IT WAS an interesting discovery – a handful of old and gnarled Scots pines clinging tenaciously to a steep slope below Wood Hill near Alva.

Scots pines are among my favourite trees, and finding this little cluster brought images flooding into my mind of the great natural Caledonian wildwoods of northern Scotland.

Alas, these trees in the Ochils were hanging on for dear life and they will soon be no more, because sheep grazing is preventing natural regeneration.

It had been an enjoyable walking circuit, starting at the bottom of Alva Glen, where yellow-dazzled gorse bloomed

There is an old country saying that goes along the lines of 'when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season' - a reflection of the fact that at least a few of its vibrant yellow flowers are likely to be in bloom no matter the time of year.

Our intention had been to climb Ben Cleuch, but on our approach, it was shrouded in thick mist, so instead we detoured to Wood Hill and then back to Alva.

In mid-winter, these Ochil tops are wild and empty, with little wildlife about, apart from a few wind-tumbled ravens.

However, the previous year, on the summit of King's Seat Hill, I had encountered a flock of golden plovers, which wheeled over my head, calling excitedly.

Several years prior to that, I glimpsed a pair of snow buntings in exactly the same spot.

So, despite this winter emptiness, these wonderful hills always have the capability to surprise.

Earlier in the week, by the River Devon, I was delighted to find yellow brain fungus growing on an alder.

It is a most unusual fungus - an orange gelatinous mass with brain-like folds and lobes.

Nature's infinite variety never cease to amaze, and this species has evolved to parasitise on another wood-rotting fungus that grows on trees.

According to folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the door of a house it meant that a witch had cast a spell on the family living there.