Menstrie lies some three miles north west of Alloa and five miles east of Stirling. It is the most westerly of the line of "Hillfoot" villages that lie along the base of the Ochil Hills and divide Clackmannanshire's hilly northern half from its more populous southern half.
Menstrie is the smallest of these villages and has a story that can be told in terms of three main elements: the woollen industry originally established to use the power of the water flowing down from the Ochils; a castle; and a distillery.
The main road passing east to west through Menstrie divides the village in two. The longer established parts generally lie to the north or uphill side, while the newer parts lie on the downhill side. There is an important exception to this. Following tourist signs from the main road produces a surprise, for sitting in the heart of a 1950s housing estate is Menstrie Castle.
This started life in about 1560 as small tower house, which may have been build on the site of an earlier castle. It was developed into a crenellated manor house by Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, the 1st Earl of Stirling in the early 1600s. It seems likely that the manor house had three ranges and a wall on the fourth side, with an enclose courtyard. Obvious evidence that it was once larger than it is today comes from the traces of fireplaces on the exterior of the end wall shown in the header image.
After a long period of dereliction, the castle was saved and converted into housing in the late 1950s. A small museum in the castle tells the story of the building and its occupants, recognising Sir William Alexander's role in founding Nova Scotia in 1625.
The village today is notable for the amount of open space within its boundaries, and that's before you take into account the hills that loom closely in every view with the slightest northern aspect. At the northern or uphill end of the village green that sits in the heart of the village, the burn that runs through it is crossed by the Auld Brig. This was built on the line of the original road through the village in 1665.
Menstrie made its name in the 1800s as a producer of woollen blankets and tartans, first using water power, then moving to steam and finally gas powered mills. But by far the most significant industrial development in Menstrie was the Glenochil Distillery.
This started life as the Dolls Distillery in 1746, later being known as the West Dolls Distillery. In 1846 it was acquired by the MacNab Brothers, who rebranded it as the Glenochil Distillery. They took out the pot stills which had until then produced malt whisky, and installed instead Coffey stills designed to produce grain whisky on an industrial scale. By the 1880s the distillery was huge, producing around a million gallons per year, making it one of the most productive distilleries in Scotland at the time. It even had its own railway sidings.
Production of whisky stopped in 1929, but Glenochil remained an important research and yeast production centre for the giant DCL company until quite recently. The yeast production plant is now in the hands of another multinational company, Unilever.
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