OREANDA-NEWS. August 20, 2015. As SSE prepares to open a new archive centre in Pitlochry later this week, we take look at the famous fish ladder

One of the best known features of Pitlochry Dam is the salmon fish ladder.

It was built to allow the annual migration of thousands of Atlantic salmon up the River Tummell and over the dam wall.

Without it, the dam would have been an impassable obstacle for the migrating salmon.

The fish ladder has a total of 34 chambers, or small artificial pools, each one with a water level slightly higher than the one below.

The salmon swim up the series of steps from one chamber to the next via small circular entrances, gradually making their way to Loch Faskally.

There is a viewing room for visitors to watch the migration. This forms one of three resting chambers, allowing the fish to catch their breath before they swim through the next set of chambers.

A fish counter records how many fish have passed through the ladder each season. Around 4,000-5,000 salmon make the journey every year – a staggering 250,000 fish since it opened 60 years ago.

Sandy Philips was the North of Scotland Hydro Board’s Salmon Observer and worked at the Pitlochry Fish Pass for 28 years.

He retired in 1979, but over those years he learned a great deal about the salmon and trout passing through the dam and was an advocate of its benefits to the fish population.

Before he worked for the Hydro Board, Mr Philips joined the Black Watch in 1931 at the age of 17. In 1942, he was part of the 51st Highland Division’s offensive at Suez, assaulting the German lines under the barrage of 900 allied artillery pieces - a noise that could be heard in Cairo over 60 miles away.

During this assault, Mr Philips was caught by a mortar round which injured his right leg and knocked his rifle from his hand - taking his trigger finger with it. While lying seriously wounded, another round shattered his left leg. Amazingly he survived the war and began working for the Hydro Board in 1946.

During his time at the fish ladder, he spoke with the thousands of tourists who came to see the dam, sharing his knowledge of fish and the local lore. Many wrote to him after their visit to express their appreciation for his stories.

Mr Philips was a keen painter in his retirement and held an exhibition of his work in the East Church Gallery in Pitlochry in 1985.