Hidden away at the west end of Livingston Village, the historic core from which Livingston has grown over recent decades, is the Almond Valley Heritage Centre. Well signposted from M8 Junction 3 and from other approaches to Livingston this combined museum, farm and discovery centre is a real gem that deserves to be much better known and appreciated than it is.
With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, West Lothian Council and others the Almond Valley Heritage Centre has seen considerable growth and development over recent years. The end result makes for a fascinating day out.
From the outside it's difficult to believe that the heritage centre occupies a 20 acre site spread along the north bank of the River Almond. The scale of the centre is perhaps best illustrated by one of its most surprising attractions. How many residents of Livingston know that it has not two, but three railway stations? Livingston North Station is well known to Edinburgh commuters, and Livingston South Station is a port of call for those with the time to spare to take the slow train to Glasgow. But what about Livingston Mill Station?
Livingston Mill Station lies at the west end of 500m of track, and in July and August, and at weekends from Easter to September, visitors can ride behind one of the railway's small mine engines as it pulls the passenger carriages to the other end of the site and back.
With their mining background, the railway engines introduce visitors to one of the three themes running through the attractions on offer at the Almond Valley Heritage Centre: the industrial heritage of West Lothian. Other exhibits include a recreation of a mine that can be explored and a great deal about the oil shale industry that once literally shaped the area.
A fully working water mill represents the cross-over between the area's industrial heritage and its agricultural heritage. Also representing the agricultural side are a milking byre and a threshing barn, while a wide range of domestic and farm animals can be seen in the animal house and around the site. And if you find the farmyard on as sunny a day as we did, you might find the farm dog lying in the sun next to the Land Rover. Don't be fooled: though doing a wonderful impression of the life-size toy collies in the shop, this one does occasionally move...
Added to the twin themes of industry and agriculture are a wide range of other attractions. These include the nature area; the picnic and play area; the adventure zone and the soft play area. The less young at heart can enjoy the farmhouse tearoom; the picnic barn; the museum itself; or just the wonderful riverside location.
The Almond Valley Heritage Centre seeks to be many things to many different people. At one level it provides one of the best days out in the Lothians for families with young or not so young children. But it also fulfils a serious educational purpose in preserving aspects of West Lothian's heritage, and provides plenty to keep the adults accompanying their children interested and occupied. And it has the capacity to cater for and accommodate a range of functions extending from children's birthday parties right through to a rather unusual corporate awayday.