Exploring Loch Vaa near Aviemore, Scottish Highlands
Nestled in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Loch Vaa is a picturesque freshwater loch that has captivated the hearts of locals and tourists alike. Located just a short distance from the town of Aviemore, Loch Vaa is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Despite holidaying in Aviemore for most of my life and more frequently in the last ten years with my wife and young family, we had never even heard of Loch Vaa, let alone visited it. Visiting Aviemore for our 14th wedding anniversary, we decided Loch Vaa would be on the agenda on a cold but sunny Saturday morning.
Loch Vaa is a relatively small loch, measuring just over one kilometre in length and 400 meters in width. Despite its small size, it boasts stunning views of the surrounding Cairngorms mountain range, providing a breathtaking backdrop for visitors.
How to get to Loch Vaa
Loch Vaa can be found about 3 miles north of Aviemore and accessed directly from the A95 and a short distance from the A9.
The best place to park is the Laggantygown Cemetery car park from Aviemore; turn right into the cemetery car park, then turn left into the car park marked with a small stone wall. There is space for about ten cars here, but it was empty when we visited.
Please be respectful of any funerals at the cemetery if you visit.
When trying to find the car park, if coming via Aviemore, you will pass below a metal railway bridge with a large aerial tower; the car park is directly after this. If you are coming from the north and pass under the metal railway bridge, you have gone too far and will need to turn around.
The path to Loch Vaa
When my wife and I visited, it had been snowing, so finding the path to the loch was quite challenging. We knew the loch was east of the car park, so we generally went in that direction.
The path initially goes up a steep wooded hillside; at the top, you can see the loch through the trees below. We followed the ridge of this hill to the north and began to arc around in a northeasterly direction until we reached the northwest shore of Loch Vaa.
The shores of Loch Vaa are not like the fine sand beaches of Loch Morlich and Loch An Eilean but are comprised of oddly sized rounded stones. The central part of the loch was frozen, and we spotted a boathouse and a little island.
Following the now obvious path, we followed it in a clockwise direction around the loch, taking in many beautiful views of the loch. You can detour from the forest path at any section you like to get to the stony shores. The forest itself seems to be comprised of pine and silver birch trees. A single picnic table was available on the north/northeast side, overlooking a particularly picturesque part of the loch.
Low water levels in 2018/2019
A dramatic drop in water levels at Loch Vaa was recorded between September 2018 and May 2019 - a loss of 160,000,000 litres! This led to the water levels dropping by 1.4 metres (4.6 ft), the lowest level in 750 years.
The water level was so low that the boathouse could no longer be used. The low level was thought to have been caused by the dry winter of 2018/2019, but some pointed the finger at Scottish Water for drilling boreholes near Aviemore.
By April 2020, the water level had recovered and risen to a 20-year high; this time, the boathouse was unusable as the boats were hard up against the ceiling roof!
An ancient Crannog
A crannog is an ancient structure typically found in Scotland and Ireland, consisting of an artificial island or platform constructed in a body of water. These structures were built during the Iron Age and served as fortified homes, storage places, and refuges in times of war.
Upon our visit, I did see the mound of rocks in the middle of the water but I wasn't sure exactly what it was. This is the remains of the Crannog, and more of it can be seen when the water level is lower.
Loch Vaa Crannog dates from around the 13th century, but it's thought it could date back even further to the Picts or earlier iron age settlers. In May 2019, archaeologists had the unique opportunity to study the Crannog in more detail due to historically low water levels on Loch Vaa. Underwater timbers were still found to exist just below the water level. The birch timber recovered was radiocarbon dated to the 12th or 13th century.
Finishing our walk at Loch Vaa
We kept our walk close to the waterside, alternating between the shore and the forest track. A fence blocks sections, perhaps to protect wildlife from walkers. The official Loch Vaa walk takes you far to the northeast of the loch, then doubles back along its south side. Instead, we kept close to the water and used stepping stones to continue along the south shore.
The path undulates over a hilly section at the south before taking you alongside the cemetery and then back to the car park.
Activities at Loch Vaa
There are no officially organised activities at Loch Vaa, unlike Loch Morlich and Loch Insh, but here are a few suggestions for your visit.
Bird watching at Loch Vaa
We didn't hear many birds on our visit to the loch, but we saw a flock of ducks on the water. In the past, rarer species have been spotted here, including:
Wild swimming at Loch Vaa
Loch Vaa makes an interesting spot for wild swimming; its shallow clear waters and close proximity to the car park make it tempting for a quick dip or a more adventurous swim to the small island near the south shore.
However, it will be bitterly cold at all times of the year (many have died around Scotland in the last few years), and it's possible you will disturb the wildlife in and around the loch. Signs exist near the car park showing areas that should be avoided.
Kayaking / Canoeing / Paddleboarding on Loch Vaa
If you have your own boat, then the waters at Loch Vaa are ideal. Many shallow areas make it easy to get out onto the water, and the island adds interest. Again please respect the signs showing the areas that should be avoided to protect the wildlife of the loch.
Fishing on Loch Vaa
Fishing sessions are sadly no longer offered at Loch Vaa as of February 2023 due to an increase in wild swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking and dog walking, making it unfeasible.
Loch Vaa is stocked with Rainbow, Brown and Blue trout, but I'm not sure if it's still possible to legally fish the loch from the shore or a boat.
FAQs on Loch Vaa
Here are some frequently asked questions on Loch Vaa:
Are overnight stays allowed at the cemetery/Loch Vaa car park?
No, motorhomes and campervans are not permitted to stay the night at the cemetery car park.
How long does it take to walk around Loch Vaa?
We had a reasonably brisk walk around Loch Vaa, and it took us about an hour and a half to complete the circuit; this included stopping to take photos and taking in the beautiful scenery.
Can you walk around Loch Vaa?
Yes, a circular path is available around the perimeter of the loch. You can take routes on the stony shore or follow the forest paths.
Is Loch Vaa suitable for disabled visitors?
No, the paths aren't suitable for wheelchairs, and the start of the walk has steep sections.
Are there public toilets at Loch Vaa?
No, the loch has no facilities. The nearest public toilets are at Grampian Road, Aviemore.
What are other lochs near Aviemore?
Loch An Eilean
Is there anywhere nearby I can visit after Loch Vaa?
Aviemore Kart Raceway is only a few minutes south of Loch Vaa if you fancy some go-karting.
Aviemore has much to offer in terms of shops and restaurants.
Videos from Loch Vaa
Here are a few short video clips from our visit to Loch Vaa.
Key Information on Loch Vaa
Laggantygown Cemetery car park is the most accessible place to park and access Loch Vaa.
Loch Vaa is relatively small - about 1 km by 400 m.
The circular walk takes about 1.5 hours.
The loch has an ancient crannog near the centre; it looks like a mound of rocks now.
The waters can be used for watersports, but heed the signs about off-limits areas.
The boathouse is off-limits but makes for a great photo.
Aviemore is the nearest town.
Free to visit if you're on a budget.
A walk around Loch Vaa is a brilliant way to spend a morning or afternoon near Aviemore. Its proximity to the A95 makes it easy to access, and the well-trodden paths are easy to follow.
Although we walked around the entirety of the loch, you can complete a little section of the walk and then turn back. The scenery is spectacular, and the fresh air is invigorating. Highly recommended.
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