Car-free adventures aroundLinlithgowWest Lothian
Between Glasgow and Edinburgh in rolling countryside, with its palace perched above a natural loch, the lovely town of Linlithgow is a fairy tale destination (although the name means something like “lake in a soggy valley”). The sights are close together with lots of cafés on the way. There are plenty of waterside walks to enjoy in the area: around the loch, along the canal, or beside the epic Firth of Forth. Head to Bo’ness for a steamy whiff of nostalgia on the Bo’ness and Kinniel Railway – and you can get two tickets for the price of one if you show a Scotrail ticket.
1. Arrive by train and stroll up to the palace
Trains from Glasgow to Linlithgow set off every half an hour and take thirty minutes to arrive. Trains from Edinburgh are even more frequent and take just twenty minutes. You can also get there in half an hour from Stirling so Linlithgow is very well connected. Leaving the station by the main exit, there’s a café bistro and two pubs straight away: the Star and Garter and cosy Platform Three.
- Turn left and stroll up the café-lined High Street with its range of indie shops, like Far from the Madding Crowd, winner of Scotland’s 2017 “Independent Bookshop of the Year”. They have a kids section (complete with Saturday story time) and a room dedicated to books about (and maps of) Scotland.
- Turn right, at the ornate market cross, up cobbled Kirkgate and head, past Linlithgow Burgh Halls with yet another café, towards the crenelated arch ahead.
- Immediately inside the gateway is the medieval church of St Michael’s, with its buttresses, beautiful stone tracery, unusual crowned tower, and 19th-century stained glass. When the sun shines through the windows, it’s a beautiful sight.
- Beyond it is massive Linlithgow Palace, an extraordinary ruin, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. It’s open daily and costs £6; if you’re visiting several castles, including Stirling and/or Edinburgh, it might be worth getting a Historic Scotland pass.
- Back on the High Street, the (free) Linlithgow Museum is in a newly renovated building, just opposite Kirkgate, with displays about the town’s royal, industrial and cultural heritage. It’s generally open every day except Tuesday and is right in the heart of town.
- There’s a great choice of places to eat and drink nearby when you need a break. One option is the friendly, candlelit cafébar 1807 specialising in small tapas-style plates and cocktails. Try the crispy haggis pakoras – fusion cooking at its best!
2. Waterside walks, bikes, boat trips
There is a path all round Linlithgow Loch – one of only two remaining natural lowland lochs in the Lothians, formed by retreating glaciers after the last Ice Age ended. It’s made even more beautiful by the views of church and castle silhouetted against the sky above. There are lots more walks nearby as well as boat trips and bike rides.
- Historic Scotland have produced a map and guide to the public park around the palace, which includes the 2½ mile walk around the loch. Look out for crested grebes, greylag geese and other water birds.
- A different kind of waterside walk heads from the back of the station (via the steps) along the towpath of the Union Canal, right towards Falkirk (9 miles away via the elegant Avon Aqueduct) or left towards Ratho (13 miles), past old farms and ruined churches.
- This is also Sustrans cycle route 754 and there are bike-and-go cycles for rent outside the station.
- If that all sounds a too much like hard work, why not see the canal in traditional style on board a leisurely barge trip.
- From the end of March, there are weekend tours to the Avon Aqueduct (the second longest aqueduct in Britain). They take 2½ hours return, cost £8 and serve tea, coffee and biscuits.
- Or there are £4, half-hour trips to the edge of town and back, additionally running most days in July and August.
- Look out for the 16th-century dovecote opposite the canal basin; its 370 pigeonholes kept local Baron Ross supplied with meat throughout the winters.