A walk in the Dell 

Article in the Konect Directory, Calders edition, March 2010

By Karen Murray

With a 220 acre country park on the doorstep there is no excuse for not taking the air from time to time and there are walks to suit all abilities with plenty to keep the kids happy too. 

Based around two adjoining estates – Almondell and Calderwood – and with a history dating back 340 million years to the time of the Carboniferous swamps, this area is often referred to as ‘the best kept secret in West Lothian’. The Almondell estate originally belonged to the Erskine family who had connections with Kirkhill House in Broxburn and some of the features within the park come from Kirkhill such as the entrance gates and the astronomical pillar. 

Calderwood was also a private estate, having once belonged to the Barons of Torphichen. The two areas of the park are however quite different. In complete contrast to Almondell, Calderwood has been left undeveloped deliberately to encourage wildlife. You will find roe deer, fox, heron and woodpecker and the many oak and hazel trees provide food for the squirrels and woodmice. 

There are ranger-led walks throughout the year as well as illustrated talks but you don’t need to be led to take in the park – just decide on a walk and off you go.  

You can choose your length of walk from a quick 1km to something more substantial depending on the time and the energy you have. The Visitor Centre is probably the best place to start. Once the stable blocks of the private estate, inside you will find the ranger service office, various displays, a gift shop and refreshments as well as information leaflets that will point you in the right direction.

I walk regularly in the park but have not yet managed all the park has to offer. Circular walks are often best as you end up where you started and one of my favourites is a fairly easy walk beginning at the South car park on the outskirts of East Calder.  The paths are generally good and they mainly go through woodland and along the river valley. 

Head from the car park – to which you can go on foot to make for a longer walk – and follow the arrows to the tarmac path. As the path curves to the right, you will see a right turn onto a red shale path. This is a little obscured by rhododendrons but should be fairly easy to find. The path goes along the upper edge of the woodlands and can be a little muddy and rough underfoot. It lies high above the River Almond but eventually descends quite steeply and ultimately via some steps to a suspension bridge across the river. If we are walking en famille we generally stop here for a game of ‘pooh sticks’ which I believe to be essential to a good walk, but that is of course your choice.

Once the bridge is safely negotiated, follow the riverside path upstream – that is to the left.  You will then pass the visitor centre where you can take a little break, have a cuppa, check out the aquarium and the exhibition upstairs. There is also a play area for kids. Once refreshed, carry on to the large stone bridge (the Naysmith Bridge). Head on past taking the less well defined path and keep going until you reach a rather impressive stone viaduct.  Go through the wooden archway beneath this and continue until you cross the river at the next bridge.

The path then passes a sewage works and begins to climb until you get to some open ground and an old wooden stile on the left. Don’t cross the stile though, instead go down the steps ahead of you to a stream, turn left and follow the path to a fork just before the main road (B7015). Go left to get to the road, cross over and turn left.  At the entrance to Dreghorn Mains, turn right on to the path that runs between some rough grassland and woodland to a residential area. Go left and pass the backs of houses, then step over a wire fence onto a parallel path which leads to a road near traffic lights.

Take a right at the lights, past the ruined church (St Cuthbert’s) and then walk through East Calder Main Street and back to the car park. 

Length of walk – 6.5 km (4m)

Time – about 2 hours 

You can make this much shorter if you are in a hurry or with small children by heading over the Naysmith Bridge and back to the car park. You may fancy the shorter walk in conjunction with taking in an event at the visitor centre. They hold regular events and talks throughout the year. Contact the rangers on 01506 882254 to find out what’s on.

The Kirkhill Pillar

The pillar in front of the Visitor Centre was originally part of a scale model of the solar system.  

It was a project created in 1776 by David Stewart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan, on his Kirkhill Estate in Broxburn.   It consisted of the sun and larger known planets (all the ones we know today except Neptune, Uranus and Pluto) made from stone, and the smaller planets from bronze. This pillar recorded the scales he used to calculate the size of the model planets and their relative distances from the sun, engraved on one side of the pillar.  The Earl also predicted and engraved the position of the planets in the year 2255.  (The year was considered significant as Halley, endorsed by Newton in his Principia in 1687, had calculated that the Great Comet of 1680 would return in 2255.  According to later reckonings this calculation was incorrect).

There is a also reference to Kirknewton on the North side of the pillar where Buchan gives the coordinates of Kirkhill - the minister from Kirknewton Manse was a friend of the Earl at the time and helped him with his calculations.

The pillar is all that remains of the model; it stood at Kirkhill until it crumbled in 1970.  Almondell was chosen as the location for its reconstruction 1988, as the Estate was owned by the Erskines and Almondell House was built by Henry Erskine, the Earl’s younger brother.

The Kirkhill Pillar provided inspiration for Artlink (an Edinburgh and Lothians art charity) to re-create a scale model of the solar system, with sculptures representing the planets and the sun. The project was completed a couple of years ago.

The sun - a lightbox on Broxburn Academy - has a diameter of 1.83m.  At the furthest reach of the solar system, Pluto - which relative to the model sun would be 3.8mm in diameter - is approximately 7.5 km away in Beecraigs Country Park and is represented by a plaque.

The orbit of Uranus in the model happened to run through Almondell Country Park and the sculpture can be seen suspended between the trees above the main path down to the visitor centre from the north car park.

Learn more at www.kirkhillpillarproject.org.uk  

 © Lothian Publications Ltd 2014