West Linton is an attractive and ancient village lying to the south of the main A702 trunk road from Edinburgh to the M74 and the south. The village was originally known simply as Linton, but the post office that opened here in 1765 was called West Linton to distinguish it from another Linton, now East Linton, in East Lothian. The villages swiftly adopted the names of their post offices, leaving generations of travellers since to wonder why East and West Linton are 37 miles apart.
Our sense of geography tends to be led by our modern pattern of roads. It is therefore hard for a 21st century mind to work out why this Linton should have grown enough to gain Burgh status and be operating a market as early as 1306.
The answer lies in an older pattern of roads. Until the coming of the motor car, West Linton lay at the crossroads of two of the major routes across Scotland. The Romans had built a road along the south east side of the Pentland Hills providing a link from the south to their fort at Musselburgh. The line of the Roman Road was later used as the basis for the turnpike from Edinburgh to Ayr, and more recently it has been approximately followed by the line of the A702. Like the A702, the Roman Road passed to the north of today's West Linton, though its actual line here was a few hundred yards further north.
But the most important route through West Linton was the road from the north. This set out from Mid Calder in today's West Lothian before crossing the Pentland Hills and following the line of the Lyne Water to Linton. Important from ancient times, this became particularly significant from the 1700s when vast numbers of Highland cattle were driven over the Pentlands from the large cattle markets or trysts at Crieff and Falkirk en route to hungry consumers in the Borders and England. Today this route over the Pentlands remains in the form of a drove road open to pedestrians, bikes and horses.
The cattle droves stopped with the advent of the railways, and West Linton was served by a branch line connection to Broomlee, a mile to the south. Never a great success, this only carried passengers from 1864 to 1933. Meanwhile West Linton grew, building wealth first through weaving and later as a centre for bootmaking.
Most people visiting West Linton do so only very fleetingly: a glimpse of the roadside Gordon Arms Hotel and a pair of road junctions as they drive along the A702. Very few take the time to explore the village itself. And given the village's narrow medieval street pattern and role as a busy local centre this is perhaps as well.
But those who do stray south of the A702 find a charming village of huge character. Most of the shops carry a free "Golden Jubilee Heritage Trail" leaflet that describes an excellent guided walk around the village, taking in many of the points of interest. These include the Cross Well and Clock Tower in the Main Street. The latter one of a number of reminders of local stonemason James Gifford, who lived here in the 1600s. He also produced the beautifully carved Gifford Panels, relocated to the Main Street when his house was demolished in 1864.
At the corner of Main Street and Deanfoot Road is another reason to visit West Linton. Linton Books is a wonderful small bookshop with an excellent stock of new and second hand books: and is especially strong on books about Scotland. Towards the south end of the village is St Andrew's Parish Church, built in 1781 on a site with ancient religious connections, and offering a remarkably attractive interior.
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