The historic Scottish county of West Lothian has a history that stretches back thousands of years to prehistoric times. Cairnpapple Hill is the most striking example of this, with its cultural significance radiating through the Stone, Bronze and Iron Age‘s to the present day. But the county is also significant for housing some of the grandest estates in the United Kingdom. Hopetoun House in particular is a breathtaking Palladian palace worth visiting, though one should not overlook House Of The Binns and Linlithgow Palace.
Here’s our selection of 10 sites you mustn’t miss when visiting West Lothian.
The present day palace was built in 1424 by James I of Scotland, following a devastating fire that burnt down the previous residence. With its location between Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle, it soon became a popular ‘pleasure palace’ for royals to visit on journeys between the two, with many of the Stewarts – or Stuarts – residing there throughout its history.
From 1603 Linlithgow Palace’s era as a royal pit stop began to deteriorate however, as the royal court moved to London under James VI when he left to claim the English throne as James I. The palace’s decline was only furthered when it was destroyed by a fire in 1745.
Today Linlithgow is managed by Historic Scotland and is open to visitors.
2. Hopetoun House
Construction on the majestic Hopetoun House started in 1699, creating arguably one of the grandest estates in all Scotland. The sheer size of the building can overwhelm an onlooker. Much of its splendour can be credited to the architect Sir William Bruce of Kinross, who is credited in bringing classical architecture to Scotland. Even King George IV could not pass on an opportunity to visit the estate in 1822.
Luckily the estate is open to visitors, though only during the summer months. The site has also been used as a filming location for multiple different TV series, most notably ‘Outlander’. The property can be rented for weddings and conferences.
3. House Of The Binns
This beautiful estate has been the seat of the Dalyell family since the early 17th century. The present main building was constructed in 1612 and is surrounded by 260 acres of landscaped parkland. For almost 400 years the estate has brought splendour to the countryside. But one should not miss out on an opportunity to visit the equally impressive interiors. Some of the highlights include early 17th century plaster ceilings that were created for the visit of King Charles I and a Renaissance painted wood decoration.
The grounds of House Of The Binns are open daily to visitors, while the main building can be explored through a pre-booked group tour. The surrounding parkland is perfect for a calm walk, especially the route towards the folly on the hill.
4. Midhope Castle
One can find the stunning 16th century tower house in the hamlet of Abercorn on the aforementioned Hopetoun estate. Originally belonging to the Martin family, it was acquired by Alexander Drummond of Midhope in the late 16th century.
The building has gone through many alterations, the main one being in 1678. Following the creation of Hopetoun House, the old stone building was used to accommodate farm workers employed by the estate, before being abandoned in the 1950s. Ten years later it was described as a decaying shell. Luckily major restoration works have taken place since, guaranteeing the survival of this beautiful tower house.
The building can be explored from the outside on the grounds of Hopetoun House. Similiarly to the more ‘modern’ main building, Midhope Castle has been used as a filming location for the British TV series ‘Outlander’.
5. Cairnpapple Hill
The prehistoric site is a must visit for anybody exploring West Lothian. The hill has been of importance to local farming communities from 4,000 BC to Christian times.
By the 19th century the site was completely covered in trees, until excavations by Stuart Piggott found a series of ritual monuments. Archeological finds from the hill have uncovered Stone Age trade networks that reached Wales and Cumbria, showcasing how interconnected Britain has been since the earliest times. During the Bronze Age the site was used as a burial ground.
Cairnpapple Hill is open to visitors from April to September.
Torphichen Preceptory was a compound built in the 12th century around an existing church – founded by David I. In the 13th century, it became the Scottish headquarters of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. In Scotland, its work focused on managing its estates and raising recruits.
Following the suppression of The Knight’s Hospitaller in 1554, Queen Victoria re-established the order in England in 1881 as the Most Venerable Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, and George VI followed suit in Scotland in 1947.
Sadly, very little of the Torphichen Preceptory has survived intact. Much of what remains was built in the 1400s, but visitors can still see echoes of its pretty architecture.