The Kilmartin valley has been the site of ritual observances and celebration since Neolithic times. Rich with archaeological significance, the landscape boasts a vast array of standing stones, stone circles, petroglyphs, and burial cairns that give us clues to the ways in which our long-dead ancestors lived their lives and connected with the Divine.
There is a sense of peace here that is difficult to describe. The quiet valley echoes with cuckoo calls and birdsong, and the vast meadows easily accommodate ancient monuments, lowing sheep, and modern tourists with an easy grace. Ancient creativity feeds the modern imagination as we visit the sites; we come as modern pilgrim to stand in the “thin places” where we can sense a thinning of the veil between the realms.
We started out at the Templewood stone circle, ancient, solid, and solemn. The stones are not as big as those at some of the other circles we’ll visit over the next two weeks, so the circle feels personal and welcoming. At the moment it is surrounded by banks of bluebells, effectively wrapping it in an ethereal haze.
Processing to the end of the valley, we made our way along the path that runs in front of a sprawling country home, then climbed up and over the stone stile en route to the carved burial cairn at Ri Cruin. Stepping off the stile, visitors come face to face with a stately and gnarled tree that surely must be the entrance to the fabled Fairy realm. One cannot help but bow one’s head in recognition and respect before continuing on to the cairn beyond.
Later, we travelled further down the valley, where we walked a short ways through the Knapdale Forest to visit the abandoned village of Kilmory Oib. Here, too, it is not hard to envision fairies dancing in the glen, or at the very least to imagine the magic of Brigadoon. The holy well is old, older than The abandoned houses and barns nestle between a holy well at one end and a majestic apple tree in full blossom at the other.
In my mind’s eye, I see the houses as I hope they once were, alive with character, and I wonder who might have planted that apple tree oh-so-many years ago. I wonder about the women who tended the livestock, the girls who fell in love, the men who thatched the roofs and hunted deer in the forest. Could I have survived that lifestyle? Were they happy? What stories did they tell about the ancient holy well, now dedicated to Mother Mary, and marked with a carved cross? Even today, we circle the well sunwise, then dip our hands in the water, to bless ourselves, to drink deeply.
God bless me and keep me from this day till this day next year.