SOMETHING rather uplifting happened that has opened my eyes to a hitherto unknown part of the natural world to me.

I was walking in the eastern Ochils when I stumbled upon a young man crouched down by the edge of the track who was busily clawing at the ground with a small hammer.

We exchanged pleasantries but curiosity overcame me, so I asked him what he was doing, and it turned out that he was looking for agates.

He showed me some stones he had collected; little rocky nodules infused with pink and white concentric swirls.

How interesting and so very attractive as well. Polish these agates up and I imagine the end result would be truly stunning.

Although he was digging in a prolific spot on a spur of the slope, and had already found two or three, he said agates can sometimes be found lying on the hill tracks too.

So, for the rest of my walk my eyes were firmly planted towards terra firma, but, alas, I couldn't see any.

But I returned the next day, took a different branch of the track and soon struck lucky.

Oh, yes, I'm now the proud owner of my very own piece of Ochils agate.

Well, I think it is agate, as I'm no expert and perhaps it is a stone that goes by some other name.

But no matter, for it has a lovely warm pinkish hue and I enjoy having it.

And that's the thing; I actively seek out animals and plants so as to appreciate their beauty and form, but have never looked upon stones and rocks in the same way.

That's a pretty big omission on my part and one that I intend to rectify.

So, from here on, when out walking and scanning the ground for flowers and insects, I'm going to be searching for minerals and rocks so as to hopefully build some knowledge in an area of the natural world I know precious little about.

To this end, we are lucky to have the Ochils on our doorsteps, for it is a great place to learn about geology.

Silver used to be mined in the western part of the hills in the early 18th century, with the mine said to have held one of the richest deposits of silver ever found in the British Isles.

In another glen not too far away, there is an old lead and copper mine, where the green tinged stones of copper ore can often be found.