The village of Kilmartin lies on the main road to Oban about eight miles north of Lochgilphead It also lies five miles north of Dunadd, now an insignificant name on the map, but until 850 the capital of the Scots Kingdom of Dalriada, which included much of modern Argyll.
Kilmartin is best known for its history. The village sits at the heart of Kilmartin Glen, and there are over eight hundred ancient monuments to be found within six miles of it. These include burial cairns, rock carvings, and standing stones, as well as the remains of the fortress at Dunadd. Kilmartin seems a surprisingly small place to be carrying such a weight of history.
The main focus of the village lies at the top of the hill. Here you find the white-painted Kilmartin Hotel nearly opposite the Kilmartin Parish Church. Near the church is a parking area.
From the top of the hill you can see much of the village itself. A row of cottages stretches across the hillside above the road to Lochgilphead as it descends the valley to the south. And in the other direction another row of cottages concludes with the village shop and post office and, beyond it, Rosebank Bed and Breakfast. Opposite are the grounds of the Kilmartin Museum, in the old manse. A separate part of the museum accommodates a visitor centre and cafe; complete with a shop selling an excellent range of books.
Kilmartin Parish Church was built in 1834-5. Internally it is a fairly standard church of the era. It does reflect the history of the surrounding area in one important way, however. It houses two stone crosses which are displayed inside the church.
And its graveyard shows very clearly that today's church is only the latest in a series to have been built on the site. Kilmartin churchyard contains one of the best collections of sculptured stone graveslabs in Scotland. Some can still be seen in the open. Twenty three stones are collected together in a stone burial aisle in the churchyard now used as a lapidarium. The earliest of these are thought to date back to the 1200s, while others are from different periods through to the early 1700s.
Kilmartin is also home to not one but two castles. About a mile north of the village is Carnasserie Castle. This is the extensive ruin of a grand residence built between 1565 and 1572 for Bishop John Carswell and it stands on a hillside to the west of the main road. It is in the care of Historic Scotland and there is a visitors' parking area signposted from the main road.
John Carswell is famous for producing the first book published in Gaelic, a translation of the Book of Common Order, also known as "John Knox's Liturgy" after its original author. Carswell had earlier resided in Kilmartin Castle, on the northern edge of the village. This is a smaller tower house that spent much of the last few hundred years as a ruin. It was restored as a private residence in the 1990s.