The difficulty with returning for so short a time to a place where we lived for over a decade is that is was absolutely impossible to return to all of our favourite places. We would have loved to have revisited the castles and other ruins the boys used to play among, traipsed through familiar forest paths, explored abandoned villages and circled lochs we loved but it just was not feasible. The boys even sighed about not being able to travel up to Oban which was amusing given that they used to moan about that car journey every single time. We decided to narrow the field by only selecting from places that were in the immediate vicinity of Lochgilphead. The boys unanimously decided that we should visit Kilmartin Glen.
The Glen – centred around the village of Kilmartin – is rich in Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites. Across Moine Mhor (the Great Moss) stands Dunadd Hill, an ancient fortress of the Scots, part of the kingdom of Dalriada. There are lots of ancient monuments and sites in the Glen but we restricted our return visit to a circuit we used to do frequently, starting at the Nether Largie standing stones. These are a set of five standing stones – two sets of pairs and one in the middle – surrounded by some smaller stones. From when my kids were tiny tots I have been taking photos of them standing up against the central stone or menhir, like a neolithic height chart. If I gathered all of those photos together, all taken at the same spot, it would form a record of their childhoods and their growth. So, of course, they had assume the position and have another group portrait taken.
A stroll across the field brought us to Temple Wood, the site of two Neolithic circles. Unlike Stonehenge, visitors are permitted to touch the stones, walk within the circle, which makes it much more accessible and engaging – particularly for the kids. The Southern circle is a ring of standing stones with a burial cyst in the centre. Ring markings can still be seen carved into one of the standing stones, though I noted they have become much less distinct than when I first saw them in 2002. The Northern circle centres around a single stone and would once have been a circle of timbers – a woodhenge. Just as they always did, the boys soon set up a game involving battles and running between the two circles. I enjoyed the relative serenity of the place.
The next stop on our circular route was to one of the chambered burial cairns that run in a line from the village down the Glen. This has always been a particularly favourite spot of the boys as it never fails to spark their imaginations and get them acting out some sort of game, whether it be wizard battles or zombies arising from their graves. It is possible to enter the burial chamber – and the boys always do.
Should you ever find yourself on the west coast of Scotland, my boys and I highly recommend a visit to Kilmartin Glen. As well as walking through the Glen, the village houses the Kilmartin House Museum where various artefacts from the surrounding area can be viewed and the museum happens to have an excellent cafe too. The church and churchyard next door to the museum are well worth a visit too. There the visitor can see early Christian and medieval carved gravestones. We didn’t go there on this trip. It was added to the long list of places we wished we could visit but did not have time for.