Take a Hike: Niddry Bing

Distance 4km/2.5 miles Ascent 50m/165ft Time 1-2 hours Grading Easy

View west from Niddry Bing, over Niddry Castle towards Greendykes Bing

This walk is an extract from my new book Bing Bagging – Central Scotland, a collection of 18 routes to the top of 23 shale and coal bings in West Lothian, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, Stirling and Fife, available as a paperback or ebook from Amazon

A mighty legacy of West Lothian’s shale oil industry, Niddry Bing, on the outskirts of Winchburgh, remains in use but it is still possible to climb to the top and gaze across the vast summit plateau.

Originally 61-metres high when it was abandoned by the oil industry in 1961, quarried for aggregates, the spoil heap has been slowly lowered over the years, although it remains a substantial landmark.

Sitting at the foot of its steep southern escarpment and on the edge of a golf course where the crude oil works once stood, restored Niddry Castle adds historical interest to a circuit that begins by the Union Canal.

Niddry Castle

I joined the towpath below Winchburgh Cemetery and followed it south, enjoying views east to Niddry Bing and west, across the water, to the bings of Faucheldean, Greendykes and Albyn, all prominent mounds in an otherwise flat landscape of fields, all reminders of the the scale and importance of this once thriving enterprise.

Passing under a minor road linking Niddry with Broxburn, I left the towpath 100-metres or so further on, joined the road and followed it over the railway line. Turn left immediately and a track leads north to Niddry Castle.

A traditional tower house, the castle was built at the start of the 16th century by Lord Seaton. Distinguished guests include Mary Queen of Scots who overnighted here in May 1568 after her escape from Loch Leven Castle. In the 18th century, the keep fell into ruin, but restoration began in 1986 and it is now a private residence.

Just ahead of the castle, a grassy path branches left, following a high chainlink fence separating the castle grounds from Niddry Castle Golf Course. Behind the castle, ignore the first bridge you encounter across Niddry Burn and walk east along the edge of the stream to a second bridge. Cross, enter woodland and, bearing left, follow a distinct path north along the bottom of the bing.

The western flank of the bing

The trail emerges from the trees beyond a cairn of broken bricks and, behind the golf clubhouse, arrives at a junction.

Fork right into Hawk Hill Wood to meet a wider grassy path, the line of a tramway that ran from the works on to the bing. Turn right and follow this up through the trees, the route emerging on to a broad grassy incline that leads to the top.

Cresting the ridge of the escarpment, this reveals a vast plateau encircled, like the ramparts of a castle, by a bund. The summit, as it currently stands, lies a short distance to the left, atop the banking.

The steep southern slope

It is primarily the eastern half of the bing that is worked for aggregates, while the western part has, in the past, been used as a dumping ground for mounds of stone, earth and construction waste, creating an army of ‘mini-bings’.

To appreciate the sheer scale of the bing, it is worth taking a walk south along the top of the bund topping the western escarpment. On a clear day, from this elevated viewpoint, the views over Niddry Castle, the golf course and fields beyond to Faucheldean, Greendykes and Albyn are superb.

Niddry Castle Oil Works was built by the Oakbank Oil Company in 1902 to process shale from mines on the Hopetoun Estate. Bordering the main Edinburgh to Glasgow railway and served by its own electric tramway, plentiful shale reserves kept it in business until 1959.

From the top of the incline, descend to the junction at the foot of the slope and continue ahead, forking right at the next junction to join Castle Road, Winchburgh. Bear right up Castle Road and then go left along Castle Terrace, passing over the railway at its end.

A path bearing left joins Abercorn Place, a street of traditional brick miners’ cottages leading to Niddry Road. Turn left and follow this south, past St Philomena’s Catholic Church, to return to the cemetery.

Map © OpenStreetMap contributors. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2010-19. Data is available under the Open Database License. www.openstreetmap.org and www.opendatacommons.org.

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ROUTE

1. From cemetery car park, descend surfaced path to towpath and follow this
south to bridge spanning railway line.

2. Cross bridge and immediately go left, follow track north towards Niddry
Castle.

3. Approaching castle, branch left on to grassy path following high
chainlink fence round castle grounds. Ignore first bridge encountered and
follow stream east to second bridge.

4. Cross bridge, bear left into woodland and follow path skirting base of
bing, bearing left at brick cairn.

5. Fork right through woodland to meet broad, grassy path.

6. Turn right and ascend path to summit. Return to point 6, continue ahead,
forking right at next junction to meet Castle Road.

7. Bear right up Castle Road and go left along Castle Terrace, passing over railway.
Bear left on path to Abercorn Place and follow this west to Niddry Road.

8. Go left, following Niddry Road south to cemetery.

INFORMATION

Terrain Approach via surfaced canal towpath, tracks and paths. Well-graded ascent to summit. Stout footwear recommended.

Start/finish Car park at Winchburgh Cemetery, Niddry Road, Winchburgh (Grid ref: NT 088744)

Map OS Landranger 1:50,000 sheet 65; OS Explorer 1:25,000 sheet 350

This walk is an extract from my new book Bing Bagging – Central Scotland, a collection of 18 routes to the top of 23 shale and coal bings in West Lothian, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, Stirling and Fife, available as a paperback or ebook from Amazon

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