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Thursday July 4, 2024
9 minutes reading time

Exploring Scotland’s Standing Stones in a Campervan

Written by:  Chris Dickson
Callinish Standing Stones

Scotland is steeped in history – and prehistory! For antiquarians that means the landscape is rich with megalithic sites – standing stones, cairns and barrows that have stood the test of time. Off the-beaten-track some of them may be, but to this day they provide a draw for travellers – and touring them by campervan or motorhome offers a unique and rewarding way to explore the country. You don’t even have to own a vehicle to make these trips – simply hire one from Dicksons of Perth!

What is Antiquarianism and Why is it Cool?

In a nutshell, antiquarianism is the discovery, documentation and preservation of prehistoric sites. Antiquarians investigate and inspect megalithic sites and meticulously record details of physical characteristics and layout through maps, drawings and photography. The pursuit bridges the gap between casual interest in megalithic culture and a more systematic scientific study.

Antiquarianism emerged as a distinct interest in the 16th and 17th centuries and laid the groundwork for modern archaeology. These days it is as engrossing a pursuit for budding Indiana Jones types as it is for amateur archaeologists and serious historical theorists. It’s also a great way to see some incredible countryside!

Scotland’s Megalithic Sites by Campervan

This edition of our blog will guide you through some of the most enigmatic megalithic sites in Scotland which you can enjoy travelling to and exploring. We’ll use our location, Perth, as the starting point for each journey, and provide our preferred directions – plus important notes on each site and helpful tips on how to travel.

1. Torhousekie (Torhouse Stone Circle) by Campervan

This stone circle is located near Wigtown (‘Scotland’s Book Town’) in Dumfries & Galloway. It’s hugely attractive and the perfect introduction to Scotland’s megalithic heritage. Tourhousekie (also known as the Torhouse Stone Circle) consists of 19 granite boulders ascending in size from 2’ to 4’, arranged in a 70’ x 65’ diameter circle on a raised circular terrace. Three larger stones lie in the centre. Torhousekie is sited amidst gentle hills and is one of the most well-preserved circles in Scotland.

Ordnance Survey: 83.383564

  • Getting there: From Perth, take the M90 from the A85. Continue on the A9, M80 and M77 to the A77 in Fenwick. Take B7045, Newton Stewart Rd, National Cycle Route 7 and A714 to the B733 to Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway. Torhousekie is ten miles south of Newton Stewart and three and a half miles west of Wigtown, signposted from the town. This journey in total: Approximately 150 miles, duration 3 hours 15 minutes.
  • Stay: Drumroamin Farm caravan and camping site is just five miles from Wigtown and offers useful facilities for campervan travellers, including a laundry area with two washing machines and a dryer (all coin operated). Mobile phone signal is excellent. Postcode: DG8 9DB

Torhousekie standing stones

2. Machrie Moor by Campervan

Head to the Isle of Arran to visit Machrie Moor, a site showcasing a series of stone circles with their own unique characters, including Fingal’s Cauldron Seat and The Four Poster. The most impressive features are three sandstone pillars at over 18 feet tall, plus a major standing stone at over 13 feet. To antiquarians the abundance of circles at Machrie Moor suggests that it was a very important ritual site. It certainly offers dramatic silhouettes against the area’s rugged landscape.

Ordnance Survey: 69.910324

  • Getting there: From Perth, take the M90 from the A85. Take the A9, M9, M80 and M8 to the A737 in Paisley. Take exit 28A from the M8. Follow the A737, B714 and A78 to Ardrossan in North Ayrshire. Take the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry onto the Isle of Arran. From Brodick, take the A841 towards Blackwaterfoot, follow road signs to Machrie Moor. This journey in total: 120 miles, approximate duration 4 hours (including ferry crossing).
  • Stay: Bridgend is a mere four miles from Machrie Moor and offers a picturesque 15 pitch site with facilities for campervans and motorhomes. The site is on a gently sloping field with grass and hard standing pitches. There are useful facilities including toilets and showers, chemical toilet disposal and a children’s play area. Postcode: KA27 8EN

Machrie Moor standing stones

3. Kilmartin Glen by Campervan

Argyll’s Kilmartin Glen is a rich indeed for antiquarians. The area boasts one of the largest gatherings of megalithic monuments in Scotland, including stone circles, standing stones and burial cairns at must-see sites such as Templewood (otherwise known as Half Moon Wood), Nether Largie and Ri Cruin, the Great X of Kilmartin.

