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July 18th 1998

CarDear friends, here we are with our last Scottish page of our diary: we are now heading south, crossing Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland's southernmost region. But keep following us, because we are planning to write another couple of episodes of this tour on our way across England and France, before going back to Italy.

Now back to megaliths and Scotland... In the last page of our diary (do you remember? Back from a nine kilometers walk in pouring rain...) we were too tired to write a long description, so we weren't able to express how much we enjoyed Kilmartin Valley and its monuments. In our personal list of favourite megalithic Scottish areas, Kilmartin is holding the second place (Orkney being the first). In such a small area there are so many and different monuments: stone circles, cairns, standing stones, chambered cairns... And those numerous beautiful and misterious cup-and-ring marked rocks... And there are not only prehistoric sites, but also interesting historic places like Dunadd Fort, the stronghold of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada, and Kilmartin Church and Carnasserie Castle... Kilmartin valley is a special place indeed.

Paola & Dave Before leaving the valley, we popped in Kilmartin House, a pioneering centre for archaeology, whose aim is to inform visitors of all there is to see and enjoy, to look at links between people and their environment, to search for clues to the beginnings of Scottish culture. There we met David Clough, the director of Kilmartin House Trust and had a pleasant chat with him on the young House (it opened in April 1997) and on archaeology. We totally agree with him about a lot of subjects and we think that he is doing a brilliant work in Kilmartin, deeply believing in the beauty and the historic importance of the valley and giving job to ten people. The House consists in an excellent cafeteria, a little gift and bookshop (with an interesting and wide range of titles available) and a wonderful little museum. The price of the ticket (£3.90 for a 15 minutes video and the Museum) is only apparently high: in our opinion the place is worth every pence of the ticket. In five years of preparation, David and friends have been able to arrange an interactive place where visitors can see, touch, experiment and even listen to (by some sound posts) the past daily life of Kilmartin valley. There are tools to take down from the walls and handle, furs to stroke, stones to polish, noises to hear...

Beacharra This museum is great even if the real artifacts found in the nearby ancient sites aren't many. By the way, David told us how some institutions as British Museum in London have been generous and have given some of their objects to Kilmartin House in order to display them in its museum, whilst others (as Edinburgh National Museum) have only borrowed some pieces and now want them back. We think that is completely nonsense that some huge institutions as National Museums keep thousands of objects (often without displaying them) and that a local institution or association can't show the artifacts found in a site just a hundred meters away from it... And from a cultural and didactic point of view, dear National institutions, don't you think that a visitor can better admire, enjoy and understand an ancient object during his visit at a small museum than at a huge, rich one with dozens of rooms to pass through in a hurry? This is not a criticism only to Edinburgh National Museum: we are also thinking to all the selfish, gigantic Italian cultural institutions that have their cellars full of forgotten artifacts which no one is allowed to see. Artifacts should be owned by people's eyes and minds, not by shortsighted institutions!
All right, after all this letting out steam, back to Argyll's monuments... We said goodbye to David and drove to Kyntire, where we visited (avoiding some rather quiet bulls) the three beautiful Ballochroy standing stones and the single, impressive Beacharra one.

Next day we sailed to Arran, the last Scottish island we could afford to visit to. There we walked around visiting Auchagallon kerbed cairn, the few remains of three chambered cairns (Torrylin, East Bennan and Monamore) and the beautiful Lamlash stone circle, half hidden in thick heather.
Lamlash We dedicated the following day, Wednesday, to Machrie Moor stone circles. The day, as usual, began with some rain but Diego was optimistic: we had plenty of time before the leaving of our ferry in the afternoon, so we would be able to enjoy at least half an hour of sunshine! And so it was. Machrie Moor is a magnificent ceremonial site (number 4 in our personal hit parade of favourite megalithic places of Scotland after Orkney, Kilmartin Valley and Callanish). There are six stone circles, different in size, shape and kind one from each other. Machrie Moor I is made by sandstone slabs alternate with granite boulders; in Machrie Moor II only three red pillars are still standing, but they are so high, up to 5.5 m, and elegant to dominate the landscape; on Machrie Moor III only one tall, beautiful stone is still standing; Machrie Moor IV, with its four low boulders, is halfway from a so called four-poster stone circle and a true stone circle; Machrie Moor V has two quite concentric rings of boulders; the last one, Machrie Moor XI, was recently discovered, its low ten stones being hidden in the peat. Nearby there are also the remains of two chambered cairns, a solitary standing stone and a kerbed cairn. A megalithic heaven indeed!

Back to the Scottish mainland, we rested in a comfortable farmhouse by Kilmaurs before going to Ballochmyle, a splendid (and very fragile) rock-face covered by cup-and-ring markings and other peculiar carvings. Then we drove southwards, to Glenterrow little stone circle and Torhouse big one. In the evening we tried also to go to Drumtroddan carved rocks and standing stones. They are in a farmhouse's fields, but there was too much cattle and we delayed our visit to the following morning. Anyway, we managed to visit the ironically named Wren's Egg, a large granite boulder sitting on the edge of a low ridge.

Bull Then came yesterday, nicknamed by us the bulls' day. First of all because when we tried again to enter Drumtroddan carved rocks' field an enormous and unfriendly bull, about the same size and weight of a Range Rover, came towards us, snorting loudly and behaving nervously. We gave up. But in our opinion the farmer (the same who has also put there a honesty box charging 50p per car) could avoid putting cattle in that field, where there is an Historic Scotland monument.

Cairnholy II The bulls' day went on with us entering a field full of those animals to have a look to High Banks cup-and-ring markings. A nice farmer there had allowed us to go in, saying not to be worried about the bulls ("just ignore them"). Yes, but what happens if THEY don't ignore us? Anyway, we crossed a gate and a first field full of bulls, walked trough another bulls' field and took some photos with our traditional Nikon camera. When Diego took out his digital camera suddenly we found ourselves completely surrounded by bulls (so forget a photo of the markings in this web page). They were probably just curious. Too curious. When an effusive black one began to run towards Paola, Diego bravely managed to stop it, shouting and waving his arms. Of course we packed everything and quickly walked back to the farm. What an unpleasant feeling is to be followed by a herd of snorting bulls!
Anyway, besides our "bulls encounters of the third kind", we managed to visit also the elegant chambered cairns of Cairnholy I and Cairnholy II, the splendid and almost unknown Glenquicken stone circle and the gigantic and hard to photograph Twelve Apostles stone circle.
A quick note about the weather. we had a little change yesterday: not only pouring rain (and some beautiful sunshine too) but also some hail! Last, harmlesss part of our bulls' day: in Moffat we could find a room only in... guess which hotel? The "Black Bull" of course!


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