Why the Dalriada Heritage Trail is a journey though Scottish history

You’ll find an extraordinary concentration of natural and historic attractions in the Heart of Argyll. The ancient region is dotted with signs of the past, from stone circles to ruined castles. It’s a wonderful place to explore on foot, with trails and tracks criss-crossing the beautiful landscape. Top of your list should be the Dalriada Heritage Trail. Using ancient drove roads, old forest tracks and water ways, this seven-mile route connects the many archaeological and natural heritage attractions of the area. You’ll get a fascinating insight into Scotland’s early history as you amble along.

The Dalriada Heritage Trail walk starts at Carnasserie Castle and takes you through Kilmartin Glen and the Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve to Dunadd Fort and on through ancient Atlantic oak woodlands to the Crinan Canal and the Achnabreac cup and ring marked rocks. You can walk the entire trail or break it down into smaller sections from car parks at Carnasserie Castle, Kilmartin, Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve, Dunadd Fort, Achnabreac and Dunardry on the Crinan Canal. Waymarkers and finger posts mark the routes. You can also download free podcasts that give you more information at key points. Look out for the numbered waymarkers denoting a podcast stopping point.

Your starting point, Carnasserie Castle, is around two miles north of Kilmartin. It’s a wonderful ruined castle set high on a hill overlooking Kilmartin Glen. The castle, the former home of the first Protestant Bishop of the Isles, is an accomplished piece of architecture. Climb up the parapets for fabulous views. The castle is free to visit and open all year round.

Kilmartin Glen is one of Scotland’s richest prehistoric landscapes. Within six miles of Kilmartin village there are over 350 ancient monuments, including cairns, standing stones and stones circles. As you follow the Dalriada Heritage Trail through the glen you’ll see the two stone circles at Temple Wood, the five Nether Largie standing stones, the famous linear cemetery of burial cairns and more. Kilmartin Museum is well worth a visit. It does a brilliant job of bringing the stones of Kilmartin Glen to life. The museum also has a fantastic café serving up hearty lunches.

Moine Mhor (‘the great moss’) National Nature Reserve is a real treat for nature lovers. The surviving remnant of a once much more extensive raised bog, this ancient habitat is home to dragonflies, hen harriers, curlews and other moorland and wetland species. And rising dramatically from Moine Mhor, is Dunadd Fort, once the capital of the Ancient Kingdom of Dalriada. Legend has it that the first Kings of Scotland were crowned here. Near the top of the fort there is a small section of the original stone fortifications still intact and in one of the slabs of rock closer to the summit a bowl has been carved out. Its purpose is unknown but nearby a carved footprint is thought to have been part of the coronation ceremony for the kings of Dalriada.

Crinan Wood is a magical Atlantic oakwood, full of fern, moss, lichen, gnarled oak and birch. The section of the walk along the Crinan Canal footpath is one of the highlights of the trail. The Crinan Canal is an incredible piece of engineering steeped in history. Opening in 1801, it provided a transport route between the West Coast and the industrial heartland of Scotland. As you walk past harbours, locks and bridges you’ll be treated to glimpses of the canal’s past.

Achnabreck Cup and Ring Rocks are the most extensive prehistoric rock carvings in the UK. Walk through open woodland to reach them. Among the many multiple rings are the largest examples yet discovered – up to nine rings almost one metre across.

The Heart of Argyll is packed with wonderful wildlife, so while you’re walking along keep an eye out for red squirrels, otters and even eagles. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

Find out more about the Dalriada Project.

Header photo: Temple Wood, Kilmartin