This is a tour that takes in the southern edge of the Ochil Hills; Kinross and Loch Leven; Scotland's ancient capital at Dunfermline; then follows the north bank of the River Forth, taking in industry old and new, combined with some really attractive and little known gems.
The main circular route shown on the map in dark blue is 66 miles long, all on good quality roads. The route assumes a starting point of Stirling but it can be tackled from Edinburgh by the addition of 15 miles each way to Dunfermline.
From Stirling you should aim to head north east to end up on the A91, which heads east along the foot of the Ochil Hills. In getting to the start of the route, you will pass close by Bridge of Allan, the Wallace Monument, and Cambuskenneth Abbey. None of these can really be considered to be part of the tour, but it is worth knowing they are there should you be interested.
Once established on the A91 you pass under the steep slopes of the most westerly of the hills that line the north side of this road, Dumyat. The road then passes through Menstrie. This village is easy to overlook, and the castle that now sits surrounded by a housing estate is even easier to miss. The next of the hillfoot settlements, Alva, is rather more substantial. The north side of Alva is dominated both by the hills that rise above it, but also by Strude Mill, one of the many textile mills which prompted the growth of all these hillfoot settlements. Strude Mill has now been converted to residential use.
Tillicoultry is the next village. Immediately behind it rises Ben Cleuch, the highest of the Ochils, though with the flank overlooking Tillicoultry sadly scarred by quarrying. East of Tillicoultry the A91 reaches Dollar. This has a rather more rural feel than the villages you have seen so far on the tour. Dollar is home to Dollar Academy, while in the glen rising into the hills behind the village is Castle Campbell. Overlooking the whole scene is King's Seat Hill.
East of Dollar you should follow the A91 as far as Milnathort, just beyond the junction with the M90. A little beyond the village is Burleigh Castle. In Milnathort you turn south for the mile or so to Kinross This is an interesting town in its own right, but it is also the access point for the boat trips to the island on Loch Leven on which Lochleven Castle stands. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in many places during the final years of her life, but this was where she was brought immediately following her fall from power.
From Kinross you should use the M90 to progress south past the old mining village of Kelty to Dunfermline. Once more important than Edinburgh, Dunfermline has a fascinating core that is well worth exploring. Particular highlights include the remains of its abbey and royal palace; the abbey church; and the Abbot House Heritage Centre. Perhaps the oddest attraction is St Margaret's Cave. An unassuming building in the corner of a large public car park gives access via 80 steps to the cave in which Queen Margaret, later St Margaret, secretly came to pray following her marriage to Malcolm III in 1070.
From Dunfermline make your way south down the B9156 then along minor roads to the shoreside village of Limekilns. As well as featuring in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" Limekilns offers considerable character and a real sense of history. A little west of Limekilns is Charlestown, which still has some of its lime kilns as well as a very historic centre.
North west of Charlestown you join the A985 for a few miles before turning off on the B9037 to Culross. Culross is the real gem on this tour. And a real surprise. The village looks across the River Forth to the oil refineries at Grangemouth, and sits between the huge Longannet power station to the west and the derelict Low Valleyfield colliery and the disused salt pans of Preston Island to the east. Yet Culross the nearest thing to a 16th century time capsule anywhere in Scotland. It's as if much of the core of the village was simply frozen in time, while on the hillside behind the village are the remains of Culross Abbey close to the surviving Culross Abbey Church. Culross is a place in which you could easily spend all day.
West of Culross a minor road brings you to Kincardine, a settlement that has been carved up more than most by industrial and road development, yet which retains real character despite that. It is primarily known for giving its name to the nearby road bridge over the River Forth, itself being supplemented by a new bridge to the west completed in 2009. North west of Kincardine the A907 by-passes Clackmannan, and actually finding the centre from the main road is not easy. But it is worth the effort to see a settlement which, though ignored by recent history, does give its name to a local authority area and which offers one or two very pleasant surprises.
Rather better known, and just to the west again, is Alloa. Once home to a major harbour on the River Forth, and once the centre of Scotland's brewing industry, today it is sadly neither. But it does remain home to a surprisingly interesting collection of buildings. These include Alloa Tower, dating back to the 1400s, which is all that remains of a Royal palace that once stood here. West of Alloa the A907 takes you back to your starting point in Stirling.