Mid Calder is an extremely attractive small village lying in the shadow of of its much younger but very much larger neighbour, Livingston. These days Mid Calder and its easter neighbour East Calder are bypassed by the main roads running west from Edinburgh to Livingston and beyond, and it is easy to assume this must always have been so. Far from it: Mid Calder was once one of the most important crossroads in Scotland.
A number of different factors have helped shape Mid Calder. The first was the marriage of James Sandilands to Princess Johanna, daughter of Robert II, in 1384. The dowry included extensive estates in what is now West Lothian and the Barony of Calder. After the Reformation the head of the Sandilands family became Lord Torphichen. All this matters to Mid Calder because since 1348 the family seat has been at Calder House, close to the centre of the village though invisible from it.
The second factor was a geographical one. For centuries a large part of the economy of the Highlands of Scotland revolved around the breeding and trading of Highland cattle. They were moved along drove roads from all parts of the country, including some of the islands, to trysts or markets held in Crieff and Falkirk.
Most of the cattle would then be driven south to feed consumers in England. And the various routes used almost all came together at Mid Calder. Huge herds of cattle would come across fords or bridges over the River Almond before crossing the Pentland Hills to West Linton. The peak year was 1840 when some 150,000 cattle passed through the area over the three months from August to October. This traffic helped support no fewer than nine public houses in the village.
But the importance of the turnpike diminished at the same time as the cattle droving ceased, and for the same reason: the railways. And for once the acumen and foresight that had allowed the Sandilands to retain their position for so many centuries missed a beat. When the railway came to West Lothian in 1848, the then Lord Torphichen decreed that it should not come near Calder House.
As a result Mid Calder was served by a station at Kirknewton, three miles away. This meant that adapting to the loss of its traditional sources of income could have been difficult for the village. But at precisely the right moment the world's first oil boom occurred, in West Lothian. This was based on oil extracted from shale, and by 1870 over 3 million tons of shale were being mined each year in the area around Mid Calder. Output declined with the discovery of liquid oil reserves around the world in the early 1900s, but shale mining only finally ceased in 1962.
And the final factor leading to the Mid Calder you see today has been the dramatic growth of nearby Livingston, now the second largest settlement in the Lothians and whose main shopping centre only a mile or so to the west. By far the Lothians' largest settlement is Edinburgh, which lies fifteen miles east of Mid Calder. Its booming economy has placed a premium on convenient and attractive villages with a good range of services and reasonable communications. Which sums up Mid Calder pretty exactly.
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