Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Day Out in Linlithgow

Linlithgow is one of the nicest towns in Scotland - a rose in the dungheap for some, located as it is in West Lothian, home of the shale bing and departed industry.

Linlithgow however has the history as one of the first four royal burghs, the location by Linlithgow Loch and the canal, the real ale pubs and the leafy avenues that other towns in West Lothian lack. If you meet someone middle-class from West Lothian, the odds are they live in Linlithgow. It's the Kilmacolm of the east.

Palace across Linlithgow Loch:

But I don't want to spend this post slagging off West Lothian, or trying to make people from Linlithgow sound like they think they are made of chocolate. Let's concentrate on Linlithow itself. For a Central Belt day trip it is hard to beat.

First of all are the surroundings. Immediately south of Linlithgow are the low Bathgate Hills, home of Beecraigs Country Park where you can see all kinds of wildlife and go on a badger watch. Rising out of the park is the abrupt wee crag of Cockleroy with great views over West Lothian.

Grangemouth and Ochils from Cockleroy:

OK, I know. They are views of West Lothian... but Linlithgow is well seen too from here.

Linlithgow palace from Cockleroy:

Up here we enjoyed vigorous buffets of wind and whipping, saturating rain showers, glad of our waterproofs, the cows and sheep in surrounding fields sitting down and the trees waving like a nutter desperately trying to attract a friend across the road who is trying to avoid them.

Further up at the top of the Bathgate Hills we visited the viewpoint near Cairnpapple, a prehistoric burial cairn with a panoramic view over the surrounding countryside. From up here it is clear that West Lothian is in fact rather leafy, a pleasant if not dramatic landscape.

West Lothian panoramas:

Let's roll downhill to Linlithgow and get out the wind! I'd always wanted to visit the palace, and was excited at the prospect.

Approach to the palace:

First you pass by St Michael's Kirk, built for the use of the palace occupants. It retains a thriving congregation to this day and a concert was in progress when we approached. We wandered around the outside. Ornate niches for Catholic idols were empty, and there was evidence of damage from the occupation of Cromwell. However the spire is the most notable sight in the whole town, a gleaming aluminium structure erected in 1964 and replacing the old stone crown that was removed in the 19th century before it fell down.

Cromwellian bullet-holes:

Finally we passed the church, and walked under the entrance portal to the palace, gaudy with freshly-painted shields.

St Michael's Kirk crown and fresh-painted shields:

The palace was founded on the site of a previous castle, and built and rebuilt in various phases between 1420 and 1620, with late medieval, Tudor-style, rennaisance, and Jacobean facades. The very first thing that struck me was the similarity - if you stripped back all decoration - to the French chateaux of the Loire. I would love to see this building with its harling, windows, tapestries, roofs, ornate ceilings, and gaudy gilded statues still intact. Too often in Scotland all we are left with is ruins thanks to our tumultuous history. It makes me angry sometimes!

Central courtyard in Linlithgow Palace:

Renaissance fountain built for Marie de Guise, queen of James V:

"What's that up there?" I asked the guide. "We think it might be the only pre-Reformation niche idol remaining in Scotland," she replied. It's a mouldering piece of sandstone now: wonder how it survived the destruction of idols in the Reformation?

Virgin Mary in wall niche behind the fountain:

Let's have a wander round the palace!

The palace is bigger than it looks: we had two and a half hours to look around and thought that would be plenty. But there are so many wee details to see that before we knew it the staff had come out with a megaphone to close up. We still hadn't seen everything! Oh well, back on the free day next spring.

We finished the visit with a stroll round the loch, the wind buffeting ducks and swans nesting awkwardly close to the path. Linlithgow Palace - we'll be back. Perhaps on the next jousting day?

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