  • Templewood: (Ordnance Survey: 55.826978) provides one of the longest recorded uses of an area in the world, with two stone circles carbon-dated as 3500 BC and in use up to 1050 BC. The larger featured 22 standing stones, while the smaller contains a central cairn and cremation burials. Excavations have revealed pottery, tools and human remains, providing antiquarians with insight into ritualistic and ceremonial practices.
  • Nether Largie: (Ordnance Survey: 55.831984) features a series of cairns (including Central, North, South and Glebe). These burial mounds date from around 2000 BC and give insight into early funerary practices and a complex social structure and belief system. Aligned in a way that suggests some astronomical significance (possibly lunar and solar), the cairns at Nether Largie are really thought-provoking.
  • Ri Cruin and the Great X of Kilmartin: (Ordnance Survey: 55.825872) could be, in some ways, the perfect example of Scotland’s antiquarian heritage. Ri Cruin is a burial cairn set in modest woodland, with the main stone featuring a Bronze Age carving of seven axes. The Great X is a formation of standing stones half a mile away, in a field opposite Templewood, with nine and ten feet tall stones all featuring cup-marks. These are man-made indentations and carvings which suggest ritual or religious significance or, some antiquarians theorise, were territorial warnings.

There are many other sites around Kilmartin Glen, and the whole area is rich with possibilities for campervanning antiquarians who want to glimpse a potentially much bigger picture than one isolated individual site could offer.

  • Getting there: Directions from Perth to Nether Largie. Follow the A85 to A819. Take the B840 to the A816, continue on the A816 to the B8025. This journey in total: 102 miles, approximately 3 hours. Using Nether Largie as your initial destination, you can find all of the other sites in Kilmartin Glen within relatively easy reach.
  • Stay: Ardfern Motorhome Park allows overnight stays for campervans. There are 10 grass pitches, with electric hook-up at each. Internet access is good, and there are showers and toilets. Postcode: PA31 8QN.

Kilmartin standing stones

4. Cairnholy by Campervan

In a vividly picturesque setting high and overlooking Wigtown Bay in Dumfries & Galloway, the incredible Cairnholy consists of two well-preserved chambered cairns dating back to around 3000 BC. The smaller cairn is simple, consisting of a single chamber, but both feature standing stones at their entrances. The larger cairn also features a long passage leading to a central chamber with a distinctive beehive shape. Excavations over the years have found cremated bones, pottery fragments and stone tools. This site had a particular impact on the musician Julian Cope who used a photograph of it as the cover of his album Interpreter (1997).

  • Getting there: From Perth take the M90 from the A85. Take the A9, M80, M74 and A74(M) to the A701 in Dumfries & Galloway. Take exit 15 of the A701 to the A75 and follow it to Cairnholy. Note: The site is located up a steep country road with minimal parking. This journey in total: 165 miles, approximately 3 hours.
  • Stay: See the details of Drumroamin Farm caravan and camping site in the previous section on Tourhousekie. Postcode: DG8 9DB.

Cairnholy standing stones

5. Ring Of Brogar and Stenness by Campervan

Off to Orkney, home to the standing stones of Stenness and the Ring Of Brogar. The standing stones at Stenness date back to 3100 BC and are some of the oldest examples in Britain. The nearby Ring Of Brogar is a spectacular circle and henge (diameter approximately 300 feet) which dates to around 2500 BC. It originally featured 60 stones, with around 30 remaining, which reach up to 15 feet high. Some of the stones feature ancient carvings – runes, an anvil and even a Viking name. Antiquarians have theorised that the Ring Of Brogar was the inspiration for the world-famous Avebury in Wiltshire. The area close by Stenness stones and the Ring Of Brogar also includes Maeshowe, an enormous mound, the largest chambered cairn in Scotland. A truly impressive place!

