Burn o’ Vat, Dinnet: Step inside a granite cauldron

Tip-toe over stepping stones and squeeze between walls of granite to enter this huge and magical pothole with its smooth curved walls and tumbling waterfall

1. Looking back from the top of the waterfall towards the jumble of fallen granite blocks at the entrance to the Vat. Image: Peter Craig.

This must be one of the favourite children’s destinations within the Cairngorms National Park – and adults love it too! The interactive displays within the visitor centre next to the car park set the scene, and the easy 500-metre walk to the Vat itself is full of interest in all seasons. The surrounding Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve is also well worth exploring for its complex and beautiful landforms, as well as a great variety of wildlife habitats.

As you follow the gurgling Vat Burn upstream, craggy rocks begin to encroach until you are forced to scramble over large tumbled boulders and squeeze through a narrow cleft, trying hard not to miss your footing and land up with wet feet. Then comes the moment of surprise when the narrow defile opens out into an open-roofed circular cauldron floored with red granite gravel with soaring smooth granite walls that close in as they rise above you. At the far side of the 18-metre-wide pothole, a tumbling stream creates a pretty waterfall.

That is the Vat as it is today. It is hard to imagine the torrent of water that must have thundered into it as it was being created 16,000 years ago. It is just one of many landscape features in the area formed as the last of several ice sheets melted within a very short time in response to rising temperatures. Some initially small feature in the course of what was to become the Vat Burn created a swirling current that swept boulders and gravel round and round, until their grinding action carved out the huge pothole known today as the ‘Vat’.

A deep ravine lies upstream from the Vat, while spread out to the east of the road lie the mounds of gravel that were washed off, and out of, the granite hillside into which it is carved. In the same area, Loch Kinord and Loch Davan occupy depressions where huge detached blocks of stagnating ice were surrounded by outwash sand and gravel. Curiously, the hollows left when the ice finally melted are given the technical name ‘kettle holes’. If you follow one of the many waymarked routes near Loch Kinord, you will see many such hollows as well as long sinuous ridges that were formed as the gravel beds of melt-water streams flowing within sub-glacial tunnels. These ridges now stand above the surrounding landscape and are known as ‘eskers’.

Text contributed by Peter Craig

Find out more
Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve website with visitor information.
Geological Conservation Review. A comprehensive technical description of the area’s Late Devensian and Holocene landforms, that succinctly summarises the findings of many researchers whose papers are fully referenced: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/gcrdb/GCRsiteaccount370.pdf

2. The smoothly scoured granite wall of the pothole contrasts with the fractured surface at the entrance where a large block has subsequently fallen in response to undercutting by the escaping stream. Image: Peter Craig.

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