Our Travel blog
We treated ourselves to breakfast at the hotel adjacent to the site, and very good it was too. The site and hotel are all run by the same people and you get the impression that their location on the Loch brings people in and they don't have to try too hard. The site amenities were basic. Few of the locks on the doors worked and robust and inoculated though we are we didn't take our chances with the showers. The hotel had a lightly faded look about it, although work was going on in preparation for the season ahead and everyone was friendly. They seemed curiously reluctant to take our money - to pay by card you get a chit to pay at the bar, which the staff didn't seem to know about and at breakfast they assumed we were from the hotel and invited us to partake of the full Scottish breakfast with trimmings until we told them otherwise. They did however set us up for the day, not just because our stomachs were now lined with a full fried breakfast but because they only charged us "for two wee kiddies meals because you did'nae take the other stuff..."
So we turned South and retraced our steps on the A82 then branched right, away from the Loch and onto the A83. This must be one of the great driving roads in the UK, if not the world. From the top of Loch Long every twist and turn revealed another view more breathtaking than the last. Rugged peaks burst from forests of pines that bordered the road, deep greens with strands of bright new growth woven in uneven strands. It looked like someone had applied camouflage paint to the forest. We traced a stream of iron coloured water tumbling over sun bleached rocks and stopped to breath in the silence under the towering edifice of Beinn Ime. Its odd how the absence of any sound can become an almost physical presence. Like a weight placed around you, muffling the outside world and heightening the splendour of the all that we see.
Back aboard Mavis and the natural beauty inspired the poet in Alison to describe it as "like being enveloped in a cocoon of silence." Still on the A83 we dropped down to the sea water Loch Fyne which we crossed at its Northern most point and drove down the Western shoreline. The poet in Alison surfaced again as she described exactly where the driver who overtook on a bend could stick his car. Thankfully the calming influence of Loch Fyne worked wonders and we drove sandwiched between bluebell woods and sun kissed Loch. We paused at Inveraray, a small, eloquent settlement with a picture postcard high street of white painted shops, a neat little harbour and the town jail, set up now as a tourist destination. The Castle had the appearance of a child's drawing; squat with a fairytale turret at each corner, and the Green overlooking the Loch was scattered with tourists mingling with locals on their lunch break, all basking in the sun.
Reluctantly we moved on and through the vibrant trees to areas where great swathes have been felled, leaving hillsides strewn with the debris of hurried logging. It reminded us that for all its attractiveness this is a working landscape, and as we joined the A816 North at the splendidly named Lochgilphead we entered broad flat farming land with fields of cattle, and sheep grazing the inhospitable slopes with their playful newborn lambs. We stopped outside the village of Kilmartin. You probably haven't heard of it, we hadn't until we chanced upon it in a guide book, but it is one of the most important pre-historic and early history sites in the world. Around Kilmartin Glen, in a radius of just six miles there are at least 800 recorded ancient monuments; standing stones, burial cairns, rock art, forts, carved stones and duns (old forts). As well as this richness it's also home to Dunadd on the river Add. This was reportedly a royal centre where Scotland's earliest kings were inaugurated.
We selected a pleasant way-marked stroll from our stopping point on the Add to Kilmartin village via some of the pre-historic sites. Starting with standing stones, some with ancient carvings or cup and ring marks as they are known - basically neat circles carved into the stone for unknown but probably ceremonial purposes. These stand in a quiet glen with nothing but sheep and the occasional curious tourist like us for company. Especially bewitching was a single stone, alone in its own undisturbed daisy carpeted field. A reminder that whole civilisations have risen and fallen, countless wars been fought, species beyond measure have become extinct, men have walked on the moon and these stones have stood in the same spot, silently oblivious to the passage of time.
Nearby were stone circles, some marking graves. These areas have been re-purposed over time, so that what may once have been a grave site, become a ceremonial site, a meeting place for tribes or places for trade, with evidence of iron from Ireland and deep black jet jewellery from Yorkshire among local finds. There are three main burial cairns, a fourth was destroyed in the 1800's, that are aligned with the stones. A smaller but well preserved cairn sits near the standing stones with a grave, apparently of a child, on its outer ring. A lot of the rocks placed over the cairns were used by locals for building and even in Victorian times when their importance was appreciated and serious research was being conducted, quarrymen carted off barrow-loads of stones. Now they are preserved and cared for. You can go inside one cairn and see the grave within including its cup and ring marked stone lid. After nearly falling backwards into the grave Alison then wondered if the markings were actually where someone was clawing to get out. On that cheerful note I led her out for some fresh air and a cup of tea in the village.
Kilmartin Church sits up high overlooking the Glen, with an unusual stepped graveyard encircling the hill it sits on. The graveyard holds a collection of intricately carved medieval stone grave markers which, like the rest of the attractions we visited, had bold, informative information boards, were well tended and completely unguarded. To top it all there was no admission charge. The Scots do seem to appreciate that they are custodians of this history rather than owners and they take that role seriously, but without assuming any self importance or propriety over it in the way we seem to in England. If someone like English Heritage got their hands on Kilmartin Glen they'd charge you admission, put a multimedia centre in with over priced crap, expensive cafes and huge car parks. Without doubt you'd be prevented from actually wandering up to and around the attractions but have to content yourself with a peak from 500 yards away and an interactive experience where you could see a plastic copy up close. The National Trust, to choose one example, charge you to visit the fort at Hadrian's Wall - but its free if you just want to walk the wall as long as you promise not to look at any archaeological remains along the way. There is a sign halfway to the fort reminding you not to peek unless you've paid. I may have made that last bit up about the sign but I wouldn't put it past them.
Anyway back to reality and at the small Kilmartin museum there was a shop selling local art, books and postcards, a cafe run by a local young entrepreneur and toilets you could use whether you were a customer or not. As you can probably tell we were quite taken as we wandered back to Mavis, who we'd left shaded by trees and parked for free in a car park with an area for motorhomes and information boards without the graffiti and chewing gum that seems requisite south of the border. Scotland, I think we're falling in love with you.
Now rather weary after our journey and wanderings we headed further North to the town of Oban and along the tiny road to the site a couple of miles South of town. The road was just wider than Mavis and at one point we met a lorry coming the other way who kindly reversed into a passing place. Even so it was very tight and, windows open from pulling in the wing mirrors we scraped along a gorse bush, quite a bit of which ended up in Alison's seat, back and legs.
Our troubles were soon forgotten when we saw the views from the site. We looked over the Sound of Kerrera to the island of Kerrera with the peaks of the Isle of Mull rising behind. As it was still light at 9:30pm we took a walk out of the site through bluebell carpeted woods to the shoreline. As the sun set over Kerrera and with the gentle breeze wafting the scent of wild flowers and pine out to the ocean beyond we shared one of those perfect moments of utter stillness and calm. A magical end to a special day.
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