There’s nothing like a mini history lesson to reignite your awe in the Scottish landscape. Simon Varwell visited Kilmartin Glen, one of the most important archaeological sites in Scotland
The Scots do history pretty well. Perhaps you even learnt a little about it at school? But, if you fell asleep during that lesson, let us give you a little re-cap: Scotland’s history is one of immigration, its people forged through waves of invaders, settlers and migrants. The Scots were a Celtic tribe who, confusingly, came from Ireland but who were known by the Romans as the Scoti.
Argyllshire, the closest part of Scotland to Ireland, understandably then holds some of the earliest evidence of the coming of the Scots, and Kilmartin Glen, an area to the north of Lochgilphead, is home to a great deal of these ancient remains, as well as housing Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites of national renown.
Kilmartin House Museum is a perfect starting point, located in the old manse (minister’s residence), and containing a wide range of exhibits and interpretations that help you shape your plans for exploring the rich history of the area beyond its walls (organised walks can also be arranged).
Dunadd, the one-time capital of the Scots’ kingdom, sits on an otherwise unassuming outcrop near the village, and it is only when you climb to the top that you see the remains of the fortress, the views showing you the location of the heavy defences that have been discovered by archaeologists. Evidence of activity is contained within the remains, and you can even see an ancient footprint in the rock - thought to have been where the King of Dalriada placed his foot whilst being crowned.
Further back in time, the stone circles and burial cairns in the glen date back thousands of years, in one case to the Stone Age. These – and perhaps others that stand no longer – form a linear cemetery; why they were so aligned appears to be a mystery, but it’s a striking sight. Weapons and jewellery were found in them by archaeologists, and you can even enter some of the cairns and see the interiors – and the magpie-eyed amongst you can trace the ancient carvings in the stonework.
Elsewhere, three groups of huge standing stones – Ballymeanoch, Temple Wood and Nether Largie – date back in places over 4,000 years and cup and ring marks, thought to have been an early form of art, can be found on many of the stones. The village of Kilmartin itself is also worthy of exploration and it’s churchyard contains stone grave slabs that date as far back as the 1300s.
Finding your way around these extraordinary sites is fairly easy, as the glen’s major icons and remains can be found within a few miles radius of each other. Footpaths and signs will make your exploration possible to pack into a day, but with so much to see and take in, you’ll probably want to meander for a little longer. After all, there’s only so much history you can pack into a day before your noodle explodes with facts and figures.
Kilmartin Glen is about 100 miles north-west of Glasgow. It is most easily reached by car, but there is also a Citylink bus from Glasgow to Lochgilphead, see www.citylink.co.uk