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Drovers’ return: Exploring stunning trail between Ballater and Angus 135 years after historic fight for access rights

© Shutterstock / Neil MilneTrees cling to a mountain cliff face in Glen Doll, Angus
Trees cling to a mountain cliff face in Glen Doll, Angus

A long stretch of remote trails connects Ballater and Angus, once used by cattle drovers to move livestock from Auchallater to Glen Doll.

The whole 13.6-mile route is known as Jock’s Road and can be undertaken by fit and experienced walkers in a long day or broken up with an overnight camp.

I planned a pleasant 10-mile adventure to enjoy some of the best this trail has to offer, as well as exploring the neighbouring glen.

Shouldering my pack at the Glen Doll car park (postcode DD8 4RD), I headed to the forest, passing the waymarkers for forest walks, with the sun breaking the canopy of pines. The forest hugged me in close as I followed the White Water river. After just under a mile the path branched with a sign to “Jock’s Road” bearing right.

Left would take you to the impressive Corrie Fee – a breathtaking glacial corrie below the Munros of Mayar and Driesh and an ecologically stunning place. It’s very popular with campers, evident by the half-dozen walking the opposite direction.

Following Jock’s Road, however, I soon reached the edge of the forest. Here, a shorter, five-mile route back can be followed by crossing the bridge and following the paths back to the car park, avoiding the higher ground up ahead.

In 1932, several hundred protesters famously took to Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire Peak District to fight for access to England’s countryside. Yet, some five decades earlier, Scotland saw a historical fight for access of its own right here.

In 1886, Jock’s Road witnessed a legal battle between the organisation now known as Scotways and then-landowner Duncan Macpherson. Macpherson barred passage along the route but Scotways fought to use this culturally important trail.

As I continued my walk, the track gave way to a path that climbed up the hillside towards the mountain shelter, Davy’s Bourach, with its bright-red door and made in memory of a group who sadly perished on the remote plains in a winter storm in 1959.

As the path levelled out I watched for a junction beyond Cairn Lunkard. The path dropped past Loch Esk down to the Glittering Skellies – slabs of rock that shine in the sunlight. Look back up to the Skellies to witness their glittering qualities!

I kept south of the River South Esk on my return hike. Looking at the map, I was fascinated by the fantastic names given to the hills and crags – The Gourock, The Strone, Dog Hillock and, my favourite, Juanjorge.

Crossing the river and passing by Moulzie farm, I soon re-entered the forest and was back at the car. I had walked 10 miles with 1,980ft elevation, and deserved a seat on the picnic benches.

As I relaxed, enjoying the sound of the river passing by, I mentally thanked those who fought for public access to this fantastic route.