|A mass pilgrimage to an ancient and beautiful place had been on the cards for some time. A group of about six of us had been talking about a big Ambient Ramble for ages. I'd ranted on about how wonderful the Highlands were for so long, it seemed to have stirred some interest amongst a few of my friends.
A few of us had been involved in the E1 Festival for most of the year and decided that we needed an excursion to chill out after the heat of battle had passed (but that's another story). Eventually six grew to ten people and after much scouring of holiday cottage brochures, we eventually found a place that could take us all at a place called Ford, just a stone's throw from Kilmartin Valley..... perfect!
Eventually ten of us in three cars rolled out of Norwich on the long journey North. Myself and my partner Natalie travelled with Shaun and his partner Samantha. Tim, Gino and Mary in one car and Ed, Asa and Amy in the other. Our car conked out twice on the way and we ended up resorting to smacking the starter motor with a lump of wood to get it going! My careful selection and recording of tapes for the journey was thwarted, as the car's cassette player was knackered too!
After a ten hour journey, we finally reached our home for the week. A fantastic 200 year old Highland house smack bang in the middle of more history than you could shake a stick at.... and more importantly, a huge kitchen table to lay out Asa's map collection and my beer collection!
The next morning I was out the door and on my way to the nearest standing stone before most folk had woken up... a mere couple of hundred yards from the house. The village church bell began to peel and 5,000 years of continuity hit me smack in the face!
Just behind our house stood the hillfort of Dun Dubh. A place that I've heard was the site of local fire festivals up to Victorian times.
Kilmartin Valley and the surrounding area is packed so full of ancient sites that even a week isn't long enough to visit every last one. My old stomping ground of Ilkley Moor is a wonderfully evocative prehistoric ritual landscape, so I was kinda used to finding myself in such environments, but Kilmartin Valley took my breath away. Awe-inspiring doesn't seem to do it justice.
This is where the day to day details become a little blurred. Many of the sites at Kilmartin have been described in pretty good detail elsewhere on this site anyway. What remains with me is the memory of a week long ecstatic feast of daylong hikes to megaliths, cairns and rock art, and nights of drinking beer and whisky around the kitchen table, tokin' bud, communal cooking, pawing over maps and marathon domino games!
The highlight that sticks in my mind the most is a wonderful lost afternoon at the Temple Wood circle. The weather was perfect, a late summer's afternoon with a light breeze and sunlight streaming through the trees. We ligged out on the grass next to the circle, time seemed to become elastic, all that mattered was the moment. Two hours passed in what seemed like minutes!
We visited a number of the local sites, the rock art at Achnabreck, Ballygowan and Kilmichael Glassary, the ceremonial line of Kilmartin Valley following the Netherlargie cairns, the Great X, and Ri Cruin and Dunchraigaig, a big stomp around Crinan Moss and being chased by cows at a settlement site on the banks of Loch Awe.
An attempt to go over to Mull was abandoned when we saw the ferry prices and we diverted ourselves with a tour of the Oban Distillery. Afterwards, I managed to convince a few of our party to take a quick trip to Glen Coe, one of my favourite spots in the Highlands. Nothing really by the way of megalithic remains, but a powerful, brooding place that is steeped in history and folklore. One of the first places I ever visited in the Highlands and I have returned many time since. After my first visit to Glen Coe, I understood why our ancestors believed that gods lived on the tops of mountains. Also, the King's House (an old coaching inn near the Pass of Glen Coe) has the best view I've ever seen from any pub garden!
The Thursday was Nat's Birthday, so we climbed Dun Dubh together and marvelled at the view over the glen and up Lock Awe.
Our final day was spent at Dunadd, the capital of the Celtic Kingdom of Dalriada. An amazingly evocative place that we had all to ourselves. A visit to this powerful site really brings all the legends and folk tales to life. It is said that the mound was surrounded by water during it's heyday, and judging by the lay of the land, and the scars of water movement on the valley floor, this is believable. On the summit is a rock bearing a footprint, ogham script and carved boar. Next to this rock is a carved basin (or possibly a large cup mark) that was reputedly used to anoint the Kings of Scotland.
We left Kilmartin on the Saturday morning. Some were heading back to Norwich, others were heading to Malham Tarn to spend time with friends of ours there. We decided to call in on my old Art College buddy Scott, currently living in Darly in Ayreshire. This was the first day that we hadn't seen the sun and the whole valley was cloaked in mist, boiling down off the corries on the hillsides. Although we'd seen many of the secrets of the valley, it seemed strangely more mysterious at this moment. And all the more poignant in the leaving.
Photos from this trip can be seen at http://www.megalithic.co.uk/user.php?op=userinfo&uname=andy_h
Posted by Kozmik_Ken
10th September 2003ce
Edited 11th September 2003ce