Earlier this year I enjoyed my first proper trip to Royal Deeside when I stayed at the gorgeous Mill of Dess Lodge. As I found out, this is an ideal area of Scotland to base yourself if you are a lover of castles and the outdoors, and I'm definitely a fan of both. I pretty much split my time between scenic walks and historical ruins, with a few great restaurants and cafes thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite local discoveries was Burn O'Vat, an amazing bowl-shaped geological feature which was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age. As it was just a 15 minute drive from my accommodation, I headed there earlyish in the morning as it apparently gets quite busy later in the day. After parking at the Burn O'Vat visitor centre car park I set off on the very short and easy walk to reach the 'Vat' itself.
The route is well signposted and crosses a green wooden bridge before carrying on past a second bridge and then coming to an abrupt stop at a rock face - or so you think!
If you look closely, you will spot the narrow entrance-way which leads to the natural amphitheatre beyond. The next section to reach the gap does require a bit of agility to get over the boulders and across the stream, but isn't too strenuous and is actually quite fun!
Arriving at the entrance feels a bit like an Indiana Jones moment, with the possibility of ancient treasures or a forgotten civilisation hidden beyond the giant moss covered boulders. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic but its hard not to let your imagination run wild in a place like this, especially when there's no-one else about.
Crossing the stepping stones, negotiating the well placed tree trunk and the glimpses of a waterfall just add to the feeling of adventure although I should probably add that waterproof footwear will come in handy if the water levels are high or your balancing skills are lacking!
It is easy to understand why one of Scotland's notorious outlaws Patrick 'Gideroy' MacGregor and his followers were said to use Burn O'Vat as a hiding place from the authorities in the 17th century. Without local knowledge and before an official path was constructed, it would be a hard place to find. However, the law did eventually catch up with MacGregor and in 1636 he was hanged along with some of his men before their heads and right hands were cut off and fixed above the east and west ports of Edinburgh.
What lies inside is a real treat and it's certainly unlike anywhere else I've come across in Scotland. I was immediately drawn over to the tumbling waterfall which is far from the biggest or most impressive I've seen on my travels around the country but the unusual setting made it quite special.
It's hard to comprehend the feeling and scale of standing inside the centre of the carved bowl with the towering rock-faces and the sound of rushing water. Photos certainly don't do it justice so I've also added this short video to give you a better idea of the 360 degree surroundings.
If you're in the area it is definitely worth stopping here, and if you can, arrive early in the day before the crowds as it is an atmospheric experience having a place like this all to yourself.
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