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travel: Going round in circles is great fun.

Byline: By Neil McCrindle

A STANDING stone circle is a great playground for kids.

My four-year-old son ran around and through the stones, hid behind them and enjoyed looking for mysterious writing and signs.

And there's plenty of them studded along the beautiful landscape around the village of Kilmartin, in Argyll - bringing history alive for all the family.

The two or three we visited are only a small fraction of the hundreds of ancient sites, tucked away in this historic corner of Scotland - eight miles north of Lochgilphead and 30 miles south of Oban.

Eight thousand years ago, the first ancient peoples were drawn to this fertile land and sea.

From these earliest hunter-gatherers through the Bronze Age and Iron Age until St Columba brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century, this area was of great spiritual and political importance. So much so that the first kings of Scotland were crowned between AD500 and 900 at Dunadd - a rock outcrop on a marshy plain within sight of the Crinan Canal.

Each people left their own mark on the landscape with burial cairns, rock carvings, standing stones, stone circles and fortresses - and their history has been brought to life at the internationally acclaimed museum at Kilmartin House.

Endorsed enthusiastically by Tony Robinson of TV's Time Team, the museum is a treasure trove of local relics - some literally dug up in the museum's back yard.

Pottery 3000 years old - found in the Glebe Cairn burial mound seen from the museum windows - is proudly displayed.

The different eras can be followed through flint tools and bone fish hooks to the "Bronze Age bling" - intricate jet necklaces found in burial mounds and gleaming swords sacrificed in peat bogs.

And reconstructions of these ancient tools and equipment give a fascinating insight into the people who made this stunning countryside their home for 300 generations.

Kids are well catered for with hands-on exhibits of how ancient peoples would have ground flour, polished stone axes or made flints.

My son made rubbings of old stone carvings of snakes and wild boar, happily spread his freshly ground flour all over the floor, bashed rocks together to make music and gazed longingly at the shining swords.

Enthusiasts can even make their own Bronze Age sword on one of the many workshops the museum runs in ancient technology.

The two-day workshop costs pounds 120. And for pounds 50, you can make your own silver Bronze Age torque bracelet at a workshop.

The award-winning Glebe Cairn cafe at the museum serves up some fantastic food with a varied menu based on local produce.

They also have a fine selection of traditional ales, wines and proper coffee, as well as home-baked cakes and bread.

Try to get a seat in the green oak conservatory, which overlooks the Glebe Cairn. The cafe - in a restored stone barn - is a child-friendly place and seems to be popular with local mums and kids.

The museum - which can be found on the web at www.kilmartin.org - is open from 10am until 5.30pm every day from March 1 to October 31. From November to Christmas, reduced hours apply.

We stayed across the road from the museum at the welcoming Kilmartin Hotel (www.kilmartin-hotel.com) which offers bed and breakfast accommodation.

They have a family room and also do lunches and evening meals.

For those who come for more traditional country activities, the owner also offers deer stalking and fishing at a trout-filled private loch.

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CHILD'S PLAY: Kids love playing in Kilmartin's standing stones
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 26, 2008
Words:591
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