  • Getting there: From Perth, take the A989 and A912 to the A9. Stay on it all the way to Scrabster (approximately 6 hours) and catch a ferry to Stromness in Orkney. Travel for approximately 5 miles on the A965 and then B9055. This journey in total: 260 miles, approximately 7.5 hours (including ferry crossing).
  • Stay: The family-run Chalmersquoy on Orkney offers a great campsite for antiquarian tourers, with ten hardstanding pitches including electric hookups. There are shower facilities, toilets and a laundry. Postcode: KW17 2BZ.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones

6. Callanish by Campervan

The ultimate Scottish destination for antiquarians is the world famous site Callanish on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. This massive site of stones is hugely intriguing for antiquarians and religious historians, being over 5,000 years old yet arranged in the shape of a crucifix. Callanish (or, correctly, Calanais) is generally considered to be one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe, alongside Stonehenge and Avebury. It’s highly impressive as a visual spectacle, sitting amidst a stunning landscape, and has a spiritually resonant vibe – a fact not lost on Julian Cope (again) and also on the band Ultravox. Respectively, they depicted it on an album cover (Jehovahkill, 1992) and in a promo video (One Small Day, 1984).

The primary circle at Callanish comprises 13 large stones, the tallest reaching 16 feet in height. Extending outwards from (or inwards to) this central circle are four avenues of stones which make up the cruciform. What does Callanish mean? Archaeological excavations have revealed a chambered tomb at the centre, indicating that at least part of the area was used for burial rituals, but the precise purpose of the site remains open to theory. Some believe it was an astronomical observatory, and some believe it was a religious or community ritual site.

It is certainly a very dramatic place. While all of the other megalithic monuments we’ve mentioned in this blog (and the many other we haven’t) are certainly impressive and inspiring, Callanish is ‘another level’ altogether – almost too huge in concept, implication and emotional effect to digest.

  • Getting there: Follow the A9 and A835 to Ullapool. Cross via the ferry to Stornoway, and take the A859 and A858 to Callanish. This journey in total: 240 miles, approximately 7 hours (including ferry crossing).
  • Stay: The Galson Campsite on the Isle of Lewis offers travellers a conveniently located base from which to visit the Callanish stones. It includes electric hook-ups, showers and toilets. Postcode: HS2 0SH.

Callanish standing stones

Tips for Exploring Megalithic Sites by Campervan

  • Travel light: Scottish roads, especially in remote areas, can be narrow and winding. Don’t overload the campervan, so that it’s easier to manoeuvre.
  • Weather: The Scottish weather is notoriously unpredictable. Pray for sun, but pack waterproof clothing and sturdy footwear.
  • Amenities: Plan in your stops for fuel and groceries, as facilities can be quite sparse in Scotland’s more rural areas.
  • Respect: This is probably the most important consideration for anyone travelling to Scotland’s megalithic sites via campervan. These ancient monuments may have more-or-less stood the test of time – but they are fragile. Don’t litter, always stick to designated paths and don’t abuse the stones. Avoid touching them, or climbing on them, as this will help preserve them for future generations.

Going all antiquarian and touring Scotland’s megalithic sites by campervan is a truly unforgettable experience. Who will ever truly know exactly what these places were for, or what they meant to the people who used them – but visiting offers clues, and at their best they offer unique glimpses through ‘time windows’ into our very distant past.

At the very least they’re fantastic destinations offering campervanners a real focus to each day’s travel. From the serene Torhousekie to the majestic Callanish, and every in-between, each megalithic site you come across will present the breathtaking beauty of Scotland’s landscapes in a way that is both ancient and brand new!

If you don’t own your own campervan (or motorhome), Dicksons of Perth provides a comprehensive vehicle hire service alongside a great selection of new and used vehicles for sale. Travel to these megalithic sites in comfort and style! Get in touch for more details.

Sources / References

Scotland at The Modern Antiquarian

Place to Stay found at Campsites

Journey routes, distances and timings provided with reference to Google Maps

Cambridge Dictionary: Antiquarianism

Wikipedia: History of Antiquarianism

Stone Circles: Historic Scotland

Kilmartin: Kilmartin Museum

Visit Scotland: Kilmartin Glen

Calanais Standing Stones: Calanais