LIVINGSTON, or LIVI as it's more commonly known, has come a long way since it's inception way back in 1962. Until that time, it had been not much more than open farmland surrounding a small, ancient village on the road from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Now, with a population of over 60,000, it is the second largest settlement in the Lothians, after Edinburgh.
A popular misconception is that the name of the town is in honour of the Scottish explorer, David Livingstone. It's not - although there are connections. He was a regular visitor to the area when he stayed with his close friend and financial backer, James 'Paraffin' Young at his mansion, Limefield House.
The name was in fact taken from the existing Livingston Village, one of many older settlements which have been incorporated into the town.
LIVINGSTON actually dates back to the 12th century when a Flemish adventurer called De Leving was granted land in the area. He built a Peel, or fortified tower, and the settlement that grew up around it became known as De Leving's Toun - Levingstoun - Livingston. Sadly, the peel has long since vanished.
At the heart of old Livingston Village is the Kirk, built in 1732 to replace an earlier chapel which dated from the mid 12th century but was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's troops in 1650. Close by is the Livingston Inn, which also dates back to the 1700s. It was originally built as a coaching inn on the main Edinburgh to Glasgow turnpike.
The area was a sleepy rural backwater until the arrival of the aforementioned James Young in the mid-19th century. This was the man who patented the process of extracting oil, initially from coal, but later from the far less expensive shale. Incidentally, the first oil refinery in the world was built at nearby Southfor...erm..Bathgate.
The sudden influx of heavy industry and immigrant workers spawned a series of boom towns all around West Lothian, and especially around the periphery of present-day Livingston.
This led to the characteristic landscape surrounding the town of massive, orange-pink coloured spoil heaps of spent shale (known locally as bings) from the oil refineries and chemical works. Many of these have now been landscaped.
Unfortunately, the shale-oil industry could not compete with cheaper imports from the Middle-east and the last mine closed in the early 1960's.
This was one of the reasons that Livingston was chosen as the site for a New Town - to help re-generate the area and also to settle the overspill from Glasgow's slum clearance programme. Livingston was the fourth of the five Scottish new towns created, and many would say it has been the most successful of them.
Today, the town of Livingston has taken over the mantle of administrative centre of West Lothian from it's neighbour, Linlithgow.
It covers around ten square miles of the River Almond valley between the Pentland and Bathgate hills. It lies at the heart of Scotland's Central Belt, within a few miles of Edinburgh Airport and adjacent to the M8 Edinburgh/Glasgow motorway. It's also served by two rail stations: Livingston South - on the Edinburgh/Glasgow line, and Livingston North - on The Edinburgh/Bathgate line.
With it's close proximity to the capital, LIVI has shared in that city's recent growth and because of its strategic location, there has been a boom in house building. Although the downturn in the worldwide electronics industry has had it's toll, Livi is still the 'Capital of Silicon Glen'.
LIVINGSTON has been called, with some justification, 'roundabout city' and it's easy to see why as there are so many of them. Until 1997, when WL Council took over the administration of the town, there was a policy of not having traffic lights. Indeed, due to the system of greenways, flyovers and underpasses, it was possible to walk anywhere in the town without ever having to go anywhere near a road, never mind cross one.
At the heart of the town is ALMONDVALE. The first stage of this development opened in 1976 and has always been known locally simply as THE CENTRE'. It continues to grow, with phase 3 having been completed a couple of years ago - phase 1, 2 & 3 have a total of over 200 shops along with numerous cafes and restaurants. . The most recent additions have been the McARTHUR GLEN designer outlet at one end of the centre (with another 70 shops) and one of Europe's largest shops, the massive new Asda Walmart store at the other. There are also various retail parks to the west.
The McGlen complex is also home to a multi-plex cinema and various bars and restaurants
Other recent developments in the town centre include the new West Lothian College. Just north of the college is City Stadium, home to LIVINGSTON FC (Livi Lions). In 1995 the Edinburgh football club Meadowbank Thistle renamed itself and later moved to a new ground at Almondvale. At the time, Meadowbank were near the bottom of Division 3 - as low as you can go in Scottish senior football. LIVI have played in the Premier league against teams like Rangers, Celtic, Heart of Midlothian and Aberdeen. They even played in the Uefa Cup 2 seasons ago.
The town centre is also home to such places as West Lothian Police HQ, WL District Court and WL Council, with St John's Hospital (the main district hospital) being a short distance away on the other side of the River Almond.
The RIVER ALMOND runs right through the heart of the town and all of the northern bank, as well as some of the southern, is devoted to parkland.
At the eastern end of the town, where it merges with the conservation village of Mid Calder, the R. Almond runs through Almondell Country Park, which was once a private estate. Set in a heavily wooded gorge, there are woodland and riverside walks, grassy play areas, toilet facilities and barbecue sites. At the Visitor Centre, there is an aquarium with samples of the local river-life, as well as various other displays.
If you turn away from the River Almond at Mid Calder, and follow the Linhouse Water, you are in Calderwood Country Park.
This was also a private estate, having once belonged to the Barons of Torphichen. This area has deliberately been left undeveloped to encourage wildlife. Rough tracks wind their way precariously along the top of steep valleys, thickly wooded with birch, oak and hazel trees. This area was heavily undermined for shale and two massive shale bings still remain - although completely landscaped and planted over now.
MID CALDER, while not strictly a part of Livingston, is a complete contrast to Livi's modernity. The village grew up around Calder House, a 16th Century mansion next to the Kirk of Calder. It's home to the Sandilands family who were given the Barony of Calder in the 14th Century and created the Lords Torphichen in 1579. (It's pronounce Tor-fick-en)
It was at Calder House that John Knox celebrated the first Protestant communion in 1556. Another notable visitor to Calder House was the Polish composer Frederick Chopin, during his visit to Scotland in 1848. Of course, this was a bit before my time.
EATING and DRINKING is not one of the main reasons to visit. Until fairly recently, the town was a gustatory desert and most pubs were big modern barn-like affairs where you were more likely to encounter a bampot with a sword than good company. It's all changed now and there are any number of quality pubs and restaurants to choose from. Personally, I like my pubs old fashioned which, strange as it seems, is not a problem even though I live in a town that is so young.
I live a stone's throw from the River Almond and it's a 15-20 minute walk through the park to the Livingston Inn to the west, or Mid Calder, which is equidistant to the east. Mid Calder has a selection of pubs and the newest of these must be well over 200 years old.
There are a few hotels in the town such as: Ramada Jarvis, Travel Inn and Holiday Inn Express; as well as some smaller private hotels such as: The Livi Inn and Da Vinci's.
If you're looking for somethin a little more upmarket, Houston House is a bit special, although it's just outside the town boundary at Uphall.
There's also the Dalmahoy Country Club a couple of miles east of Mid Calder.
The only real tourist attraction in Livingston is THE ALMOND VALLEY HERITAGE CENTRE, which incorporates the Livingston Mill Farm and the official museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry.
I'd love to tell you more about the attraction that was voted Scottish museum of the Year 2002, but obviously as I live so close to it, I've never been.
But let's face it, with Edinburgh being practically within spitting distance, only a fool would come to Livi for tourism....so, when can we expect you?