Crinan to Kilmartin

Crinan basin, 4Who doesn’t like the idea of a walk involving some 19th century engineering and then going back in time to the Neolithic?  Well, it turns the Missus doesn’t, and with her eyes glazing over at mention of the chance to see Bronze Age burial chambers, Jazz and I knew we were on our own for a walk from Crinan to Kilmartin.  We were staying at the Crinan Hotel and so getting to the start amounted to falling out of bed.

Yacht at anchor

Yacht at anchor

Steps down to the canal

Steps down to the canal

Bellanoch lock

Bellanoch lock

Being early in the season, the picturesque canal basin at Crinan was devoid of the nautical types that will infest the area in a month or so 1.  So with the sun starting to burn through the clouds, all was well with the world as we sauntered along the canal path beside the estuary for a few kilometres to the bridge at Bellanoch for the laser-straight road across the Mòine Mhor – a lowland bog that is a National Nature Reserve.

Road across Moine Mhor

Road across Moine Mhor

Moine Mhor

Moine Mhor

We then take a dog-leg 2 and follow the lovely track past Poltalloch church and the old mansion of the Malcolm family.  A friendly local artist told me that because it was built from sandstone it always leaked and they decided to move to something more water-tight: Duntrune Castle sitting organically at the side of Loch Crinan.  To avoid paying duplicate taxes they made it uninhabitable by blowing the roof off the old place: subtle.  From this point heading up Kilmartin Glen we are deep in antiquity.  The whole glen is stuffed full of ancient sites and we were going to visit a lot of them.  My canine companion started making similar bored noises to the Missus at this point, but I pointed out that burial sites implied bones and her interest was restored 3.

Ri Cruin cairn

Ri Cruin cairn

Around the hamlet of Slockavullin is the famous linear arrangement of stone burial cairns from the Bronze age (roughly 4000 years ago).  A lot of them have been damaged over the years, not least by bungling grave-robbers 4 in the 19th century.  Some of the remains are actually modern reconstructions 5, which although it gives you the feel of the original, knowing that it wasn’t built at the time of the Pharaohs but more recently by a bunch of archaeology students, does detract a lot from the experience – sometimes interpretation boards can tell you too much.

Sun spirals, Temple Wood stone circle

Sun spirals, Temple Wood stone circle

Standing stone with cup marks

Standing stone with cup marks

Temple Wood stone circle

Temple Wood stone circle

The burial cairns are basically small chambers covered in a mound of stones.  As structures they aren’t that impressive, but their linear arrangement in this landscape is.  The items we found more interesting were the older, Neolithic stone circles and avenues.  However, even here a lot has happened to them over the years – apparently our forebears weren’t above a bit of plundering of material for their latest building project, or like at Temple Wood, “improving” things by planting a nice woodland.  All the sites in the Glen have interpretation boards (or “Kev magnets”) which do a good job explaining the situation (with a lot of artistic license thrown in) and pointing out things I simply missed, such as strange spiral designs on a couple of stones in the Temple Wood stone circle.

Tip: Only while doing this walk did I learn about an excellent podcast produced by the Open University about the sites in Kilmartin Glen – essential listening.

Afternoon tea, KilmartinGravestone for a maid, KilmartinGrave slab, Kilmartin, 2From here it is a short stroll along the track to Kilmartin village itself.  Before heading for the (excellent) Museum cafe 6 we had a wander around the churchyard looking at the gravestones.  There is a lovely collection of grave slabs with a variety of interesting motifs (with explanations), but the graveyard also had more modern stones that caught my eye.  There was one from a lady to her maid of 23 years; a couple of stones mentioned people dying at Experiment: this is an old deserted township and not an indication of how they died 7

Notes:

  1. It was also devoid of the midges that blight this area later in the summer, according to a new friend responsible for opening the lock gates.
  2. Not literally, Jazz.
  3. It seemed unnecessary at this point to say that the bones had been removed to a museum in Edinburgh a century ago.
  4. “Amateur archaeologists” or “Antiquarians” as they preferred to be called.
  5. E.g. at Ri Cruin
  6. Their fruit scones were exemplary.
  7. Although that would have been much more interesting!
Distance:15km
Effort:
Scenery:
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