Travel with Heather Critchlow to the setting of Unsolved
Unsolved settings with Heather Critchlow
In Book one of The Cal Lovett Files, Unsolved, true crime podcaster Cal travels to Aberdeenshire to investigate the cold case of a missing woman who rode her horse into the woods thirty-five years ago and didn’t come out.
The missing woman, Layla, lived and worked in the foothills of Bennachie – where I spent part of my childhood. It’s a wild and beautiful place situated between Aberdeen and Inverness of the edge of the Highlands. You can sometimes see the Northern Lights from here. In the summer, it barely gets dark and in the winter snow can block the roads and leave you trapped for days.
The hill Bennachie (pronounced Ben-a-hee) has a distinctive shape that can be seen from miles around. Not far from the A96 road between Aberdeen and Inverness, Bennachie has several peaks – Mither Tap is the most visually striking of these but is actually the second-highest after Oxen Craig. At a height of 528m it isn’t a strenuous climb and on a sunny day it’s a pleasant hike.
From the top, you can see the patchwork fields referred to in the prologue of Unsolved. But, like all Scottish Hills, beware when the mists come down and the visibility drops. In winter Bennachie can be a bleak and forbidding place. It’s in this environment that feisty Layla Mackie is brought up, riding horses and working as a waitress in a local hotel.
Pittodrie House Hotel
Pittodrie Country House Hotel is situated on the lower slopes of Bennachie. It’s not known when the house was built, and it most resembles a 17th Century Laird’s House with later additions, but parts of the building date back to the 1400s. Originally the home of the Erskine Family, it was eventually sold and became a hotel in the late 20th century. The hotel is the inspiration for the one in Unsolved, in which Layla works as a waitress. The woods on the estate are carpeted with bluebells in spring. This is where she rides her horse and the slopes are where Cal later works with a team of search dogs to look for her remains.
Aberdeen beach is a long sandy stretch where you can walk for miles. A string of cafes and restaurants look out to sea, and on wild days like the one in Unsolved, the waves crash up and onto the esplanade, foaming and angry. The expensive restaurant Layla visits is imaginary, but those looking for a hearty Scottish breakfast should try the iconic Inversnecky and walk it off on the windswept front afterwards.
The secret waterfall
It’s not marked on the map, but the secret waterfall of Bennachie is worth searching for if you’re exploring the hill. Since storms decimated the forest around it, the path in has become more of a scramble but those with determination will find a stone folly, built for the Pittodrie estate, framing the small fall. The waterfall is the inspiration for a key location in Unsolved – though there’s no folly in the book and the fall is considerably bigger than the real life version.
Cal stays at a rural bed and breakfast while investigating Layla’s disappearance, but drives to nearby Inverurie for his fish and chips and to try the classic local baked goods: butteries. Butteries (also known as Aberdeen Rolls or Rowies) are made with layers of pastry, butter and lard. Salty and delicious, they can be eaten hot or cold (though in the author’s opinion hot with jam is the best way). They’re not exactly healthy so probably best eaten occasionally, but a run up Bennachie would burn them off…
Before he travels to Scotland, Cal visits serial killer Marc Dubois in secure psychiatric hospital Broadmoor in Crowthorne, Berkshire. The specialist hospital treats men in the London and South East who require secure assessment, treatment and care. It has also housed notorious criminals, including the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and Moors Murderer Ian Brady. In 1952, killer John Straffen escaped from the hospital and killed a local child, after which an alarm system was set up to alert the community.
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Unsolved