History lies everywhere on the ancient Gillies Hill in the village of Cambusbarron, just outside Stirling. Early Iron Age settlements tell us that the area was in use around 2000 years ago and there are the remains of a Hill Fort and a smaller Dun on the hill. Gillies Hill takes its name from the ‘gillies’ (servants) of Robert the Bruce’s army, who camped on the hill during the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. More recent ruins to be found in the woodland are those of Polmaise castle, built in 1865 and demolished in 1966, the walled garden, and the old curling ponds. The hill has been the site of lime-mining since the late 18th century, and quarrying still continues on parts of the hill.
The hill contains a mixture of ancient mixed woodland, plantation, and heathland. The earliest mapping of trees on the hill dates back to the 1580s, with many old specimens present. Red squirrels and deer live in the woods, as do a number of other woodland animals. The area is used extensively by hikers, dog walkers, bikers and picnickers who come to enjoy the old woodland. Climbers and dirt-bikers also use the old quarries.
Gillies Hill is currently in private ownership and the woods have not been fully managed for some time. Many of the paths are overgrown and regular ‘slash and burn’ parties have been held to try and keep the old Polmaise Castle rhododendrons under control! Mountain bike jumps and boardwalks in the woods are urgently in need of maintenance, and the old walled garden and curling ponds have fallen into disrepair. The area we are seeking to buy does not include the Quarries, but does include the castle ruins, and the ‘Dark Wood’ pine plantation, as well as extensive mixed woodland and the remains of the Polmaise castle landscaping. The South side of Gillies Hill is under threat from quarrying, but the area we are looking to purchase is not included in this area. The part we are looking at is not at risk in the short term but we are worried what the future will hold if it remains in private ownership. Housing developments have been proposed on the East and the West sides and a conventional logging of the wood would impact of many aspects of the native wildlife. Paths are becoming overgrown and there is no management of the land for community use.
We have a vision to bring the land into community ownership. With this would come the responsibility to effectively manage the land to preserve what we have, enable sustainable use by the community and develop facilities to allow the land to be accessed and enjoyed by as wide a cross section of people as possible.
Protecting our red squirrels is high on our priorities and to do this we need to keep areas of the hill wild. Preserving the history of the walled garden, Murray memorial, castle ruins and many other characteristic features.
Enable access by more people including the very young and the very old. People like to use the hill for several different activities and with careful work, the land can be made suitable and safe for different activities.
Some paths need to be upgraded to flatten them out and improve drainage. This will allow disabled access and allow more people to access the beauty of the hill.
The walled garden has fallen into disrepair and the walls are in a dilapidated state. Work to improve their safety will enable us to consider projects to bring the land back into public use with the possibility of allotments or craft workshops to provide and place for people to enjoy the natural environment and support healthy living and local employment.
Our children need to learn about their surroundings and where better to do this than on the hill. We have already developed an area for more open access by the community adjacent to the primary school but a more permanent facility within the woodland setting could be a fantastic asset from which to teach our young people about the land so that they can learn to love and respect what we have on our doorstep.
Red Squirrel trail
The red squirrels are our hidden gems. They can hide in plain site and are part of the ancient natural environment we would wish to protect. We have an ambition to create an environment where they can live a natural life coupled with a trail to enable the public to observe them so we can teach people to appreciate what we have and what we can sustain if we care for it properly.