Explore the story of Scotland's 'oil rush' with new Shale Trail

28 January 2021
A new walking heritage trail in West Lothian has been launched, encouraging walkers and cyclists to explore the role of the shale industry in years gone by.

The trail opened on 25 January and although it currently cannot attract tourists to the area as hoped due to Covid-19 restrictions, it’s a great route for local people to use and to connect them with the heritage that the Shale industry created in West Lothian.

The Shale Trail, which runs 16 miles from West Calder to the South West of Winchburgh in the north east, has been created to inspire and enable people of all ages and abilities, helping people to explore and learn about how the development of the shale industry in West Lothian has shaped the local landscape, economy, wildlife and culture.

The Shale Industry

East Lothian was once at the heart of Scotland's shale industry, after chemist James Young patented his method of heating coal in a retort furnace, using a particular type of coal found in Bathgate, cannel coal, to produce oil vapour, which was collected for refining. The Bathgate Chemical Works was one of the first commercial oilworks in the world.

When the supply of cannel coal ran out Young moved to using shale, setting up Addiewell Refinery in 1863. To feed the refinery, mining needed to produce a constant supply of oil bearing shale, and coal as well. West Lothian was transformed into a network of mines, railways and villages built to house the people who flooded in to work in the new industry.

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The Shale Trail

The Trail is loosely based on the 'Paraffin Young Heritage Trail' which was first set up in the 1970s for automobile users. The route was created with walkers and cyclists in mind and features new interactive interpretation way markers that dig into the heaps of history that lies under West Lothian’s green footpath network.

The Trail will unlock secrets of Scotland's first oil rush as you walk or cycle through this beautiful green corridor, with a route that showcases the varied cultural and natural histories of West Lothian. Visitors will learn every aspect of the industry and the first oil boom along the trail. There will be historical information along the route that tells the story of the ‘Shale people’, and public art to capture the imagination of visitors.

Connecting with our heritage

Fiona Hyslop, MSP for Linlithgow said, “I am delighted to welcome and support that launch of West Lothian Shale Trail. The West Lothian Shale Trail is an example of the rich cultural, historical and scientific heritage we have here in West Lothian and it is important that we continue connect with, celebrate and share this. I would like to thank all those involved in the project and I am sure that the people of West Lothian will find a new appreciation not only for the landscape and scenery but for the story of West Lothian’s past”.

Angela Constance, MSP for Almond Valley added, “Having grown up in the Addiewell and West Calder, the bings and their history were ever present and, in my time, have always been places of recreation. The launch of the Shale Trail will help preserve West Lothian’s rich local history as well as our place in Scotland’s first oil boom whilst recognising the impact this had on our community. The Shale Trail will provide great educational and recreational opportunities for young and old alike and will provide a nearby place for exercise and exploration.  I want to thank everyone involved in developing the Shale Trail it’s a great initiative that I am sure will be valued by local people”.

More information about the Shale Trail can be found at the Shale Trail website.

The Shale Trail project was funded by LEADER+ and the National Heritage Lottery and organised by ELGT (Edinburgh and Lothian Greenspace Trust). 

Report and images courtesy of Edinburgh and Lothian Greenspace Trust.