The Ladder Road
Start location: Track junction near Torrancroy, N of Strathdon (NJ 334 158)
End location: Unclassified Road at Achnascraw, north of Chapeltown (NJ 246 217)
Geographical area: Cairngorms National Park
Path Type: Smugglers' Path, Coffin Road
Path distance: 11.75km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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The right of way is signposted as the road to the Lost Gallery and starts off up the hill between two lodges at 334 158. The road surface is a reasonable forestry road and it climbs up through closely planted conifers for about 2km. In the lower stretches the road is partly lined with mature hardwoods.
At Aldachuie (now the Lost Gallery) there are open fields to the right and beyond this a turning place with a spectacular sculpture in it. From there on the road continues fairly level. After 200m the trees to the left open out and there is a view down to the burn below.
1km past the Lost Gallery the ruins of Duffdefiance appear ahead (allegedly built by, in defiance of the local laird). The right of way crosses the burn (easy) and winds up the hill through deep heather as a Landrover track. For the first 200m up the hill there is a substantial hill dyke just to the right and 150m further on the track passes through a slap in another substantial dyke.
The right of way winds up hill, sometimes separating off from the vehicle track which is firm walking in deep heather. About 1.5km above Duffdefiance the right of way joins a hill road coming in from the right. This track runs along fairly level for about 1km with smooth walking along the line of the ridge heading NW to cross another hill road. The right of way then continues as a walking track, which splits and divides with evidence of deeply worn tracks from days gone by. It is well delineated but not easy to estimate current use. A stiffish climb of about 600m leads to a cairn at the summit pass.
Descend into the valley of the Ladder burn, where the path is defined, and has the appearance of an old stalkers’ path, being carefully graded and well built. A Land-rover track descends the final section to Ladderfoot. From Ladderfoot to Demickmore the rouite is largely untracked, but a pair of gateposts mid-way between these properties acts as a useful guide to the old line. From Demickmore working quad-bike tracks, grassy and muddy but easily followed, lead NW to Belno and the track to Rhindhu. Alternatively, from Ladderfoot take the track to Corry and thence to East Auchavaich and Chapeltown.
OS Landranger 37 (Strathdon) & 36 (Grantown, Aviemore & Cairngorm area)
The Ladder Road is known to be one of the main routes used by smugglers. Duffdefiance has various stories about it, mostly involving illicit whisky distilling, eviction and the building of a house in defiance of the laird, Duff. Sometimes it is the evictee who is named as Duff, perhaps they both were Duffs. It is also disputed whether the ruins seen today are actually even those of the house built in defiance, either of Duff or by Duff! Whatever the truth of the stories, the remains of a still have been identified to the northwest beside the Moineiseach Burn and below the Ladder Road at NJ 2971 1723.
This route is also said to be a coffin road, the coffins being carried over the hill from Strath Don for burial in Chapeltown. It is said that a cairn near Ladderfoot marks the place where a party of coffinbearers from Donside settled their score with the Glenlivet bearers who had been supposed to meet them at the top of the pass in order to bring the coffin down the hill. Instead the men from Glenlivet had overindulged with the local drink. There are marker cairns at the pass which mark the boundary between Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, this is likely the spot where the pallbearers would traditionally meet. Perhaps the boundary marker originally doubled as coffin cairns. A rest from coffin carrying and a drink were also traditional, no wonder the Donside men were upset that the Glenlivet men had started without them!