South of Linlithgow are the Bathgate Hills. With their highest points barely topping 1,000ft, they are not high hills by Scottish standards. But despite this they offer magnificent views across the width of the Central Lowlands of Scotland. They also offer a surprising sense of upland isolation that belies their being within a couple of miles of Linlithgow and only 10 miles from the edge of Edinburgh.
In a secluded spot in the heart of the Bathgate Hills, off a minor road a mile to the east of the village of Torphichen, you can find the Scottish Korean War Memorial. A sign beside the road warns you are approaching, and the site itself is entered via beautiful wrought iron gates from the road. When we visited, parking was in a pull-off a few yards south of the gateway.
The Korean War took place between 1950 and 1953. A plaque near the memorial notes, in raised text and braille, that at the end of the Second World War Korea, which had been occupied by Japan, was divided at the 28th parallel between the Soviet Union and the USA. On 25 June 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea, with the aim of creating a single Korea under communist control. The United Nations responded by sending troops provided by 20 countries to help defend South Korea. On 27 July 1953 an armistice was agreed, with a cease fire line close to the same 28th parallel that had previously formed the border between the two countries. As anyone who watches the news will know, this is a conflict that has simmered beneath, and sometimes above, the surface ever since. (Continues below image...)
During the three years of open conflict, over 200,000 combatants were killed or listed as missing on the southern or UN side, with over half a million South Korean civilians killed, abducted or missing. The number of deaths on the northern side probably amounted to half a million combatants and a million and a half civilians. Around 100,000 British servicemen served in the Korean War, and the plaque tells visitors that 1,113 British servicemen, merchant seamen and war correspondents were killed in the conflict. Of these, 236 were Scots.
The Scottish Korean War Memorial was opened on 27 June 2000, to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the war. The pagoda, which now forms such a focal point for the memorial, was dedicated on 27 July 2013, to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice. Within the pagoda are lists of the names of those who fell. The pagoda is set between earth mounds which when seen from above echo the Yin and Yang symbols shown on the Korean flag. The mounds are planted with 110 Korean firs, one for every ten British servicemen killed, while the surrounding landscape has been planted with 1,100 native Scottish trees.
The Scottish Korean War Memorial is a deeply poignant reminder of a conflict often called "The Forgotten War". If you want to appreciate the beauty of its setting more fully, a path that is in places rough and steep climbs the hillside to the east. On the top of the hill, offering wonderful views to the west and south, is the Witchcraigs Wall, an enclosure built to incorporate 43 types of rock from across central Scotland. Nearby, and built into a field wall, is the "Refuge Stone", inscribed with crosses on both sides. This is thought to have served as a medieval sanctuary stone associated with nearby Torphichen Preceptory. A nearby information board suggests the views to the east from here were once as glorious as those to the west, but tree growth has comprehensively intervened since it was erected.