Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
Kilmartin Glen is the broad area surrounding the village of Kilmartin north of Lochgilphead and south of Oban. The Glen is famous for its rich historical legacy. There are at least 350 ancient monuments within six miles of the village, of which around 150 are prehistoric. They include burial cairns, rock carvings, and standing stones, as well as the remains of the fortress of the Scots at Dunadd and three more recent castles.
Your best starting point for any exploration of Kilmartin Glen and its history is the Kilmartin House Museum . This is located in the old manse in Kilmartin, just downhill from the church. For current opening times and admission prices see www.kilmartin.org
Kilmartin House Museum is excellent, containing something to attract and keep the attention of every visitor. The centrepiece of the entrance area is a model of the Glen within a perspex dome. Other highlights include a recreation of a coracle, and more traditional displays of artefacts that will be familiar to any fan of TV's Time Team. What is surprising is realising just how delicate a flint arrow-head or knife can be. And how unpleasant it would be to receive either between the ribs.
For those who like to touch rather than look, the museum again comes up trumps. A display of hanging furs and skins encourages you to gain an understanding of what it might have actually felt like to live in an age when all clothes came pre-worn as something else's skin. Here, too, you can bring to life another frequent "Time Team" find by using quernstones to mill wheat and produce flour: or in our case, smaller and very gritty wheat bits.
You buy your tickets for the museum in the visitor centre next door. This also houses an excellent cafe and a shop selling a range of local crafts and an extremely good selection of books about Scotland, its history, archeology, wildlife and more.
When you emerge from the Museum, having fed your imagination and quite possibly your stomach as well, you need to decide which of the many wonders of Kilmartin Glen you want to explore first.
The most recent are Carnasserie and Kilmartin Castles: see our Kilmartin village feature page to find out more. This also covers Kilmartin Parish Church and its remarkable collection of early grave slabs. The most spectacular of the remains in Kilmartin Glen is the fortress of the Scots at Dunadd, capital of the kingdom of Dalriada. This, too, is the subject of a separate feature page.
Most of the other archeology on view in the Glen falls into one of three categories: cairns, standing stones and rings, and the almost commonplace cup and ring marked rocks.
Perhaps the best place to see a cross section is from the car park just off the A816 at its junction with the B8025 to Crinan. This is about a mile south of Kilmartin. From here you can wander around the Nether Largie Stones in the field opposite. This is a collection of standing stones in three groups in a line across the field. Here, like elsewhere in the Glen, you wonder just how these remains have survived over so many thousand years.
From the Nether Largie Stones it is only a short walk to Temple Wood, complete with, arguably, three stone circles. This is cheating slightly. There is a large ring to the south and a much smaller one with only a few stone to the north. The third ring is concentric with the first and contained within it, surrounding a stone slab-sided cairn at its centre. The earliest stones in the circles date back to around 3000BC and the circles were gradually added to and improved over the following 2000 years. The trees are a more recent addition by our Victorian ancestors, who felt they gave the stone circles more atmosphere. They also bestowed on the place the name of Temple or Half Moon Wood.
Completing a circuit back towards your car brings you to Nether Largie South Cairn, a large cairn with impressive views north to Kilmartin itself. However, the cairn predates the village by some margin, being built in about 3000-2500BC. The fact that the central chamber of the cairn is open gives the setting a slightly spooky air, but it does help give an impression of the internal construction.
This circular walk takes in just three of the 150 prehistoric monuments in Kilmartin Glen, but does provide an excellent taster. All it lacks are the typical cup and ring carvings, and for these the best spot is at Achnabreck, just north of Lochgilphead. Here you can find the largest collection of these mysterious carvings in the country.
And the wonders of Kilmartin Glen are not all man-made. The Moine Mhor or Great Moss helped protect Dunadd and does a half-way decent job of turning the rest of the Kintyre peninsula into an island. It covers 1,200 acres and is one of very few estuarine raised bogs left in Europe. It became a National Nature Reserve in 1987.