Saturday 1 July 2023

In the footsteps of Kings

Next time you go to Argyll for the Dunoon or Machrihanish rallies it might be worth taking a couple of extra days off for a wee holiday and take a trip back through time. Apparently there are over 350 ancient monuments in and around Kilmartin - that's a lot to take in with just a couple of days, but I always wanted to visit the Nether Largie Standing Stones.

These stones are nowhere near as impressive or anywhere near the same scale, or even as well preserved as Stonehenge, but that’s down to the Scottish weather over thousands of years and no doubt the Scottish desire to rob the stones for other uses, like building houses and dykes. However just to stand there and think that these huge grey and gritty slabs of rock were lifted, moved, erected and carved without the aid of JCBs and Clydesdale horses, or Black & Decker drills, power saws and steel chisels beggars belief.

They're not as impressive as the Callanish Stones either, but at least they are easier to get to. Callanish is on the Isle of Lewis and CalMac holds the key to controlling visits!

Neither did the inhabitants have watches to tell the time or copies of the Mull calendar hanging from a peg in the wall to count the days and months and yet these weighty monoliths were aligned to such a degree of accuracy that the midsummer and winter solstices could be observed so precisely.

But ever since those stones were erected 5,000 years ago, this part of Argyll and Kintyre has been fought over and ruled by a whole succession of kings, knights, clans and invaders. In fact there are reports of Kings ruling their own small kingdoms as far back as 330 BC. Hence the sheer number of religious and historical artefacts, stone circles, burial cairns, graves and huge grave slabs. On the Isle of Iona alone there are reckoned to be the graves of up to sixty Kings!

The area around Kilmartin is so steeped in history that a brand new museum was due to be opened this Summer, but that has now been delayed till late Summer - so I'll have to go back!

It's an absolutely enthralling and stunning landscape, which beggars the question, why the fascination?

My first job on leaving school was with Scottish Agricultural Industries based in Glasgow and this was my patch. I squelched and stumbled diagonally across every bluidy field, farm and croft in western Scotland and the Inner Hebrides from Wemyss Bay in the south to Oban in the north (well, it felt like it!), rain, hail or shine, and through midge infestations, taking and analysing soil samples and then recommending which fertilisers were needed to produce crops and feed.

I even advised the Farm Manager for High Park Farm near Campbeltown owned by one Paul McCartney Esq. And no, the great man wasn't in, but I was in his greenhouse - and sworn to secrecy about what was growing there!

It was while doing this and speaking to those who worked this magical and mysterious land that I learned its history and folklore. In other words, visiting the Dunoon and Machrihanish rallies brings back more than just rally memories from the Burmah and Argyll Stages rallies, this area’s history goes back much further than that - a lot further.

Try it some time. But until the new Museum is opened, start from Kilmartin Church (beside the new museum) and follow the signs. Take your own footsteps into history.

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