Ladder Hillshike

Today’s trip with Aberdeen Hill walkers was to a new place: The Ladder Hills between Glenlivet and Strathdon. The bus swooped through Speyside on a glrious autumn morning, gradually on to windier and narrower roads, before disembarking beside the Braeval whisky distillery, which at 350m is the highest distillery in Scotland, and is also notable in that it was modernised in recent times to such an extent that it can be operated by one person.

Braeval distillery
Nearby sign detailing a number of whisky smuggling trails
Heading towards Ladderfoot, where ‘the ladder’ starts. In the background Letterach, 788m which has a number of similar hills in a plateau
Looking past Corry ruin to Carn an t-Suidhe

The trail initially rolls through farmland, and there are some remote abodes here with a scattering of old ruined ones. Once over the Ladderfoot ford, the trail shrinks to a narrow path following a burn, there are various pieces of water machinery and structures, I thought possibly related to whisky but the burn is a different catchment to the nearby distillery.

Demickmore ruins
Autumn is upon the last trees of the glen
One of a number of small dams
To the left “Malcolm Gillespie smugglers trail”, to the right across the ford our path to Strathdon
Dam and moss covered ratchet/valve. Maybe a pipe fed the distillery at one time
Hatches and huts that look more modern era

The path hugs the edge of the hill, gradually steepening and becoming grassy and thin. This then must be the ‘ladder’, up to a notch of sorts through a plateau to the north, with a long rounded ridge of hills to the west and south heading through to the Lecht.

Path thins as the ladder heads up
The path winds along a sharply cut gulley
Shale-strewn side gullies
Grassy and steep upper reaches of the ladder
Looking back down

One of these I’d been told was a corbett, and although I have no interest in ‘list ticking’ having pulled away from the ‘main pack’ of walkers, thought it worth investing time and an extra 4km of distance to see what could be seen from it’s 804m – the first snow showers of winter had arrived on the tops of the munros further west.

A bit of a path fizzled out, I could see a white pole or two and a boundary marker, but no obvious easy way through an unexpected field of hags; up and down, in and out, then on to the shorn flat curves of Carn Mor and a biting cold wind.

Turning south-west at the saddle to Dun Muir, headed for a blip on the skyline: an old marker stone, on one side ‘March’ the other ‘Stone’ it designates the boundary between Aberdeenshire and Banffshire
Into the hags
Some retaining water, but most dry and eroding
There’s no obvious shortcut, with only long detours: through the middle it is
Surfacing to close shorn ground near the top

From the trig point I could see towards the south west some distant higher peaks with a dusting of snow: no doubt extremely cold places as a quick look on the wind gauge even here at 804 displayed a windchill down to -10.

Top of Carn Mor, 804m
Looking south west to munro level hills with a dusting of snow
Certainly pretty cold: 4c or -10c wind chill

I didn’t hang about, lunch to be taken somewhere lower and warmer, the traverse back through the hags welcome to duck out of the wind. From Dun Muir I headed for the path across rough heather, the occasional post giving false hope until I found the end of a landrover track, where hidden from the wind in an embankment were the main group of today’s walkers who had overtaken me, not having detoured.

Blackwater wind farm
Glad of the return leg to get some shelter from the wind
Walking on the ice age
One pole, two pole
Red pole, white pole

Over Finlate Hill and past Moineisach burn I spurned an exploration of old still sites buried deeper in the gully below, having burned through some excess time going to Carn Mor. The day’s route is indeed an old whisky smuggling one. The footbridge at the oddly-named Duffdefiance had collapsed but stepping stones saw us across the Littleglen burn with dry feet.

Moineiseach Burn out of sight below hides remnants of illicit whisky dens. The steep gullies were ideal both for water and inaccessibility to the law
Think this may be a scarlet waxcap
The oddly name Duffdefiance ruin
Old fence, new fence. Some of the hilltops here are destined to be plantations
Footbridge is a pile of wood nearby but stepping stones make for a dry ford

A section of blissful wooded cover followed, until the reappearance of civilisation heralded both by a good road surface underfoot, but also the unexpected appearance of art: first one trackside sculpture, then a whole plethora of unusual shapes: a gallery was found but also lost.

Larch komorebi
“In ferrous defence of the lost”
The Lost Gallery has a garden of pleasing shape and form

After the cottage and bridge of Auchernach woodland was once more entered, edged by farmland and many a ruined dwelling: Corriebrack, Belnabodach , Howe.

I think this is a Lurid Bolete: on splitting the stem, it quickly turns a deep blue – an unusual thing to watch
Near Sunnybrae cottage, it’s view of Green hill opposite is more brown hill – clearfelled and crisscrossed with tracks for new planting
Auchernach walled garden
Auchernach lodge marks the end of Glen Nochty
The house across the track is decaying to a stay of ruination: the floor is missing
Blue skies Red kite
Across the Water of Nochty
Auchernach doocot is now a silo
Jubilee cairn on Hill of Rhinstock
Bridge of Auchernach
Corriebreck would have been a large building in it’s day
Corriebreck dam pool
Howe farmstead
Belnabodach now acts as cover for pheasants

Reaching the official walk end point at Lost, and with 40 minutes to spare before the bus left, I head onwards to fave scenic bridge: Poldullie. There’s a lovely path around the Doune of Invernochty, a raised site of an old fort, that winds around it and through woods. At the bridge, light was good and descending to a position to snap: click “your card is full” grrr, and unwilling to delete any of the day’s photos, forged onwards with the phone, which struggled with the heavy contrast of the scene.

Not lost, Lost
The Doune is a big lump now but would have been impressive with a stockade fort on top
“Poldullie Bridge, 1715. Crosses the dark, winding Don by a single 70ft rubble span of considerable grace”
Every time I’d been here before it had been grey skies. Nice light – but main camera full and no time to twiddle clearing it. The phone does however have a nice water blur effect
Under we go
The other side is harder to access and would need morning light
Fare ye well fine bridge

I rushed back along the road, in time to meet the others to head onward to the Haughton Arms in Alford for a pint before home.

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