IT MIGHT seem strange that one of our most beautiful wildflowers delivers a twinge of sadness, but harebells do that to me, for they are one of our end-of-season plants, and their nodding pastel-blue bells are a reminder that summer is approaching its swansong.

Harebells are emerging in their droves throughout the Ochils at the moment, and on a recent walk up Menstrie Glen and out onto the new forestry plantings at Jerah, they brought colour and vibrancy to the landscape.

In the past, harebells were very much a part of our country folklore and associated with magic and witchcraft, carrying such names as “witches’ thimbles” and “fairy bells”.

They were also sometimes known as “aul man's bells”, where the aul man (old man) is a euphemism for the Devil. One reference from 19th century Scottish literature states that the plant was held with “dread” and “commonly left unpulled”.

Why this benign flower should hold such mythical fear is hard to fathom – yet perhaps that is where the root of my guarded welcome to the appearance of harebells stems from.

There were plenty of other flowers about in Menstrie Glen, including the yellow powder-puff blooms of lady’s bedstraw.

The plant dries to give the scent of new-mown hay, and its name possibly derives from the old custom of including it in straw mattresses, and in especially in the beds of women about to give birth.

In among stands of creeping thistles, several red-tailed bumblebees buzzed, eagerly seeking out nectar.

With their black bodies, and striking orange tips to their abdomens, these bumblebees are tremendously attractive creatures.

On my return journey back down Menstrie Glen, a family of stonechats flitted in among some young pines ahead of me, their sharp, grating calls drifting across the breeze.

I don’t recall seeing any whinchats – a close cousin of the stonechat – in the Ochils this summer.

Hopefully, that is just an aberration on my part, and not down to the fact that numbers of these delightful little birds are on the decline in Clackmannanshire.