest at Garshellach Forest and walk back along the Touch Road towards Cambusbarron about quarter a mile. Watch though there are a series of blind bends here and cars have a tendency to come round quite quickly, so have your wits about you when walking here. People won’t expect walkers on the road here.
You could park in Cambusbarron village and walk out on the top road ( Touch Road) – around half a mile or so or you could as a third option locate the disused looking field entrance on the North side of the road along the way, and if you have a suitable vehicle that has enough ground clearance and won’t get stuck ( yes a 4×4) you could park in towards the rather knackered rusty looking old gate.
From this spot there is a cabin style house on the south side of the road and an access track that winds up towards a rather splendid looking yellow house behind. Follow this track, and get into the field at the top of the track, close any gates behind you, you find closed.
You should see a track meander up the field ahead and a burn on your left hand side. Stay on the track all the way up and you will come to a big gate in the deer fence. Pass through here closing the gate behind and keep following the trail, it is quite easy to follow. If you encounter a fork in the trail up here, stay left towards the glen you will be by now aware of on your left. Keep going all the way until you reach the end of the trail. Here you need to enter some woods. ( fairly thin ones). Keep the deer fence to your near left using it as a guide until you eventually come to a point where you will feel quite high above the glen but there is a section of deer fence that turns sharply left for one span with a wooden section at the top.
I would say this is the easiest bit to get over.
The final Leg
Common to both routes
Once on the inside of the deer fence keep heading south but head towards the glen through the light trees and bushes until you see the waterfall just below/ahead and look for the zig zag route down into the glen. There were some old bits of broken fence and wire here.
You will need to duck under trees or negotiate thorn bushes to get to where the burn enters from the right. The cave now is directly in front of you with the waterfalls above. You may get wet feet crossing the burn if it is swollen by rain. Take care not to fall or twist an ankle here, you would have a lot of problems getting out of the glen on a bad injury. Note, I had pretty good EE 4G coverage all the way in here.
On my most recent trek here (February 2018), I had with me for the first time my DSLR, tripod, some filters and a wide angle lens. Apart from the nuisance of carrying them all in a Lowepro Slingpack ( which is great but not for this kind of outing) , the biggest issue on location was water dripping from the cave. I was aware of it when I stood under the overhang but didn’t think it was hitting my filter as I couldn’t see it though the viewfinder. However, there were a few water spots when I got back and examined them in post processing.
I took a few shots but the one I was most pleased with was the one with my good lady wife sitting on a rock looking at the waterfall and pool. I think it gives the sense of scale to this spot. You can also just see the late afternoon sun was clipping the trees high above. At this time of year that’s about as much light down here as you can expect. To ensure a long enough exposure I used a 2 stop ND filter, a two stop soft grad to reduce the bright light from the sky and a Polarising filter to reduce reflections.
This was a long exposure at ISO100, 14mm and f11.0 for 8 seconds. Mrs H had to sit very still!
I will maybe try to get back in the mid summertime to see if a sunset catches the cave at all. Photo Pills suggests it does. Next time I will bring a rucksack and some hiking poles.
On Location is the rea of this portfolio site where I tell you something about the photo, the place or some other aspect of an image I have shared here. Over time hopefully it becomes a useful insight into how to get to some of the places I have photographed.
I hope you enjoy reading about my images, the people and stories behind them and if you want to know more drop me a line.