The Shale Trail
West Lothian’s wild landscape and rugged architecture is proudly on show in this 16-mile long route through history and natural beauty. Join us on exploring Scotland's Industrial past.
Once a booming hub of the oil industry, the century-old area has a rough and dangerous past. But it also has a hopeful and unique loveliness to it. Explore the two faces of West Lothian in this fascinating tour.
Your journey begins in West Calder. The distinctive West Calder Cooperative Society clock, in its original state, transports you back to a time when the town was abuzz with industry. Few original buildings still stand, although some still do, like the Railway Inn, a late 19th Century pub of the sort the miners would’ve been well used to. You’ll find others as you go.
Back in the day, the busy town as you see it was quite different. It began as just a shop, providing daily goods to the miners and their families. From there, it grew on the back of the region’s prosperity to become one of the first villages in Scotland to receive electrical street lighting. A rare treat at the time!
As you follow the Shale Trail signposts through the town, you’ll catch a glimpse of the next landmark…
The Five Sisters
These mini mountains are iconic in the area, a local landmark and scheduled monument. Rising to a height of 220 metres, you can’t miss these finger-like remnants of the town’s mining history!
You may wish to ponder the thought that there’s a grand Victorian house buried under the Five Sisters. Home, furniture, car and all. It was swallowed by the waste shale dumped on the ever-growing mounds that finally became the Five Sisters.
The bings are a fascinating phenomenon - the mixing of man-made waste and mother nature. Chemical-free waste is finally turning green and nurturing plant life, all these years later. It’s something you just don’t see anywhere else.
Easter Breich Woodlands
For 1 or 2 miles, you’ll meander through the beautiful greenery of the Easter Breich Woodlands. It’s easy to get lost in the trees and sandy paths (not literally!), feeling as though you’re in another world altogether.
The sounds of birds chirping and running water surround you. There’s no better place to do a bit of walking meditation, contemplating the vast contrast between the remnants of the industrial workings and the natural beauty of this place.
Wear waterproof footwear and leg protection, though!
Pools of Almond
The flowing water and bubbling river noise of the Pools of Almond almost invite you in for a dip. It’s hard to imagine that this lovely spot used to be an open quarry, filled with lean, hard-working miners on the job.
Bird lovers will enjoy this part of the trail. Wherever you look, you’ll be able to spot bird life going about their daily business. From tiny Blue Tits to majestic Mute Swans, you may want to take this opportunity to have a quiet picnic and marvel at nature and wildlife.
As you navigate away from the Almond river, you’ll find yourself in Livingston Village and its old Kirk, which originally dates all the way back to the 12th century before being rebuilt in 1732.
Now an enormous city centre, back in the 1960s it was much smaller and stood alone, the only residential part of the town. Expansion began in 1962, when it was named a New Town, designated as a spill-over catchment area for overpopulated Glasgow.
The walk from one side to the next takes a good while, and much of what you see is newly built. However, there are remnants of the old village scattered throughout, so keep your eyes open!
Almondell to Union Canal
Following the Almond river as it winds its way through the town, you’ll travel through Almondell, crossing charming little bridges, climbing staircases and eventually coming across the impressive Camps Viaduct.
As you wander through wooded areas on the Shale Trail path, making sure not to deviate from the Shale Trail signs, you'll eventually come across two enormous brick pillars, which may not look like much. Today, they lead into a golf course. Back then, they were part of the oil refinery, a huge part of West Lothian’s history.
Follow the path through more of the West Lothian landscape, and you’ll eventually come to the Union Canal, which has a rich history of its own.
As you come into Winchburgh, you’ll see “The Rows”, the red brick cottages that were the homes of many of the Shale Miners. They’re easy to miss, but take a moment to have a look - it’s a glimpse into a time that most have forgotten.
This is where the Shale Trail journey comes to an end. There’s no other walk quite like it; a perfect, harmonious blend of mining industry and natural beauty, making the journey unique and well worth it.
Getting to West Lothian
West Lothian is just 15 minutes from the centre of Edinburgh. With frequent public transport and numerous motorway connections from across Scotland, you'll be here in no time. Check out our 'Getting here' page for full details.