There’s no longer any silver to be mined in the Bathgate Hills, but during the lockdowns many who walked in the Bathgate Hills for the first time may have thought they had struck gold.
The hills’ rich history, interesting features and proximity to the towns of Bathgate, Livingston and Linlithgow meant many people discovered an area full of fantastic short walks without leaving our local authority area.
Encompassing an area north of the M8 and the A89, and south of Linlithgow, between Dechmont in the east and Boghall and Bathgate in the west, the Bathgate hills also take in Torphichen, site of the 12th century stronghold of the Knights of St John and the well-loved Beecraigs Country Park.
Accessing the hills from Livingston is easy via the Drumcross Road, where you’ll find Raven Craig, a 54.5 hectare hilly woodland, used as a deer park from 1750-1805 by land-owner Lord Hopetoun and quarried in 1875 in vain efforts to unearth silver. Follow a series of footpaths up to the Bronze Age cairn for excellent views over the Forth and the Pentland Hills.
Just north of here you’ll find Cairnpapple and the Knock, both sites with significant archaeological history.
The Knock has always been popular for local walks and picnics. At 305 metres, this glacially sculpted crag and tail hill created by an outcrop of quartz-dolerite is about 305 million years old. It falls short of being the highest summit in these hills but is excellent viewpoint over Rosyth and the Forth bridges. The top can be reached from a minor road that skirts its western flank. Here you’ll find a bronze disc indicator in memory of the Sutherland family who gifted four and a half acres of land to Bathgate Town Council.
The highest point in the Bathgate Hills is Cairnpapple, at 312 metres. An important prehistoric monument, Cairnpapple was used as a burial and ceremonial site from about 3000 to 1400 BC, a once-sacred hilltop where people first held rituals and raised neolithic monuments some 5,500 years ago. You can visit a Neolithic henge, see the site of a great timber circle and descend into a Bronze Age cist grave (now covered by a modern, domed chamber).
On your way to Cairnpapple you’ll pass the Hilderston Silver Mine Quarry, first in operation between 1606 and 1614. In 1608 German miners were brought in to work the deposits, indicating their skill and knowledge of mining geology at this time. The quarry re-opened in the 18th century to work lead and zinc and re-excavated during the 19th century, but no further economic deposits of silver or lead were found.
If you normally make a beeline to Beecraigs, a family favourite for its loch walks, deer sightings, playground and BBQ areas, why not stop off at the Witchcraig Woodland and Korean War Memorial along the way? This eight-hectare site combines a memorial garden and hilly, woodland with walking routes and excellent views. Opened in June 2000 to mark the 50th anniversary of the war's commencement, 110 Korean Fir trees and around 1100 Scottish trees represent the servicemen who were killed in the conflict.
Follow the signpost behind the memorial to the Refuge Stone and Witchcraig Wall, an uphill walk with views across the Forth. You can rest at the Witchcraig Wall, a small enclosure with seating which exhibits the geological heritage and diversity of Central Scotland, with 43 rocks from the region integrated into the structure.
In the stone wall behind you’ll find a 12th century Refuge Stone, etched with the Cross of Lorraine, one of a number of surviving boundary stones around Torphichen where the Knights of St John established a Preceptory in 1124. The stones formed a one mile circle around the Preceptory which was as much a sanctuary as the church itself, offering protection to any criminals who entered its precincts.
For many, the best part about getting out for a good walk and fresh air, is working up a thirst and an appetite and finding a great place to relax afterwards.
If you’ve yet to discover the Bathgate Hills, don’t also overlook the great choice of eateries and hostelries in Bathgate. There’s a huge selection of pubs, hotels, restaurants, cafes and takeaways, with something to suit every taste and budget.
To plan before you go, visit www.ChooseBathgate.com
Article published in Konect February 2021
Author: Sue Bedford-Visser, Choose Bathgate