Malcolm Gillespie Smugglers Trail

THE LADDER HILL TRACK (between Ladderfoot and the Suie) HAS WASHED AWAY IN PLACES DUE TO FLOODING AND MAY BE DIFFICULT TO NEGOTIATE

Route: A walk into the wild, remote and lonely countryside through ruggedly beautiful landscape, the haunt of whisky smugglers.
Distance: 10.5km (6.5 miles) circular
Duration: Allow 4 hours
Start: East Auchavaich Car Park (Chapeltown): NJ 242 209

Head along the farm track through the farm steading and climb steadily uphill towards the small wood of Tom a Voan (1). To your right you can pick out the isolated Scalan seminary (see p8) amongst the open expanse of the Braes of Glenlivet, and behind you look for the church tower of Chapeltown echoed in the architecture of the Braeval distillery.

The track drops down and heads out to the foot of the Ladder Hills (derived from the Gaelic – leitir, leitreach – meaning slope, side of a hill). Follow the track, with fields below and rough hillside amass with juniper above, and descend round a sharp bend to arrive at the appropriately named Ladderfoot (2). Here the Ladder Road forks off across the bridge, but stay on the main track, passing the holiday cottage before using a boardwalk to cross the burn. The track is easy to follow as it climbs gently up the hillside where red grouse, golden eagle, mountain hare and red deer are all to be found, before dipping down to cross the ford of the Burn of Coirebreac (3). Look up to the corries to your right and it is easy to imagine the smugglers hiding out in these remote recesses with their well disguised “Sma’ stills” tucked away next to bubbling springs.

The track ascends once more and at its highest point (4) the views open up ahead to the open bowl of the Suie and the wide expanse of the Gordon flats, which once gave smugglers a clear view of approaching officials. Today, look out for the activity of breeding moorland birds in the spring and early summer including curlew, snipe, golden plover and lapwing, to name a few. Follow the track as it twist and turns downhill, before forking off to the left across a section of moor to the edge of the River Livet (5). Here follow the grassy track to your left and turn almost immediately left and follow the path along the fence line for 300m, where you turn right onto the track. Continue along the track (which at first is fairly indistinct in places) westwards through the heather. The track soon becomes more obvious and crosses the open moor to reach the Blye water and the scattered buildings of the Burnside of Thain (6). There are lovely views onto the prominent hill of the Bochel and the Braes of Glenlivet.

Please be aware that this section of path across the moor may not be accessible when shooting is in progress during the grouse season. At the Blye water continue across the burn and along the farm track to a junction of tracks above Rhindhu (7). Turn left and follow the track between the fields to join the tarmac road, where you turn right to descend into the village of Chalpeltown. Turn left and continue on the road through the village until you reach the car park, on your left opposite the church.

Location and map

Set in the stunning eastern Highlands of Scotland, there’s so much waiting to be discovered.

Shades or sou'wester?

  • Saturday 18 °C
  • Sunday 14 °C
  • Monday 19 °C
  • Tuesday 16 °C
  • Wednesday 15 °C