Terrain: Easy tracks and paths, grassy fields
Access: There is gated access to the sites off the main track and disabled parking available near Temple Woods. Further parking is available at Lady Glassary Wood. Some of the paths are quite narrow/between fences and the burial cairns themselves are stony mounds not accessible to wheelchairs or buggies. To gain access to the lower track joining the cairns from the museum take the main track left AFTER the garage and then the next left by the burn.
Note: the top entrance to Glebe Cairn is via a kissing gate and access from the bottom track is over a narrow bridge and through a gate.
Map/s: OS Landranger 55 (1:50 000) OS Explorer 358 (1: 25 000)
Start: Car park opposite Kilmartin Hotel
Finish: Car park opposite Kilmartin Hotel
Parking: Car park opposite Kilmartin Hotel (further parking by new church - lane entrance opposite old church)
Grid Reference: NR 835 988
Public Transport: 23/423, 421, 429 (limited service at weekends)
Facilities: Kilmartin Museum offers an in-depth insight into the area’s important history and showcases a range of important historical artefacts. They also have an excellent café. (Museum & café reopening 2023). Meals can also be had at the Kilmartin Hotel (seasonal?). Other nearby eateries include the Horseshoe Inn, Cairnbaan Hotel, Crinan Hotel, Lucy’s Ardfern with further shops and cafes in Lochgilphead and at Achnashelloch Farm. Nearby accommodation includes the aforementioned hotels, B&Bs and a wide range of self-catering options including the historic Kilmartin Castle, King’s Reach and Kirnan Estate.
Getting there: Kilmartin is 30 miles south of Oban on the A816, 8 miles north of Lochgilphead on the A816, 33 miles from Inveraray via the A83 and A816 and 32 miles south of Dalmally via the scenic route on the south side of Loch Awe (A85, A819, B840 & A816).
The rich geological landscape in the Heart of Argyll has attracted humankind for many millennia. Once the ice receded after the last ice age plants and wildlife recolonised the landscape. Trees and wild grasses, heathers, mosses and lichens, many species like those we see today in our temperate Celtic rainforest. With a plentiful food supply so too would come larger animals closely followed by early humans, the hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic.
And to the west was a fjord like landscape dominated by the sea. Over time sea routes would develop and man would use the sea as the main means by which to find new territory, fish, and trade. But it is the Neolithic and Bronze Age settlers that capture the imagination throughout much of the glen and the era this particular walk encompasses. Cists (stone burial coffins), burial cairns, standing stones and mysterious cup and ring marks abound, shrouded in a mystery that we do not really understand. Some of the remains are believed to be over 5500 years old, others around 3000.
Before leaving the car park seek out viewpoint at the south end of the green next to the Church – this gives a fantastic view down the glaciated glen and a glimpse towards the burial cairns that form what is known as the linear cemetery. The latter refers to the number of burial cairns constructed over time in a linear fashion down the glen, stretching for some 2 ½ miles, which are the main attraction of this walk.
Return from the viewpoint to the carpark and turn left to pass the church and museum. Just after the museum follow a paved footway down to Kilmartin Garage. Immediately before the garage turn left by the water treatment works and through a kissing gate into a field. Ahead you will see Glebe Cairn.
This huge cairn was built in the Bronze Age some 4000 years ago. It had two burial cists most likely built for those held in high esteem. A jet necklace was found suggesting one is likely to have been for a woman. The jet, a black semi-precious organic gemstone formed through the fossilisation of trees similar to the Monkey Puzzle, indicates that trading extended at least as far as Whitby in Yorkshire from where the stones most likely originated. This is the northernmost cairn of the linear cemetery.
From the cairn head down the field to Kilmartin Burn, cross the bridge and turn left. After 400m you will see Nether Largie North Cairn to your left. This vast cairn has a modern concrete chamber protecting the cist inside. Of main interest are the axe heads that were carved on the coffin lid which may signify a person of importance, perhaps a metal worker, was buried here. You can go inside, just take care as the steps are steep.
Continue south and a little ahead, on the left, is Nether Largie Mid Cairn. Here a cist can be clearly seen (two cists were found). Bodies would have been placed in a foetal position and surrounded by precious or useful goods for the afterlife. The pile of stones that forms the cairn will be substantially smaller than it once was – many stones will have been repurposed, some in the track you have just followed.
Return to the track and continue south passing the school. Turn right on to the road. A little further on you will reach Temple Wood. Here there are two circles. The older one is now just outlined in the ground with concrete markers, whereas the more recent circle has 13 of its stones remaining. These are older than the cairns you have seen by some 1000 years.
We do not know what all the structures mean, although funerary rites and rituals must have played a very important part. The fact so much effort was put into each cairn, each cist, each carved stone, each circle, also speaks of a time when perhaps food was plentiful and there was time for such ritual. The different carvings and alignments are likely to allude to that human desire to understand and celebrate the local landscape, sun, moon and stars each playing an important part through the seasons.
Opposite Temple Wood you will see a gate and a path will lead you to the mystic Nether Largie Standing Stones. Here they have stood for some 3000 years, perhaps aligned for rituals to the sun and moon. Their placement is younger than the cairns but if you look carefully, you will see cup and ring marks, these are much older suggesting the rocks were moved here some 1500 years after being carved.
From the stones a grassy path leads you north across the field and past a wood to the ancient burial cairn of Nether Largie South. Built some 5500 years ago its very presence holds time. If you wish to explore a little the chambers of this huge cairn can be entered on the north side. It is likely that further stones were added to the site as the other cairns were built to give the alignment and presence for the linear cemetery.
Return via your outward route on the road and track back past the other cairns to Kilmartin.
To find out more it is highly recommended that a visit is made to Kilmartin Museum (when it reopens) as there is a wealth of information in addition to important artefacts recovered from some of the sites. And there is an excellent café too.
Before leaving Kilmartin why not visit the churchyard where you will find some fine examples of medieval carved stones and grave slabs. These can be found in the 17th Century Poltalloch Enclosure and the Campbell burial aisle (Historic Environment Scotland).
The described route and accompanying information are there to be used as a guide. Please be aware that track and path closures can happen at any time. All walks are undertaken at your own risk.