Kilmartin Glen - History and Facts | History Hit

Kilmartin Glen

Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland, United Kingdom

Amy Irvine

02 Jul 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Kilmartin Glen

Kilmartin Glen is an area in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland. As well as an area of natural beauty, it is one of the richest areas in Europe for prehistoric remains, and has the most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in mainland Scotland.

History of Kilmartin Glen

Kilmartin Glen holds a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles – spanning approximately 5,000 years.

In the 1980’s, it was believed there were more than 350 ancient monuments within a 6 mile radius of the village of Kilmartin, 150 of which are prehistoric. That number has now grown to around 800 as more have been discovered. Monuments include standing stones (such as those at Ballymeanoch), a stone circle (at Temple Wood), a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘Linear Cemetery’ (at Nether Largie South), comprising 5 burial cairns.

Several of these, as well as many natural rocks, are decorated with cup and ring marks. (In 2021, rock art depicting animals was discovered inside Dunchraigaig Cairn, estimated to date to between 4,000-5,000 BC – the earliest found in Scotland).

The remains of an Iron Age fortress of the Scots at Dunadd, a royal centre of Dal Riata, are located to the south of the glen, on the edge of the Moine Mhòr (Great Moss) which covers 1,200 acres. Dunadd was the capital of the Ancient Kingdom of Dalriada, and legend has it that the Stone of Destiny was used here in the crowning of the first Kings of Scotland. At the summit, there is a footprint carved into the stone – according to Irish tradition, the King of Dalriada was crowned by placing his foot into this imprint.

All this certainly shows this part of Scotland had a strong concentration of activity back in prehistoric times. There’s been little evidence in the glen with regard to any domestic use, indicating that Kilmartin Glen was potentially largely a ceremonial and perhaps spiritual place.

Kilmartin Glen today

The Kilmartin Glen covers a large area. Generally it’s worth starting at the Kilmartin Museum (which has a model of the glen and an atmospheric audio-visual presentation), but this is closed until 2023. However, there is still a handy cafe nearby and volunteer-led guided walks are available every Wednesday.

Almost next to the museum is Kilmartin Parish Church and graveyard – home to over 23 fine sculptured stones, ranging from 900-1600s. The collection is possibly connected to the nearby medieval power centre at Dunadd Fort.

A mile south of Kilmartin village along the A816, there is a car park from where you can visit the group of sites at Nether Largie South. From here it is a short walk to Temple Wood and its stone circle with a cairn at the centre. Nether Largie South cairn is a short walk away, believed to have been built around 3,000-2,500 BC.

Getting to Kilmartin Glen

Kilmartin Glen is located between Oban and Lochgilphead, surrounding the village of Kilmartin, on the west coast of Scotland. It is part of The Dalriada Heritage Trail walk, which starts at Carnasserie Castle, around 2 miles north of Kilmartin.

It’s easiest to get here by car. Kilmartin is situated close to the A816, about 29 miles south of Oban. Glasgow is 92 miles away – about a 2.5 hour trip.