Author: Alex Wood

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Monday, October 22nd, 2012 at 10:36 am
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Walks and Rides In Edinburgh and The Lothians

Cockleroy and the Scottish Korean War Memorial

West Lothian is too often dismissed as shale bings and industrial waste but its rolling, verdant countryside offers wonderful walking opportunities, nowhere more so than in the Beecraigs Country Park and the surrounding parts of the Bathgate Hills.

A great start to exploring this piece of countryside is at Cockleroy.  Cockleroy car park is on the west side of the hill road between Linlithgow and Bathgate and is reached from Linlithgow via Preston Road and from Bathgate via Torphichen Street.

From the car park a five minute walk through the woods brings you on your right to a gate and entry to the open hill-side.  Cockleroy stands only 278 metres above sea level and the ascent is short and gentle but utterly rewarding.  Whenever the trees are cleared, there is clear view to the south-west  to Lochcote Reservoir, the remains of Kipps Castle and Kipps Farm.

As the summit of Cockleroy is approached, Linlithgow itself, its Loch, Palace and Kirk, can be seen below but on a clear day much more of central Scotland hoves into view.  On my recent climb, a bright October day, both Forth Bridges could be seen easily and even North Berwick Law (36 miles distant) was clearly visible beyond Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh.  To the north-west nature was interrupted by the massive petro-chemical plant at Grangemouth, beyond which it was possible to pick out both the Kincardine Bridge and Power Station.  Although there was some cloud in the distance the Trossachs, Ben Ledi in particular, could also be seen.  On a fine day in summer Tinto Hill in Lanarkshire is easily visible, Ben Lomond, 43 miles to the west can often be spotted but the great visual capture is Goat Fell on Arran: although 66 miles distant, its peak can be spied in the best of weather.  Cockleroy provides an unrivalled panorama of central Scotland.

On the summit is a trig-point but there is also an invaluable cairn with, engraved on a metal plate, a compass pointing to the various landmarks and peaks and indicating their distance.

Cockleroy itself housed a bronze-age fort.  Stand on its summit and it takes little imagination to see why it was such a defendable site but that thought also humbles, for here, on Cockleroy, men, women and children, two and three thousand years ago, lived lives, different on the surface from ours but utterly recognisable.  Their fears, passions, joys and sorrows would be readily identifiable:

“…. two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.”

(T.P Cameron Wilson, Magpies in Picardy)

Walk back down Cockleroy to the gate through which it was entered and shake off thoughts of Neolithic ancestors and human courage.  Instead however of taking the path back to the car-park, take the path facing the gate through the woods.

Normally this is an easy path but lately it has been partially encumbered by fallen trees from the storms of last year.  Although they slow the walker’s progress they are all negotiable.  As you walk through the woods, take the right fork.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  The high-pitched, repeated tsee-tsee of the bluetit and the chwit, chwit of the chaffinch are common.  Watch out also however for the much less common brambling and for the beautiful flashes of cinnamon and blue signalling a jay.

You will leave the woods and be back on the Linlithgow-Bathgate road.  Turn right in the direction of Bathgate.  The woods of Beecraigs line the west side of the road but after a few hundred yards the east side opens on to the rough grazing of Kipps Farm.  This is a delightful stretch of road, one on to which, in their clumsy and seemingly careless way, occasionally wander badgers.  After a walk of about a mile, you will hit the entrance to the Scottish Korean War Memorial on the east side of the road.

The Scottish Korean War Memorial lies in a peaceful location at Witchcraig and was opened on 27th June 2000, the 50th anniversary of the Korean War’s commencement.  It comprises a small traditional, wooden, Korean pagoda, surrounded by 110 Korean pine trees (one for every ten Britons who died in the conflict), 1090 Birch trees (one for each of the fallen) and picnic tables along a pathway named United Nations Avenue. This avenue is surrounded by 21 trees, representing the twenty-one nations involved in the UN force in Korea.

The pagoda contains lists of those who died in the conflict, the vast majority of whom were young National Servicemen.  154 of these were serving with or attached to Scottish regiments: the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots.  Many other Scots of course died in Korea, serving with the RAF or the Royal Navy or with UK units such as the Royal Artillery or Royal Engineers.  Just as at Cockleroy, a backward glance at history induces quite unexpected reflections.

Leave the pagoda and follow the path at its rear to the gate and on to the crest of the hill.  There are several options here but on this occasion turn left, face Cockleroy and follow the path which runs outwith the fence enclosing the War Memorial.  Cross the next fence on the stile and carry on through the mixed woodland which, if tramped as in my case, in mid-October, will be a blaze of colour.  Oaks, beeches and birch trees stand out brilliantly against the dark of the spruces and pines.  Turn left after the gate and you will shortly rejoin the Linlithgow-Bathgate road.  Turn right (northwards) on the road and a ten minute stroll will bring you back to Beecraigs car-park.

Two cautionary points should be noted.  About half of this walk is on a fairly busy country road.  The Linlithgow-Bathgate road is a delightful route through the hills but is in fairly constant use by motor traffic.  Care requires to be exercised and consequently this is not a walk on which to take young children.  Seasonal choices also require to be made.  The views to the distance and the underfoot conditions are best in summer.  The countryside itself is at its most splendid in autumn but can then be damp and very muddy.

Ordnance Survey sheet 65 covers the area.  The walk itself is some 3¼ miles or 5 km in length.  The walk plus a five minute stroll at the top of Cokleroy, an examination of the trig point and directional compass-plate and a five-minute sojourn in the War Memorial can all be easily accommodated in 90 minutes.

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