Let’s Go...to Linlithgow
FEW would call the corridor between Glasgow and Edinburgh the most attractive part of Scotland. One West Lothian town is in a different class, however, with its beautiful countryside setting and important role in the nation’s history for the last half millennium.
Built around a medieval palace and complete with its own loch, Linlithgow – meaning “lake in the damp hollow” – has much to offer whether you’re spending a day or a weekend.
Walk the atmospheric cobbled streets and you’ll be taken back in time to the days of Mary Queen of Scots. But you’ll discover more modern attractions too,
I would thoroughly recommend a walk around the loch to blow the cobwebs away. It’s one of the largest natural freshwater lochs in the area and has unparalleled views of the palace
including good food and some great independent shops.
The palace, or “Peel” as it is known, was constructed in the 14th century by occupying English forces, though a royal manor has existed on the site since the 12th century.
A fire in 1424 wiped out much of the town, including the palace. James I started a rebuilding process that would span at least two other Jameses, and Mary Queen of Scots was born there in 1542.
Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, marched through the town on his road south in September 1745, and the Duke of Cumberland’s army gutted the “pleasure palace” five months later, following the Jacobite defeat.
The Peel has been actively conserved since the Victorian times and more recently has been used as a dramatic backdrop for films, fashion shows and concerts.
Culture and tourism are now Linlithgow’s biggest exports, with the town’s close proximity to Edinburgh and friendly feel making it a popular commuter town.
What to do
Exploring the Peel (historicenvironment.scot) is a must (look out for the fountain) and so, too, is a visit to the adjacent 15th-century St Michael’s parish church.
For more historical context, pop into the nearby Annet House Museum (annethousemuseum.org), which also has a beautiful and tranquil garden.
Chris Matheson Dear recommends exploring Scotland’s industrial heritage and taking a trip doon the water on a narrowboat at the country’s dedicated canal museum (lucs.org.uk), located near the railway station. Choose from a half-hour canal journey through the town or a three-hour round trip to the Avon Aqueduct, and when you get back, coffee and cake await in the cafe. Only open at weekends outside of July and August.
If you’re travelling with a group and fancy getting a bit more adventurous on the water, contact the Low Port Centre (activewestlothian.com), which offers sailing, canoeing and windsurfing on the loch, as well as archery, mountain biking and orienteering.
Susan Knox visited for the weekend recently. “I would thoroughly recommend a walk around the loch to blow the cobwebs away,” she says. “One of the largest natural freshwater lochs in the area and unparalleled views of the palace.”
Those who enjoy mixing visual art and history, meanwhile, will want to visit Linlithgow Burgh Halls, which currently has an exhibition by painter Helen Flockhart, inspired by Mary Queen of Scots. The nearby Line Gallery also has events and exhibitions throughout the year.
Party At The Palace welcomes around 15,000 fans every August to one of the most family-friendly festivals in the music calendar. This year’s event was headlined by Texas and James. Linlithgow Folk Festival runs every September, with gigs and open-mic nights throughout the year.
Where to eat
If it’s home baking you are after, Stewart Sandison recommends The Granary, on High Street. “The scones are exceptionally good, especially the cheese scones – I suspect they have a little grain mustard in them,” he tells us. “The cakes are winning and imaginative, too.”
Susan recommends nearby Cafebar 1807 for a good lunch, adding: “With the lights dimmed, candles and wine on the table, it’s also an ideal night time venue with young and friendly staff – dog-friendly, too.”
For a pint of craft beer – or indeed a nip of craft gin – Platform 3 next to the station has an excellent choice.
Local institution the Black Bitch Tavern on West Port is reputed to be one of the oldest pubs in Scotland. It has a vast array of whiskies and a great reputation for live music.
Where to stay
Luxury: Susan enjoyed her stay at the Court Residence (courtresidence.com), an aparthotel which until fairly recently was the town’s working court building. “High quality apartments with a very generous breakfast supplied,” she says. “Excellent hosts Jim and Hazel add a personal touch and gave us a fantastic tour, including the old court room and judges’ library.” Rooms from £107.
Comfortable: Right in the heart of the town is the Star And Garter (starandgarterhotel.co.uk), which also has a lively restaurant and bar. Rooms from £70.
Cosy: If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, there’s a cute little studio just minutes from the station and High Street, which has sweet garden and lovely views. Sleeps three. From £60 per night. See Airbnb.co.uk for details.
Where to shop
Purely Patchwork (purelypatchwork.co.uk) on the High Street is one of
the best independent sewing craft emporiums in the land, with more than 1500 fabrics, and hundreds of patterns and accessories. The store also runs a wide range of workshops and classes for those looking to try their hand at patchwork and needlecraft. From October 20 to 27 you can admire students’ work on the walls.
Resident Stuart Sandison is a big fan of bookshop Far From The Madding Crowd, also on the High Street. “We’re so lucky to have this marvellous award-winning store, which is run energetically and enthusiastically,” he says. Nearby childrenswear boutique Little Beau Peep offer a friendly service and regular sales, while cycle aficionados will want to check out Elevation Cycles (elevationcycles.co.uk). As well as a range of adult and children’s bikes, there’s an impressive stock of helmets, shoes and bags. Bike services also offered.
Mary Queen of Scots is Linlithgow’s most famous former inhabitant, but her father James IV was also born there in 1512. He died following the Battle of Solway Moss when she was six days old.
Former first minister Alex Salmond was born in the town and attended Linlithgow Academy from 1966-72. He can trace his family’s lineage in Linlithgow back to the mid-18th century.
A plaque in the Annet House museum states that Scotty from Star Trek – full name Montgomery Scott – will be born there in 2222.
What to do nearby
Nestling in the Bathgate Hills two miles outside the town is pretty Beecraigs Country Park. While you’re enjoying the woodland walks, look out for the red deer, Highland cows and North Ronaldsay sheep herds. Camping and fishing available, and there’s a café and visitor centre.
Arguably Scotland’s greatest piece of public art, the Kelpies, are just 20 minutes away by car. And it’s only another 20 minutes to the Falkirk Wheel.
Known as “the ship that never sailed”, you might recognise 15th-century Blackness Castle, which sits on the banks of the Firth of Forth 15 minutes from Linlithgow, from Outlander.
A walk up Cairnpapple Hill outside Bathgate, a short drive away, offers stunning views across the Lothians to the Forth bridges and beyond.
Left: Blackness Castle; the historic High Street; the oldest surviving fountain in Britain at Linlithgow Palace