Many years ago, as a small boy, I closed the front door of our new house
behind me and set about exploring unfamiliar territory. On reaching the
top of a gentle slope on a wide forest track I was suddenly faced by
giant pink blancmanges under a deep blue sky. It was my first sight of
the Ochil Hills, and I was gobsmacked. Their appearance came courtesy of
a low Winter sun on a coat of snow and, coming from a grey land of
tenements, it was the most mesmerising thing I had ever seen. I walked
and walked and walked. I wanted to be there. But no matter how far I
walked they remained this untouchable distance, and in the end I had to
turn back. But I knew I'd get there. Some day.
It is the Ochil Hills that make Alva special, and without them the town
would be just another nondescript little Scottish town buckling under
the weight of unemployment. In the past Alva was famed for its mills,
where all manner of woollen items were manufactured for home and abroad. All that industry has gone,
and the one remaining mill building - Strude Mill - sits majestically
yet forlornly above the town, a constant reminder of once great times.
Today, it is hard to imagine that in the nineteenth century over 1,000 people were employed in Alva's woollen industry.
These days we get most of our clothes from abroad, and places like Alva
have almost no reason to exist. I say 'almost' because you need
something solid to support those big pink blancmanges and prevent them
from wobbling over.