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Kirkliston is a village standing above the north bank of the River Almond some eight miles west of the centre of Edinburgh, a little over two miles south of the southern end of the Forth Road Bridge, and less than a mile north west of the main runway at Edinburgh Airport.
The M9 motorway passes immediately to the south west of the village, while the M9 spur, which connects the motorway to the approach to the Forth Road Bridge, sweeps closely around to the west and north of Kirkliston. It's not obvious to a modern traveller, but Kirkliston grew up around what for a thousand years was one of the most important roads in Scotland. The main route from Edinburgh to Linlithgow, Falkirk and Stirling was often travelled by Scottish Royalty: and by a succession of invading English armies.
The main A9 ran through the centre of Kirkliston until the opening of the nearby stretch of the M9 and the southern half of the M9 spur in 1970. This effectively took through traffic out of the village. Not long afterwards construction of a new main runway was begun at Edinburgh Airport which severed the old route of the A9 south east of Kirkliston. Separated from the suburbs by Green Belt but still very convenient for Edinburgh, Kirkliston started a new life as a popular dormitory village for the capital.
Kirkliston's origins are ancient. A church stood on a knoll overlooking the River Almond here in the 1100s, part of an estate held by the Knights Templar. At the time the settlement around it was known as Temple Liston. In 1312 the Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved by Pope Clement V for a range of alleged offences trumped up by King Philip IV of France. All of their extensive land holdings in Scotland, previously administered from their monastery at Temple, were passed to the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John, and administered instead from Torphichen Preceptory. This seems to be the point at which Temple Liston was renamed Kirkliston, and much of the structure of the Templar church survives within Kirkliston Parish Church.
Mills would have been established on the River Almond here from a very early date. The name "Breast Mill", found on modern maps immediately to the south of the village and beside the river, marks the location of a 1672 mill and is a reminder of the important of water power right up to, and often beyond, the industrial revolution. Kirkliston's real period of growth began in the 1600s when linen weaving got under way in the village, and it became a burgh in the 1620s.
From the end of the 1700s alcohol started to feature large in the village's economic life. In 1795 the Glen Forth Distillery started operations here before later changing its name to the Lambsmiln Distillery and subsequently to the more memorable Kirkliston Distillery. By the 1880s and after a series of different owners, Kirkliston Distillery was producing some 700,000 gallons of grain and malt whisky each year. The distillery ceased whisky production in the 1920s, but was later taken over by Scotmalt to produce malt extract for the food industry and for home brew beer kits. The Scotmalt Maltings were largely demolished in 2006 and are due to be replaced by housing development.
In 1969 a new manufacturing plant for Drambuie opened just to the west of Kirkliston. This is a whisky liqueur including honey and other ingredients whose secret recipe was given by Bonnie Prince Charlie to a member of the MacKinnon family who had helped him after the Battle of Culloden. The plant at Kirkliston was the world's most advanced liqueur manufacturing plant, until its closure to make room for more housing.
Today's Kirkliston is a slightly odd mixture. Significant amounts of new housing are being built or are planned around the edges of the existing village, especially to its north, yet its centre can give a slightly forlorn feel. This was not helped on our recent visits by the boarding up of the Kirklands Inn on the main street, nor by the obvious lack of progress on the redevelopment of the large Scotmalt site. Meanwhile, some of the new housing development does seem exceptionally close to the motorway. On the other hand, there remain parts of the village that have real charm, especially around the parish church.
The centre of the village is dominated by the Newliston Arms, named after an estate to the south west of the village. This carries on its outside wall schedules of charges once levied at the tollbar here on traffic travelling along the turnpiked road to Stirling. Here you find that every saddled horse was charged 2d (a little under £0.01), while anyone driving a score of oxen or cattle (20) would have been charged one shilling, or £0.05.