The Ladder Hills in Glenlivet was my training ground for hill-walking in the Scottish Hills. It was distinctively different from what I knew and it required a slightly different set of skills and attitudes than those useful in the Polish mountains. The Ladder Hills are relatively close to civilisation but at the same time they give a sense of remoteness and wilderness. One of the most outstanding summits there was Corryhabbie Hill on the north end of Braes of Glenlivet – though I’m not a hundred 100 percent certain it actually belongs to the Ladder Hills. That’s geographical purists’ job to establish it.
I climbed the hill a good few years ago and then left it undisturbed until early this year when unexpectedly I developed a sort of desire to climb it again. Such a thought has kept nagging me for a while and eventually I gave in last Monday. I decided to take the same route as the first time with some minor alterations. It meant travelling to a small car park in the north part of Glenlivet, about a couple of miles beyond the now closed Catholic Church of Tombae, east off the village of Tomnavoulin. It’s a single track tarmac road winding its way downhill and ending at Allanreid car park. From there I followed the river Livet upstream on its west side along the grassy farm track through a few gates, a patch of woodland, through fields full of sheep, all the way to a footbridge across the river Livet. The bridge seemed to be unnecessarily high above the ground; but I’d seen that river and its tributaries swollen after downpours or after the spring melt, and those who had built that bridge most likely had seen that too.
After crossing the Livet via the bridge I continued following the river, this time on the other side obviously. After passing through another gate I was walking on a dirt farm track, going to its side every now and again to avoid wading through broad puddles. The track led me around the base of the hill, taking me to the east side of it. It’s a relatively long walk, but in fact a very pleasant stroll through the Braes of Glenlivet.
At one point a beautiful view of the northern Glen Livet opened, with a distinctive red roof of a derelict croft in the distance, sitting against the backdrop of the southern slopes of Carn na Bruar. A few minutes and steps later a building of Suie Farm appeared to the north on top of a hillock, proudly guarding the entrance to the narrow Glen Suie behind it. Sadly, the farm has been unoccupied for years and now its empty windows looked like eye sockets.
I crossed the river Livet through a ford, thus shortening my walk a bit. There’s a footbridge near the aforementioned red-roof croft, but it would add about a mile to my walk; unnecessary as the water level was really low. After crossing the river I abandoned it and headed uphill towards the farm, where I stopped for a while to reflect on life and to have a chocolate bar; the latter was far more important than the former.
A few hundred yards behind the farm there was another croft, fenced around. The path led along the fence to its right and then run downhill for a short moment. The glen was split into two by a long hillock of Tor of Suie running along its length. The path forked there too: a much narrower one ran to the east side towards Cook’s Cairn while the main track went gently uphill along the foot of Carn an t-Suidhe. I took the latter. For about half-mile it was relatively well-maintained, but further away it was scarred by water erosion; quite a deep ditch ran roughly in the middle of the road.
A mile or so up the track it forked again; one part continued northwards, the other turned left and upwards. I took the latter. It was a bit steep at times, running in quite long stretches uphill, turning left and right. Some sections were covered with gravel and stone rubble that didn’t give much foot support. Thankfully those bits were rather short. Eventually I reached the hilltop and after a few minutes I found another path turning left towards the summit of Corryhabbie Hill. It was marked by a triangulation point surrounded by a low dry-stone wall. After a break for late packed lunch I headed southwards along the farm track. It turned right and downwards a moment later towards Muckle Lapprach. The track was gradually fading to a point where it was really faint, though still visible to a watchful eye. However, at one point I left it and turned right towards Cairn Dregnie on which I had spotted another path.
While going down the slope I saw a small herd of deer running up on the eastern slopes of Carn an t-Suidhe, on the other side of the glen. Literally a moment later I spotted another herd, a bit lower, and those deer didn’t seem to be bothered much by my presence. In fact, the herd was slowly moving in the same direction as I, but on the opposite hill. Still going down through the heather and scree I reached the lower part of Cairn Dregnie and a deer fence blocked my way. I expected it and already planned for it. From my previous walk I knew there was a gate somewhere in the patch of the woodland. To get there I had to walk along the fence through a pretty boggy ground. It turned out the gate was on the far side, so the walk was pretty long and tiring. The gate wasn’t openable in the traditional way; it was kept in place by gravity, pieces of worn-out cord and leaning against fencing poles. I moved it from its leaning position and avoiding pieces of wire sticking out of the fence went through. Then I had to climb over the parallel running fence to enter the woodland. That was rather simple as the fence was low, though with barbed wire on top.
In the forest a narrow path led me backwards, but the ground underfoot was dry which was great. Following the path, I eventually I reached a wide forest track and that led me back to the car park and my car.