Looking up from our garden as a kid the Ochil Hills dominated my view. The sun dipped down behind their western edge in summer, leaving a golden ribbon on the hilltops for the briefest of moments. Fighter jets disappeared behind them. “Where are they going?” I used to wonder. What could be behind those hills?
As I awake from my flashback to childhood, I decide to pierce the mysteries of the Ochils and Alva and test my memory. With Google maps. I retrace the confines of my childhood world. I move the cursor along Ochil road, advancing to the top of the cemetery. I’m on the edge of Alva: after, it’s just fields and hills. I look for the donkey we used to feed a carrot to. I can’t find Farrier’s, or the monkey bars I used to swing on. Have I taken a wrong turn somewhere?
I head back in the opposite direction, still flanked by the natural barrier of the hills on one side. A farm borders the western side of Alva, with its McMansion style house and quad bikes in the front garden. I never knew what they farmed, but they used to light a bonfire on November 5th.
Google offers me a pleasant surprise. The “back road” really is called “Back Road”. I had always thought it was a nickname, in opposition to the main road that runs parallel to it.
But Maps won’t let me see the details. Where are the paths up into the Ochils from Cochrane park? How can I see the playground equipment from the 90s?
When I zoom in too much, I can’t orient myself the way I want. When I zoom out, I can’t catch the details I’m trying to match up with the ones in my memory.
I zoom out completely to get a bird’s eye view of the Ochils. Better than a bird’s eye: a satellite's eye. Were the hills really an impenetrable fortress? From the air, they look like the sort of birthmark you’d go see a dermatologist about. An uneven blotch on Central Scotland. On the northern side of them is Gleneagles: a golf course was tucked behind these wild hills all that time.
Going East, I spot more details. Castle Campbell nestles in the posh end of the Ochils, near Dollar, where, at Dollar Academy, a private school, girls in pleated gym skirts played hockey on the pristine lawn. The University of Stirling sits at the western end. Continuing further east, you end up in Perthshire. I had no idea.
Swimming lessons in Dollar on Saturdays. Psychology playgroup at Stirling University before primary school. The view from our garden. The Ochils bordered, defined and determined my movements as a kid. 25 miles of mystery, unveiled and dissolved after a few minutes on Google Maps.
by Cara Leopold
Photo credit: Cara Leopold