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Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
© 2008

The Two Towers

I visited the Two Towers today but there was no sign of the wizards Sauron & Saruman. I am not sure whether the residents of Alloa would like their town to be compared to Mordor though I am sure that in its industrial hey day it belched enough smoke, steam & fumes from its mines, gasworks & factories to rival Tolkien’s mythical kingdom of hell.

I parked in the market place and asked a local where was the pay machine. “Its all free in Alloa” he proudly declared. Now there’s a good start to the day. My short walk starts at Alloa Tower which is completely surrounded by modern developments – Tesco, the Council Offices & 1960’s housing. I speculate what it must have looked like when set in gardens and green fields of the Forth plain. An interpretation board helps re-create that view with plans, sketches & other information.
Alloa Tower

The two castles were established around the 14th century as Central Scotland  
Residences for distant families. The Earls of Mar, who built Alloa Tower, hail from Strathdon in the North East and The Bruces who established Clackmannan Tower come from Dumfries & Galloway – both wished to be closer to the centres of power at Stirling and Edinburgh. There were periods of friendship and enmity between the occupants and it would be easy to hurl insults at each other from the top of the structures – though the distance probably exceeds the range of mediaeval weaponry.

Clackmannan is superbly situated on a hill overlooking the Forth and with good views to the Ochils. It was originally a hunting lodge but no doubt the sporting visits revealed the strategic value of the site and it soon became a fortified Tower. In some ways it is much easier to photograph than its twin, being less surrounded by clutter, but only by moving away to a distance can the converging verticals be avoided.


As I sit and look out over the sprawling estuary a pair of Buzzards rise into the sky and perform aerobatics into the brisk wind, soaring then tumbling together in what must be a form of play. This reminds that the space between the two towers has much green in it though it is shrinking rapidly. What is left forms breathing spaces for the local population. A river, woods and the expansive fields reclaimed from the water have a network of paths that people can explore and see wild flowers and birds and get some fresh air.

The return journey takes me under a complex march of pylons but in a bright sun with a clear sky they don’t look particularly unattractive and in fact make a rather good photograph. There is a huge sense of openness out on the flood plain and surveying the horizon I can count seven historic buildings reminding me that this area has been at the heart of Scotland’s history for many years.

Even in this industrialised urban area there are uplifting views and this couple of hours striding out between the Two Towers has yielded yet another insight into the landscape that we occupy.

© Keith Ratcliffe

November 2007

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