Kilmartin glen

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18

 Almost no family today, although the Munros would have known this area. I also noticed yesterday that there is a Lake Glashan not far from Lochgilphead. Mary Munro’s mother was Sarah Maglashan and also came from around here. At the beginning I have put the photo of Keillsbeg taken when it was getting dark. Now I know that is where Archibald  Fletcher, and his wife, Mary, plus son, Archibald, were living just before he died in 1891. It is quite a forbidding looking house. It had lots of close stone outbuildings. In recent times they have been modified for extra accommodation but the central part is the original.

I caught the bus nearby and travelled via Lochgilphead to Kilmartin famous for its archeological finds from very early times. Lochgilphead is possibly Mosgiel size, or maybe a little smaller. All of the business part is old, but some buildings are rather run down. You can tell its is a more important town because in the centre most buildings are three (or four including the attics) storeys high. The police station is unusual; forbidding grey stone with a circular structure on one side. Perhaps offenders get sent to the tower. 

At Kilmartin I was a little early and a BBC team was filming there, so I had to find something to do. I decided to go to the signposted castle. The sign must have pointed in the wrong directions. Three times I encountered the same two young men from Edinburgh who were also lost. At the third meeting I accepted their offer of a ride. We scanned the area looked for the best position for a castle and headed off. This was one of my best castle experiences and it was good to share it with others. It falls between Aros the ruin, and Duart the reconstructed fortress. This one is almost as it was, but safety measures have been taken with strong iron railings where needed. It was built in the 1500s for the Bishop of the Isles, attacked in 1685 and partially blown up. Nevertheless the exterior is fairly intact. Internal floors have gone but all the stone spiral staircases are still usable. The ground floor had several interesting features such as a gargoyle like head by the large fireplace which had been their water supply. There was an oven (like a pizza oven) tucked into one side of the fireplace, and the drain showed clearly how waste would have been sent to the outside. In another section there was a well with water in it, rather frightening as it was very dark, but a flash from the camera showed a grill had been installed above water level. On an upper floor, presumably in a bedroom, tucked into the outer wall, there was an “en suite” as one of the men described it, - a very very long drop.

This was the first time in my castle explorations that I was just a little scared. I am OK on heights, but the gulf from the top, down four floors from one tower was not a view I enjoyed and out at roof level (well fenced) it was windy increasing the feeling of insecurity. Would I have gone up there on my own? Probably, because it wasn’t until you reached the top of the spiral staircases that you realised how exposed it was and the scariness of the drop.  There was a good strong wall you looked over, but it made the body tingle a little. Coming down the stairs you appreciated how well it was constructed with a continuous vertical circular grip on the inner edge, which fitted the hand neatly.  

My two interesting companions were people who made bathroom and kitchen fittings. They used a composite material called corr.......? It is 60-70% stone which is mixed with acrylic making it able to be carved and shaped more easily than stone. They showed me a phone photo of one they had just done - a splashback for a kitchen that looked like a stone carving. 

Back at the Kilmartin Museum I tried to take in as much as I could before starting out on my walk down the glen; about 4 miles, they said and I didn’t have to catch my bus until nearly four at the other end.  A leisurely stroll. 

The first part comprises four cairns in a linear cemetry, widely spaced across the landscape. The large stone cairns were constructed about three thousand, or more years ago. Dating them is difficult because they have been reconstructed and resused. They are very large heaps of stones. In the interior were burials some containing several chambers. In one of he cairns you can look inside and see these spaces. Another has been reconstructed with an underground room being created to house stones with markings found under the original cairn. I didn’t enter, although you were allowed to. It had a sliding roof/door which I found very difficult to move and I didn’t think I wanted to go down into what had been a tomb. 

The most interesting monument, in my view, was the circle of standing stones at Temple Wood. This, along with a neighbouring circle which had had wooden poles (for a roof maybe)  had disappeared except for the tops of the standing stones, under peat bog. But the land here has been drained and now they are clearly visible. At this point their signage lacked clarity and the map was inadequate and I know now I missed some points of strong interest, but I did see Dunadd the hill, where the kings were inaugurated. 

Suddenly when I saw a sign with 9km to Dunadd I realised it was not an easy jaunt. In talking with a local lady even she found it difficult to advise as the best way to go. The semi signposted route was far from direct - partly on roads but also across paddocks. In the last 3 k I could see the hill I was heading for clearly, but the path followed the meanderings of a river and you couldn’t cut across country because it was bog. Sometimes I was even walking with my back to it - very frustrating. Eventually I lost the track, and soon I was over my shoe tops in the bog - it was actually a relief, because they couldn’t get any wetter, so I could be less cautious. 

With time running out I reached the hill and couldn’t find how to get to the top. I gave up and continued down a path leading away from it when I spotted the access route from the car park. I wasn’t going to have walked this far - more than 11 k (without detours to sites) and not see it. A pleasant, rocky scramble led to the top, for wonderful views. Dunadd sits on an almost flat plain, some farmed, some still peat bog, and you can see Loch Crinan beyond. Near the top is a flat stone with a single footprint in it, just the size of a modern man’s foot as I saw when one visitor took his shoe off and tried it. This is the stone said to be of great importance to the Scotti (forerunners of the Scottish). They were Celts from ireland who were in this area around 500 to 1000 AD. Evidence associates this site with Columba and Christianity. There is also a large carved rock cup (this one is actually bowl sized) like many found in the area . Their purpose is unclear. These people were working with precious metals and had moved to a stage well beyond the animal skin clad hunters and gatherers who built the large stone cairns on the plain below.

I had given up on catching the bus and hoped for a ride from the car park. People were helpful  but going in other directions. i decided to walk on the road, rather than another track over the hill and soon realised I wasn’t far from the main road. I was ready to try and flag the bus down, but actually reached the stopping place, Bridgend a few minutes before the bus.

Back at the hotel I appreciated being in a “posh place” as I was able to relax in a deep hot bath and rid myself of traces of my bog encounter. Now the problem is my shoes. But I intend to try the hair dryer later, it might help.

Tomorrow there might be no report as it is travel all day. I have a ticket to Glasgow and can get a train to Carluke, but that means a trek or taxi between bus station and train station. I am hoping for some bus connections and have all afternoon to get there. Buchanan St is an amazing bus centre with local and intercity all converging on the one very well run place. 
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hfs on

When you have time to stop and reflect on all you have done you will ,I think be amazed...The history is so interesting and amazing to us I guess, as we have nothing even in the realms of that old..fascinating, and makes you want to know more...A strenuous day ..then onward to new horizions, of great interest.We are learning sooo much.! Faye

Denise Henderson on

Thoroughly enjoying reading about your travel Dawn you are certainly seeing and doing a lot. As Faye says when you come home and have time to reflect you will appreciate everything you have done and seen

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