Heather’s Treks – renaissance ruins and ancient rock art

Enigmatic and wonderful rock art at Ormaig.

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Heather Thomas-Smith runs Heathery Heights (www.heatheryheights.co.uk), an outdoor adventure and discovery company based in Lochgilphead, offering guided walking adventures, outdoor activities, training, and experiences. She has travelled and trekked throughout the world, walked across Scotland numerous times, climbed many of its peaks and now lives in Argyll amongst the scenery she loves.


Walk Information

Route: Carnasserie Castle, Ormaig, Old Poltalloch and Lady’s Seat
Distance: 12.5 – 13.5km (7.8 – 8.3 miles)
Ascent: 430m – 495m
Time: 4 – 5hrs walking
Terrain: paths and tracks with some steep, uneven or boggy sections.
Map/s: OS Landranger 55 (1:50 000)
OS Explorer 358 (1:25 000)
Start/Finish/Parking: Carnasserie Castle carpark
Grid reference: NM839004
Public Transport: Bus routes 23, 423
Toilets: No

Lovely Kilmartin Glen is host to many wonderful historic sites and ancient monuments.

Overlooking its northern reaches the renaissance remains of Master John Carswell’s Carnasserie Castle stand proud, its ruins eerily dramatic despite now being more home to crow than human.

There are many ways in which to explore the area. This circular takes you through time from Carnasserie Castle in the east to the prehistoric rock art at Ormaig in the west, before wending southwards on the path used in bygone days to reach Old Poltalloch. Then, turning east, you come to Lady’s Seat, which offers lovely views down the glen, a brief respite before turning northwards to return to the castle’s realm. Glimpses over to Loch Craignish and down Kilmartin Glen give one time to ponder the geology of the area swept by the glaciers of the last ice age.

At the car park you will see a small path exiting the NE corner by the information boards. Turn left and head up the track towards the castle. You initially come to a turning left, you will take this shortly. Meanwhile the castle lies just ahead, through a gate and up a steep path to your left. Currently you can but admire its grandeur from the outside, either from here or the next section of the walk (see note below).

Return to the track and take the turn on your right SW up through the trees and to a gate. Ahead you will cross the field for 150m, with the castle to your right, before re-joining the farm track. Follow it to a T-junction (not signposted).

Turn right and continue up the field and through a gate. A young forestry plantation lies to your left, pretty and convoluted little hills and glens to your right. Effectively the valley floor is the line of a dyke with the lumps, bumps and divides a mixture of limestone, igneous rock intrusions, sandstones, gritstones, conglomerates and folding doing much to create the complex NE/SW flow seen in the shape of the hills and lochs all carved out by glaciers.

Follow the track over the col past a gnarly old plantation on a knoll. The route descends for 2km towards Loch Craignish before veering sharply right to cross the Eas Mor burn at its western end. Note the main track you come on to. For those wishing to miss the path to Old Poltalloch you will need to return to this point and keep following it south east to join up with the rest of the route.

Cross the bridge over the Eas Mor. Ignore the small path to your right with a barrier and continue for 150m; look out for the new track signposted up to the prehistoric rock art of Ormaig. After ascending 100m you will see the little paths to your right leading to the stones, a good place to pause and wonder at those who carved them.

Return to the track below and south over the Eas Mor. At the sharp left-hand bend turn immediately right towards the sea. After just 30m, opposite a ruined croft, an easily missed path slips down to a wall. As soon as you are on it, it is obvious and now wends its way southwards towards Old Poltalloch through the ‘Big Wood’.

The path is boggy in places with the odd fallen tree. After 1.7km it reaches a forestry road; turn left and follow this for 200m to a sharp left-hand bend. The path goes straight ahead at the bottom of the bend just below a turning point, again it is not obvious until you are on it. Continue to follow this all the way until you reach the road at Old Poltalloch, passing farmstead ruins and the old walled garden on your right. The house itself has now been renovated.

Turn left. The track, which also leads to a jetty below, climbs upwards for nearly 2km before reaching the col leading to Kilmartin Glen. Ignore the two tracks you pass on your left (the second is the way through from Ormaig, signposted).

Descend for 500m and take the grassy forestry track to your right. After 30m a path leads upwards on your right to Lady’s Seat, a worthy detour for a grand view over the glen.

Return to the track and turn right to descend to the main track below (another viewpoint on the left can also be visited). Cross straight over, through a gate to the right of some sheep pens. Passing a track from your right after 150m (from Kilmartin) zigzag down through the woods to a gate. The track does a sharp 90-degree turn right and, a little after, turn left to follow the tracks back to Carnasserie and your earlier outward route.

Please note: Historic and Environment Scotland properties and sites remain closed due to Covid; the castle can only be viewed from the outside at this time. Please see https://www.historicenvironment.scot/

Safety in the Outdoors
The described routes and accompanying information are there to be used as a guide and do not replace the use of map and compass and the skills required to use them. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the route is accurate at the time of going to print please be aware that track and path closures can happen at any time. All walks are undertaken at your own risk. Please continue to adhere to current guidelines as set out by the government, exercise responsibly and use appropriate clothing and equipment for your chosen outdoor activity. Inform a contact about your route/whereabouts. Don’t forget your phone, snacks, drink, any medication/first aid supplies you may need and to check weather conditions. Most walks are dog friendly but please keep your dog under close control, especially around livestock and wildlife. Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.