|North of Tarbert
||[Aug. 9th, 2016|09:58 pm]
Back when I was planning our Scottish holiday, I was looking for an overnight within easy reach of the ferry on our return from Islay, which would put us within a day's drive from home. Tarbert was the obvious place - not the Tarbert on Harris, which we visited last year, but Tarbert in Argyll (the name means 'isthmus' and tends to recur) - in fact it looked too good to rush away after a single overnight. Surely we weren't in that much hurry to be home? We booked ourselves two days in Tarbert, and spent the first one exploring northwards.
I'd been impressed by the number of stone circles in the small area of Machrie Moor on Arran: Kilmartin Glen takes the thing up a level. 5000 years of continuous habitation have left the valley littered with standing stones, cairns, stone circles and a castle or so. Our intention was to start at the museum, get our bearings, lunch in the café (which had been recommended to us) and then decide where to go next. But you know how it goes: a group of standing stones caught our eye, and we stopped for a closer look:
and found that a footpath led across the field to the two back-to-back stone circles of Temple Wood (so named, I think, by the nineteenth century antiquarian who planted the woodland to give the stones a more picturesque setting):
I was diverted by the meta-archaeology of the signposting: the information boards at the stone circles were new: brightly coloured and laminated, they were provided by Historic Scotland. But the fingerpost by the roadside that pointed us onwards to Nether Largie South Cairn was cast iron, smartly painted in black and white, in the distinctive style of the old Ministry of Works.
We eventually reached the Kilmartin Museum, and it was excellent, full of interesting things and information - though prone to the sort of assertion about the habits and beliefs of people long ago that makes me mutter: "How do you KNOW that?" It worked hard at being child-friendly, so there were plenty of interactive things, many of which involved making a noise. This is fine, but in the interests of even-handedness, how about being old-person-friendly, and providing the odd chair? Eventually we admitted defeat, and withdrew to the café.
Next door to the museum is the church, which has more of those amazing carved slabs. I can't remember if there was any explanation of this motif - it reminded me of Big Bird:
The weathervane is pretty good, too:
But there was more to see, and we headed on up the valley. durham_rambler was keen to visit the castle, which I regarded as a distraction: who wants to spend time on medieval ruins when there are cup and ring markings ahead? I don't know why I was so bad-tempered about a perfectly good tower-house, but these things happen. There were orchids in the long grass beside the track back down the hill to the car park, and I cheered up. Another cairn. A hill-fort: Dunadd, in fact, which had featured prominently in the museum's display, and which might once have been the seat of the kings of Dalriada - how could we not just stop for a look? A look turned into a few steps up the clear, well-signposted path, and in my case stopped there - when the path became more of a rocky scramble, I decided I was going no further, not in these shoes, and retraced my steps cautiously, pausing only for another clump of orchids. durham_rambler carried on to the top, admired the view, and then missed the path down and had to go back and try again.
Despite all these diversions, we eventually reached Kilmichael Glassary, and scambled up the hillside above the playground, to where metal railings enclosed a steeply sloping rock outcrop, pocked with circular depressions. The day had been showery, but now the sun was shining, and the pattern of holes was clearly visible. It doesn't sound much; it didn't take long to look at, and admire, and wander off for a look round the churchyard, but it provided a satisfactory full stop at the far point of Kilmartin Glen.
Even now, the day wasn't over. We'd only seen a fraction of what was to be seen in the Glan, and as we headed back the way we had come, there were indications of more to see. But we had other plans, heading back to where the Crinan Canal takes boats across the top of Kintyre. We could have spent another day just walking by the canal - it's only 9 miles long - but we were already at the end of a very full day, so we just followed it out to the open sea at Crinan. There's a sequence of locks, some moorings but nothing as elaborate as a marina:
and the Crinan Hotel, in whose bar we dined.