Welcome to Lochgilphead
At the head of the Loch Gilp, a short sea loch which leads north west from Loch Fyne, lies the characterful white buildings of Lochgilphead, about 20 miles south of Oban at the junction of the A816 and A83. A significant town since 1975, it has been the capital of the Argyle and Bute region. The nearby area is one of enormous interest; famed for the Crinan Canal, Dunadd and Kilmartin Glen, it is a must for those with an interest in Scotland's fascinating past.
Lochs such as Fyne and Gilp were the highways of the hunter gatherers who arrived in the area over eight thousand years ago. Over millennia more permanent settlements were constructed as their descendents developed agriculture but transport continued to rely on Scotland's waterways. This made the west of Scotland, with its lochs and lochans, a kind of hub for Scotland's prehistoric dwellers. Evidence for the early importance of this area can be found in the countless archaeological treasures of the western highlands and islands. Yet there is no prehistoric site in the Highlands more significant than Kilmartin Glen, around 8 miles north of Lochgilpead.
Standing Stones at Kilmartin Glen
Kilmartin Glen is home to around 350 ancient monuments 150 of which are prehistoric. Amongst the monuments are rock carvings, burial cairns and standing stones which range from the Neolithic period to the dawn of the era of the kings of Scots, making it one of the most significant archaeological sites in the British Isles. In Kilmartin Village the Old Manse has been converted into Kilmartin House Museum of Ancient Culture and provides the ideal starting point for any exploration of the glen.
Amongst the last phases of development at Kilmartin was at Dunadd, a rocky outcrop overlooking the glen from the south. Here Fergus Mac Eric, son of the Scots king of modern day Antrim, established his seat in 498 having failed to inherit his father's kingdom. Before long he had carved out a sizeable kingdom on Scotland's west coast, whose kings were anointed on the Stone of Destiny. Brought by Fergus from Antrim the Stone of Destiny was said to be a meteorite used in the anointment ceremonies of Scots kings since biblical times.
A footprint in the rock on the summit of the promontory at Dunadd is also thought to have been used in regal anointment ceremonies. Following Irish tradition kings may have placed their foot in the imprint as a symbol of their union with the earth. Christianity came to add weight to the kings' authority in the 6th century when St Columba gave his blessing to King Aidan in 563, the first time a king on the British mainland was given a Christian blessing. Today the stone footprint as well as a number of other features, such as the remains of several fortified walls, some inscriptions in og'am (a form of early Celtic writing) a carved boar, help our imaginations transport us back 1500 years in Scottish history. In 843 the centre of power moved west, to Scone in Perthshire, after the union of Scots and Pictish kingdoms. It would be 1000 years before this part of Scotland would again become a hub.
Medieval grave slabs at Kilmartin Parish Church
Lochgilphead is a relative newcomer amongst Scottish towns. No record of a settlement on the site exists prior to the planned town which came into being in the 1790s. The building of the town was prompted by the construction of the road from Inveraray to Campbeltown, which passed by the head of Loch Gilp. The characterful white buildings of Lochgilphead came into being at this time, designed to accommodate families involved in the fishing trade which was expanding at this time.
Shortly after the completion of Lochgilphead it received a major boost which would ensure that it would continue to develop. Two miles south Ardrishaig became the location in the 1790s of one mouth of the Crinan Canal which was cut north following the shoreline of Loch Gilp past Lochgilphead before heading west through the Kintyre peninsula. When the Caledonian Canal, which runs through Scotland's Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness, was opened in 1822 Lochgilphead became an important location on the quickest route between Glasgow and Inverness. The canal also opened up Kintyre and Lochgilphead to the first wave of tourism; beginning in the Victorian era the economic benefits of tourism ensured that Lochgilphead would continue to grow even after the arrival of the railways in the mid 19th century allowed time conscious travellers to bypass Kintyre on their way to Inverness. Nowadays over 2000 pleasure craft pass through the Crinan Canal every year.
The latest stage of Lochgilphead's development came after its central location prompted it to be chosen as the administrative headquarters of the Argyle and Bute District Council as part of local government reorganisation in 1975. This period of expansion has seen Lochgilphead acquire all of those amenities which one might expect as the centre of such a large and impressive Scottish region.