Walking Series: The Ladder Hills “forgotten boots and a lost dog”

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On the Glenlivet  Estate in the North East of Scotland you can find a trio of peaks called the Ladder Hills. A remote location, these walks can be accessed to the north from a small village called Chapeltown – a country settlement dominated by the little known Braeval Whiskey Distillery. This area is definitely what I would call ‘back country’ and one that neither me nor my father have explored in great detail before.  But this held part of the allure for us and so early on a Sunday morning we set out to see what we would find.

After an hour car journey, winding our way through the world famous whiskey region, the Spey valley, we made it to Chapeltown. With blue-ish skies and a light breeze the day rolled out in front of us and we both joked and laughed whilst we got ready for the off. Then, disaster struck. As I was riffling through our copious amounts of kit, I discovered that I had left a vital piece of equipment at home…my walking boots. In Scotland in late June this might not have been such a problem as I would have probably attempted the walk wearing my trainers, but in late October this was ‘game over’ for our walk.

I spent the next 5 minutes cursing and blinding, then apologising profusely to my dad who stood by quietly watching until I had finished. He then calmly laid out the following options a) go home and forget about a walk, b) go home and complete a shorter low level walk or c) make the 2 hour round trip to pick up my boots. I obviously felt very guilty but after some deliberation we decided that all our planning and previous excitement would be a waste if we didn’t come back and complete the walk.

So 2 hours later we had not only arrived back (with my boots) but I had seen a masterclass in patience, understanding, maturity and a display of class A father-ship from my dad.

Super Dad (and the lost dog).

As we started the walk along a small car track we past a couple of small farms, each with a multitude of cars strewn outside, in various levels of decay. I must admit we both commented that if you wanted to find a Scottish “red neck”, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start your search. Our aim for the day was to walk up onto the shoulder of a ridge before heading up to the summit of the highest of the Ladder Hills, Carn Mor (804m). The  farm track gradually petered out and we started to slowly climb into the hills. Suddenly we heard the faint sound of  barking and in the distance bobbing towards us was a small, bedraggled looking Border Terrier (see above). Nervous at first, we soon coaxed her over with the offer of bits of sandwich and after reading her collar, that had the name of a town 20 miles South of us on it, we came to the conclusion she was lost. We decided her owners might be up in the hill so we continued up the way she’s came in the hope of a swift reunion.

Who said slate had to be grey?

Unfortunately over an hour passed with no sign of the owners. By this point we had climbed high and were well up the ridge.The landscape so far had been dramatically bleak, with little or no features to be seen, just rolling hills interrupted by mountain streams.  In one such break we walked past a stream that had eroded a slate scar in the hill. With only half an hour to the summit we decided to continue on and complete our ascent before heading straight back to the car park.

On top the hill flattened making for an easy stroll to the trig point.


We made it! The summit of Ben Mor.

As you can see from the pictures (above) by this point our new travel companion was one of the gang and I must admit I loved having a dog again. Rest assured that in the new year I hope to rectify the dog shaped hole in my parents lives.

Beautiful heather hillsides leading into gently slopping valleys.

Due to our stop-start-stop-start progress, mainly caused by the dog chasing mountain hares, by the time we started to head down the sun had started to set. The late afternoon sun, stormy clouds and Scottish hills created a great backdrop for a number of pictures.

A man in his element: I don’t think I ever see my Dad as content as when he’s up a hill.
Following a deer path to pastures green and Chapeltown in the distance.

Even though the day started out disastrously, once we’d found a new friend and got up in the hills it turned out to be another great day out.  The lack of paths throughout the route and the fact the we didn’t see one other person for the whole 3 hours we were out highlights how perfectly remote this walk is. Not for the lighthearted due to it’s scrambly nature and lack of footpaths this is great for those looking for something a little more wild, off the beaten track.

To read more about this walk check out the fantastic Walk Highlands website with lots of maps, route guides and more reviews.


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