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15. Prehistory and rock art (Oban - Kilmartin, Central Highlands)

Walking shoes and outdoor clothing are required today to explore the engraved rock stones and other prehistoric evidence in the Kilmartin region, the discoveries of which are described as being of international importance. The program for this day is rich and intense, it is better to get up early, be well organized or plan it over two days.

Route : 46 km, 60 minutes from Oban to reach the Kilmartin region. The traffic is quite heavy and the roads are narrow, it doesn't flow very well.


There are thousands of them on the rock outcrops of Kilmartin Glen. These are mainly points, rings, rosettes or cups. Some sites present some sort of tables, more imposing and detailed.

What were they for? When are they from? It is difficult to know. We know today that quartz, a semi-transparent rock, was used to engrave more friable rocks, broken pieces having been found near the engravings. Quartz catches light and emits a glow when struck in the dark...

Religious rites, links with the stars, cultures or even the seasons, offerings to the gods... several interpretations have been made. The only certainty is that the site of Kilmartin must have represented a particular symbolism so that at so many different periods (from cavemen to the Middle Ages), our ancestors carried out rituals there, burned their dead and venerated their deceased.


Start your journey with the ruins of the Carnasserie fortress, on which three sites have been the subject of numerous excavations, discoveries and studies. A tower house, it dates from the 16th century and was not inhabited for long, having been destroyed by royalist forces in 1685 (fire). Even though its walls are still undamaged, it has never been repaired. Several architectural elements, such as the holes for weapons in the walls, are particularly successful.

Info : ample parking on site, no amenities, several interesting information panels on the Castle, but especially on rock art.


Discovered in 1970, this rocky block presents magnificent engravings, still well preserved and freely accessible in the countryside. Their contemplation is worth it (10 km by bike for us) and the site is by far not easy to discover.

Once there, you can admire cup marks, rings and beautiful rosettes carved into the stone, with a magnificent view of the nearby Loch Craignisch. The only downside (or not) is that the place is not maintained and the vegetation takes over, covering the symbols of this sacred place a little more every day.

Info : The easiest way is probably to leave the Château de la Carnasserie, on foot or by bike, because the path is better indicated than if you try to access it with a vehicle, the forest being closed to traffic. For our part, we followed the GPS to the beginning of the forest, on a very stony path, then we continued by bike. The walk was very pleasant and the landscapes had a Canadian feel.


To say that the place has been sacred for generations seems obvious, as there are so many remains there. Don't be scared by looking at the number of sites and go to the essentials, you will spend the day there differently.

From the Castle, you have of course Kilmartin and its museum (which was closed during our visit, but which seems really worthy of interest), then a series of five cairns of different sizes, four of them dating from the one from the Bronze Age and one from the Stone Age, all located in the same alignment.


You will then arrive at Nether Largie Standing Stones, a site of five standing stones dating from 3,200 BC. JC, whose central, higher, is engraved (several cups and marks), hence our interest in the site. Old photos show that it also had symbols, which have now disappeared. Their alignment could be linked to the cycle of the moon and would, as such, be one of the most important places of its kind in Scotland. A sixth is further away, in the middle of a field. Several smaller stones are next to the large ones, the purpose of which is not known.


Originally, there were 22 standing stones, 3 of which were engraved with cuts and spirals. In the center, a cairn with charred bones was found. Two other cairns were also nearby. The stones appear to have moved several times over time.

Info : To visit Kilmartin, you can either continue from the Château de la Carnasserie car park by bike or on foot and visit the monuments one after the other, or take the B8025 and park in the car park giving access to Temple Wood. This is what we did, the focus of the day being more rock art than cairns and standing stones. The parking lot is medium-sized, tree-lined and does not allow overnight stays. You will find several information panels there. The sites will be in front of you, after a small canal to cross. No amenities on site.


Take the road again to go to Achnabreac, 10 minutes from Kilmartin. There you will discover one of the most beautiful sculpted rock outcrops in the region, with its double spiral (1st photo). As in Ormaig, unfortunately, the vegetation has done its work and is covering everything. Most of the 63 symbols are no longer visible today.

Info : The site is easier to access than Ormaig and close to a large signposted car park in the forest. A pretty maintained path leads there and you can also find a cycle route. No amenities on site.


Take the road towards Loch Sween to reach St-Columba's cave, 40 minutes from Kilmartin, to discover even older engraved traces. In this ancient rock shelter, traces of human occupation dating from the Mesolithic to the present day have been discovered. You will still find several holes there which must have been used to hold wooden stakes, as well as traces of religious origin (old Crucifix engraved in stone and a dry stone altar).

Many people still come there today to meditate and leave offerings (flowers, shells, etc.) on the altar. The place is typical of Mesolithic shelters, with a wide open view and a water source in the immediate vicinity. The remains of a 13th century chapel also bear witness to religious occupation. Several burials were also discovered on the site.

Info : the site is located at the end of a road marked as a dead end, but which is several kilometers long, with a huge private residence at the end. Parking is non-existent, there is little room to maneuver and overnight parking is prohibited. The climb to the cave is rapid, but swampy. Better to bring good shoes. Be careful, possible confusion with another cave linked to St-Columba, which is located in the region! (St-Columba's footprints and Keil Caves)


For the night we extended the road to Ardcastel, (40 minutes) towards Inveraray, part of Kilmichael Forest. We found a very pleasant and quiet car park there, which accepts overnight parking (paid).

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