What’s in a Name?

While researching the Hillfoot Villages, I also checked out Clackmannan, the old county town of Clackmannanshire, which is now dwarfed by neighbouring Alloa. (Alloa has also taken over the administrative function of dealing with county affairs.)

Clackmannanshire is the smallest of the historic “shire counties” and the name is made of words from three languages.

Clack is from the Scottish gaelic meaning “stone” – and there it was, in the centre of Clackmannan.

Mannan comes from Manaw, the name of an Iron Age tribe who inhabited the area.

Shire is an Anglo-Saxon word which means the same as county. (County was introduced from France when the Normans conquered Britain.)

Just south of town the map shows another interesting name. I took a walk down Lookabootye Brae and found Lookabootye Cottage.

The story goes that Robert the Bruce was out hunting in the area, when he dropped one of his gloves. He sent a lieutenant back to look for it, instructing him to go to the path near the village of Clackmannan and “look about ye”.

I don’t know if he found the glove, but on a clear day there is quite a view.

What’s your favourite place name story? Please tell us in the comments below. We will try to feature the best ones on Blog About Britain.

Conservation in Mill Glen

Both Mill Glen and Alva Glen are sites of industrial heritage. The structures within them tell the story of the past.

In order to see that story, people need to have safe access.

In Mill Glen considerable effort is being made to provide a safe route. Paths, steps and bridges have been constructed.

Areas of loose rock have been netted.

Or secured with cables.

This stops the rock from falling down and blocking the path or falling into the river and taking the path away too.

The stream is no longer being diverted to power a mill, so its energy is going into eroding and carrying away the bits of rock, slowly deepening the glen, as it was before the industry arrived.

If you are in the area, do take a walk up either Mill Glen, at Tillicoultry, or Alva Glen, at Alva. You will be rewarded with fine views.

If you have signed up for worksheets, I will be emailing you a review sheet for the topics that Blog About Britain has covered in this part of Scotland.

Industrial change in the Hillfoot Villages

The Hillfoot Villages of Clackmannanshire have long been associated with production of cloth from wool.

At Tillicoultry, drovers, herding their animals, came down from their crossing of the Ochils, no doubt stopping for refreshment at the Woolpack Inn.

In the villages stream power had been harnessed to power mills. You can read about this in last week’s post.

By the 1850s, steam had been developed as an alternative source of power and by 1870 Tillicoultry had 12 mills employing over 2000 people. However, although water was still needed for washing and dyeing the wool and to produce the steam, it was no longer critical to have a powerful, fast-flowing stream. Other places could have mills.

The textile mills in the Hillfoot villages gradually closed down. The road names give clues as to where things once were.

But many of the buildings still exist and have been converted to other uses. The Strude Mill dominates the view of Alva.

The building has been converted into apartments.

The Clock Mill at Tillicoultry became a museum and then a business centre. Today it is also apartments.

So plenty of people are still living in the Hillfoot Villages but where do they work today? Of course many people travel to Stirling, Edinburgh or Glasgow for their job, but there are local opportunities too. The Alva industrial estate is home to a brewery, while a company in Tillicoultry exports excavator attachments and an old paper mill has been converted into a retail outlet that brings shoppers from afar. There are lots of smaller enterprises too.


I have one more post for you before we leave the Hillfoot Villages so join me next week for a look at the conservation of Mill Glen, above Tillicoultry.

Meanwhile I have prepared a summary map of what we have learnt about this area. To get hold of a copy, sign up for my newsletter and choose “Geography worksheets and ideas for further study”.

Industry in the Hillfoot Villages

The Hillfoot Villages are located where fast moving streams emerge from the Ochil Hills.

From at least the 16th century there was a wool weaving industry in the area. The stream water was used to wash the wool, and also in the dyeing process. At that time the wool was spun on a simple spinning wheel and the cloth was woven on a hand loom. The same happened in loads of places so nothing special so far.

However, the steep slope of the Ochils means that the rivers are flowing fast and powerfully, and when inventions of the 18th century resulted in the mechanisation of the spinning and weaving processes, this power was harnessed for use by the industry.

By 1830 there were 9 water powered textile mills in Alva alone. Water was channelled or piped to a waterwheel. The machines in the mill were connected to this and so, as it turned, fibre was spun and cloth was woven.
The mills have long since closed but a walk up Alva Glen reveals plenty of evidence of the past.

The route of the pipe is now a safe path up the steep glen.

Water flow was controlled by dams and sluice gates.

The stream in nearby Mill Glen, at Tillicoultry, also powered 8 mills. Both valleys are interesting to explore. There are safe paths and walkways that keep you above the slippery riverside.

In each case you gradually emerge from the deep glen and can look back to the lowland beyond the Ochils.

Next week, I’ll tell you what happened to the wool industry and how the people of the area are employed today.

The Hillfoot Villages

The Ochil Hills rise abruptly from the adjacent lowland.


Nestled in tight against the bottom of the hills is a line of villages – the Hillfoot Villages. Pull out a road atlas and find Muckhart, Dollar, Tillicoultry, Alva, Menstrie, and Blairlogie. You’ll find them all in a line, along the A91, at the bottom of the hill slope.

So why build your village here? Well you can see why they didn’t put them any further north. Who wants to build on a steep, high slope, when there is flat lowland nearby? But the lowland is the floodplain of the River Devon, which makes it boggy and prone to flooding. So the villages are on the lowest slopes of the hills.  If you look at the wall, in this next picture, you can see that the street is sloping, though nowhere near as much as the Ochils in the background.


Each village is located where a fast flowing stream races down to the lower land. Very handy to have a fresh water supply running right past your door.


As these streams emerge from the Ochils they are no longer confined to their steep sided valleys and the land in front of them flattens out. They are no longer racing energetically and so have to dump some of the gravel, sand and other sediments that they are carrying. These deposits (it’s called an alluvial fan) have raised the land slightly, above the River Devon’s boggy floodplain, giving gently sloping land and a great spot to build a village.

The streams from the Ochils were also critical to the early prosperity of the area. Next Thursday I’ll tell you more about how water powered the industry in the Hillfoot Villages.