Kilmartin...a place of mystery

We were part way through a driving trip of Scotland and we had booked into the Caledonia Hotel at Gourock, a small town off the beaten track on the banks of Loch Awe. The room was pure trailer trash but the local bar was warm and inviting. The next morning we awoke to wonderful views across the Loch.




We were staying here as it was close to Kilmartin and that was our next destination.

On the way to Kilmartin we passed the ruins of Carnassarie Castle. I found out that there is a tenuous but weird family connection. My great-great grandmother was a Campbell  who emigrated from Scotland in 1853 and there is a family connection to the McLean clan.


Now back to the Castle. It was built in 1565 by Bishop John Carswell who was the rector for Kilmartin. It was sold on until it was bought by Sir Dugald Campbell, the 3rd Duke of Argyll, in 1643.  It stayed  in the family and finally became the home of Archibald Campbell, the 9th Duke of Argyll. In 1650 he married Lady Mary Stewart and became  entwined with the Scottish nationalist movements. He joined in the Monmouth Rebellion; the West Country rebellion was an attempt to over-throw the new King of Britain, James II, who was Roman Catholic.  The rebellion failed and in 1685 the Duke was captured and executed in Edinburgh. The McLean’s, who were royalists blew up the castle and engaged  in quite a lot of murder, mayhem, rape and pillage. The castle is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.



We drove in to Kilmartin. We were there to see the prehistoric ruins and megaliths. Kilmartin is located in the Kilmartin Glen and is the richest prehistoric landscape in Scotland. Within a six mile radius there are more than 350 ancient monuments and megaliths. 150 of them are classified as prehistoric. They consist of stone circles, standing stones, carved rocks and burial cairns. No-one has yet come up with a plausible reason for such a concentration of ancient monuments.


The first thing you see when you drive in is the Crinan Moss, in front of the only rise in the peat bogs, The Dunadd Fort. This is one of Scotland’s most important hill forts. Dunadd was the capital of the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada in 500AD. The fort was situated on top of a high outcrop of rock with a complete 360 degree view. It became the  place for crowning the Kings of Scotland.


We first went to the Kilmartin House Museum of Ancient Culture. The people were very friendly and allowed us to use their office to get our email and to deal with some business back in Melbourne. Omar was very impressed with the library and meeting room in the office building. The chairs and table in the library were very Celtic. The museum is a great starting point for exploring the area.



Around the museum local animals have been carved from dead trees.



We drove around Kilmartin Glen stopping at all the sites. The first walk was easily accessible from the car park where you can wander with the sheep around the Nether Largie Stones in the fields. Unfortunately, over the years, many of the stones have removed to make way for farming.




There are walking paths through the farmland connecting the cairns and megaliths. All very ancient and pagan.



It is only a short walk from here to the Temple Stone Circles, these date from around 3500 BC. The three circles were being built and used up until 1400BC. The trees were planted in Victorian times to give the place more atmosphere. It doesn’t really need them.






The third circle is concentric and surrounds a stone slab-sided cairn.



Going back to the car you pass the Nether Largie South Cairn. This is a chambered cairn and has an opening into the central chamber. During the excavation of this cairn they recovered Neolithic pottery and arrowheads.


The walks are all really well signposted and are well detailed.


A short driving distance from Kilmartin is Achnabreck which has the largest collection of cup and ring carvings. Many people have tried to read a symbolism into these cup and ring marks, but it is only speculation. Such rock art is difficult to date, but it is also found in archaeological contexts such as tombs. The rock art at Achnabreck is likely to be around 5,000 years old. It comprises several decorated outcrops. Many of the cups are surrounded by one or more rings.





It is an incredibly spiritual and moving place to visit. The day we were here it was in the middle of winter and freezing. We had the area to ourselves.


Then we were off on the next adventure



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