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The Secrets Of Argyll

Not far from Glasgow, ancient rock carvings, burial cairns and standing
stones are set within a classic West Highlands landscape where the
rugged interior gives way to quiet coastal waterways.


This is a part of Argyll that might be called the cradle of Scotland. Yet, it remains rather off the beaten track and ignored by those heading as quickly as they can for more celebrated destinations.

It's the country in which the story of Scotland began -- and long before she had been given that name. To begin with, the early people who came here as much as 5,000 years ago raised strange stone circles and left extraordinary cup-and-ring marks in slabs of rock. They were settlers who found in this country rich soil and sweet water.

There's a loveliness about the road south of Oban, which comes within sight of the sea and then pulls inward once more. Oak woods and little glens; sudden lush fields leading down to the water; creeks with their nodding boats and whitewashed cottages. There is nothing of the ruggedness of North Argyll; no great buttresses of grey granite. It's the most appropriate thing in the world that opposite the island of Ireland is country that's remarkably similar, although I would dare to suggest that here it is wilder and on a different scale...and perhaps even more beautiful.

The A816 road comes inland to a little cluster of houses, a church and a hotel on the top of a small hill, and this is Kilmartin. It's the beginning of a glen that forms a treasure house of history -- a trail of rock carvings, burial cairns and standing stones. Some 800 ancient monuments within a six-mile radius; 150 of them prehistoric.

To try to wander into this trail unprepared would risk rendering it bewildering; it's almost imperative to stop here and visit Kilmartin Museum to get a real sense of how extraordinary the story was -- to learn what pigments were brought from the other side of the world and what implements and utensils were traded; to get a sense of the first dwellings that were built here and the first boats that were carved. The museum helps to give 21st-century visitors a picture of how these earlier residents lived and what they might have thought. More than anything, perhaps, it makes us understand that these were anything but primitive folk who raised great slabs of stone for unknown reasons -- these were people who knew how to steer by the stars, how to plant their fields, how to trade with others extraordinarily far away.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2018 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © Iain McLean/Scottish Viewpoint; Allan Wright/Scottish Viewpoint