Hidden Gems: Kilmartin Glen

Other than a visiting a few schools in and around the Glasgow area I didn’t have a plan for Scotland. A former colleague always went on holiday to Isle of Mull her rejuvenated glow whenever she returned had made me curious about island but the weather was on the turn; a storm was on its way.

Knowing that I am utterly feeble at sea I decided to ride the storm out on dry land for a few days before sailing to Mull. I was scanning the road map around the Oban area when I spotted symbols for stone circles and an ominous sounding ‘Dunadd Fort.’ I circled them with my pen and started the engine.

Little did I know that Kilmartin Glen, a purely whimsical decision, would become one of my favourite stops in Scotland. Here’s why…

Roads to take

I came to Kilmartin Glen via Loch Awe. Take the incredible B840 which follows the southern shores of the Loch before joining the A816, where your mind will be blown by the sheer beauty and history of the Glen.

Six Miles and 800 Ancient Monuments

Yup. That is a true fact. Kilmartin Glen is infamous for its rich archeological legacy. These include burial cairns, rock carvings, and standing stones, as well as the remains of the fortress of the Scots at Dunadd and more recent castles, but when I say recent, I mean the 1500s.

Here are my dog-friendly favourites;

Carnasserie Castle

The ruined castle still stands nobly on a hillside overlooking the Glen. John Carswell, the Bishop of the Isles and Superintendent of Argyll, was a wealthy and influential man so needed a home to show off his power. He built the castle between 1565 and 1572. The castle stayed in the possession of successive Dukes of Arygll right up to 1685, until it was destroyed by forces loyal to King James VII.

Despite this, the ruin is in surprisingly good shape. Decorative stone work including a lion-head water spout in the kitchen can still be admired. Best bit? You are completely free to explore the castle with your furry best pal.

Dougie particularly loved the narrow spiral staircase leading up to the top of the castle, where you can walk the ruined rooftop. If you have ever wondered if you might be suffer from vertigo, this is the place to find out. I didn’t linger up there long…

Achnabreck Rock Art

No other place in Scotland has such a concentration of prehistoric carved stone surfaces, and Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, so I was spoilt for choice. I visited Achnabreck rocks because you can wild camp in the forest commission car park and I wanted to go on a longer hike through the forest to keep Dougie entertained. I wasn’t disappointed. Achnabreck Forest is beautiful and the rock art is remarkable.

The rock carvings at Achnabreck are among the largest and most complex motifs in Scotland. Some of the circular hollows, or cup marks, are surrounded by up to 12 rings, more than a metre wide. The cup and ring marks are by far the most common motif, though other decorations can be seen such as, ringed stars, parallel grooves and spirals. No one knows what these markings are for. Theories include;

  • Star maps

  • Boards for playing marbles

  • Vessels to channel blood of sacrificial victims

I’m going with aliens…

Dunadd Fort

In the heart of the Gaels kingdom stands a 54 metre hill fort rising like a clenched fist out of the Moine Mhor – the ‘great moss’ – an expanse of bog that carpets the southern end of Kilmartin Glen. It was home to a fort 2,000 years ago, and a royal power centre of Gaelic kings in the 500s to 800s AD. It’s easy to see why it was a power house for Kings, nature had made it a natural defensive structure with jagged rocks and narrow platforms.

The climb up to the fort is impressive even today. You can’t help but feel the majesty of the place. At the top of the summit is a carved human footprint. It’s thought the footprint was used as part of inauguration ceremonies for new kings who would step out on the rock with their people gathered below, and place his naked foot into the stone print declaring he was forever more, both master and servant, to the people and land before him.

The footprint was the perfect fit for my size 7 foot. I am now Queen of Scotland.

Kilmartin Glen Museum

The museum is not dog-friendly but still makes the list as it is well worth visiting. As it is small, it doesn’t take to go around so I didn’t feel guilty leaving Dougie in the van while I soaked in all the fascinating history. Plus, the cafe (the toilets are nice) are also worth a visit to rest your tired feet and mind after exploring the Glen.

TOP TIP: The churchyard next door to the museum is dog-friendly and holds incredible ancient stone crosses.

Where to stay

I wild camped the entire time I was in Kilmartin Glen. Park ups were easy to find. My favourite spot was in Achnabreck Forest. The forest has beautiful views and was a stone throw away from ancient rock art. Win. It has no services though so remember the principles of leave no trace and enjoy!