Kilmartin Glen, Dunadd and the Crinan Canal

Kilmartin Glen Standing Stones Argyll Lochgilphead

Kilmartin Glen, site of more than 350 ancient Bronze Age and prehistoric monuments. Image Paul Tomkins (c) VisitScotland

Kilmartin Glen and Dunadd; Bronze age monuments to the ancient seat of the Pictish kings: 

From the Blue Cottage at Ardbrecknish, drive down the loch side past Eredine and Ford and onwards to the nearby village of Kilmartin, the access point to explore Scotland’s most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze age remains; more than 350 monuments within a 6 miles radius of Kilmartin village.

Here in Kilmartin Glen, you’ll find an abundance of marked and accessible cairns, standing stones and a henge monument plus some of the most impressive cup and ring decorated rock surfaces in Scotland.

Solar and lunar dial at Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland

Solar and lunar dial at Kilmartin Glen. “The shadow in the Cup reads the ascent and declination of the sun daily and yearly Also passages of the Moon”. Image © Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

The small Kilmartin museum, shop and café is a must-see attraction. The museum itself is small yet very informative and the shop stocks a wide selection of Scottish and local craft items as well as an excellent range of history books and DVDs. The café is, in our opinion, the highlight and a fantastic stop for coffee and cakes or lunch. From the downstairs section of the café you get cracking views of the Glen and some of its many standing stones and cairns.

Onwards from Kilmartin, head towards the site of Dunadd Fort, the seat of Scotland’s Pictish Kings and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata (Dalriada). The site is well marked and has a convenient car park. Climb to the top of what was the Dunadd hill fort and you’ll instantly see the strategic significance of this location, with commanding views all the way down the River Add estuary.

From Dunadd it’s a short 10minute drive to the small harbour of Crinan, where the Crinan Canal enters the Sound of Jura. Before the canal was built in 1801, Crinan was known as Port Righ, the King’s Port. The exciting helicopter and boat chase scenes in the James Bond movie ‘From Russia With Love’ starring Sean Connery were filmed here in Crinan Lock.

Now it’s a small village and adjoining harbour dominated by the art-deco looking Crinan Hotel, where you can dine (or lunch) on outstanding seafood. The hotel boasts an adjoining coffee shop, bar, seafood restaurant and, on the roof of the hotel, Lock 16, which opens June-Sept and serves 5 star locally caught seafood with brilliant views.

The canal is 9miles long, with 15 locks and connects Loch Gilp, at Ardrishaig, with the Sound of Jura, at Crinan. Put simply, the canal shortcuts the lengthy and often stormy route around the Mull of Kintyre and provides a link between the Clyde Estuary and the West Coast and Islands. As such, it’s very popular with yachts people and other pleasure craft; some 3,000 traverse its locks every year.

Crinan Canal near Ballanoch, Argyll

Looking down the locks of the Crinan Canal near Ballanoch, Argyll. Image Paul Tomkins (c) VisitScotland

The scenic drive along the canal to Ardrishaig, is beautiful and passes by the Cairnbaan Hotel, built in 1801 to herald the canal’s opening and a popular stop for refreshments and seafood.

At this point you can loop back to Kilmartin and return via Ford along Lochawside back to Ardbrecknish. It’s worth mentioning the Kilmartin Hotel too; a great stop for dinner, with a lively and friendly bar.

 

Here’s your itinerary:

  • From Adrbrecknish drive down the East side of the Loch through Portsonachan and Eredine and onwards to Ford at the foot of the Loch. Take your time, it’s a lovely drive and, as a single track road, you need to watch for oncoming traffic and deer.
  • Kilmartin is just a 5 minute drive from Ford and here you’ll find the Museum, shop and café. The Museum provides lots of information and directions to access the many nearby standing stones and cairns
  • An 8 minute drive from Kilmartin takes you to Dunadd hillfort
  • And a further 17 minute drive from Dunadd sees you arrive at Crinan harbor and Crinan Hotel and its coffee shop. Please note, the village of Crinan (or Old Crinan Harbour) requires you to loop back from the hotel and take the fork in the road to Crinan village
  • Driving along the canalside towards Cairnbaan (just an 11min drive), you can detour a 20min drive to the village of Tayvallich on Loch Sween. A beautiful spot and on this drive you’ll pass the Scottish Beaver Trial on the Dubh Loch. There’s a great 3mile circular walk round the Loch that takes you past the resident Beaver family. Kids will love this; there’s a Beaver Detective Trail and lots of helpful advice at the Barnuslagan Information Centre, where you park to access the loch.
  • Pop into the Tavyallich coffee shop
  • Head to Lochgilhead and take the coastal A83 along Loch Fyne to Inveraray and then return to Ardbrecknish. This day trip is roughly 2-3 hrs driving in total

Google Map route for this trip:

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