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South of Linlithgow and running parallel to the line of the M9 are the Bathgate Hills. With their highest points barely topping 1000ft, they are not high hills by Scottish standards. But despite this they offer magnificent views across the River Forth into Fife, and right across the width of the Central Lowlands of Scotland. The Bathgate Hills 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.
The Bathgate Hills are seldom seen at close quarters by visitors to Scotland as the main roads through West Lothian tend to go round them rather than through them. An added incentive for straying off the beaten track and into these hills comes in the shape of Beecraigs County Park, 370 hectares or 913 acres of upland forest, woodland and open country, in places complete with extensive views.
Beecraigs Country Park offers a wide range of facilities and activities to visitors. At one level, this is simply a place to come to blow away the cobwebs on a Sunday morning, somewhere to bring the children or grandchildren for a walk in attractive and relaxed surroundings. At another level, Beecraigs also offers a very wide range of facilities of interest to outdoor activity enthusiasts.
Beecraigs is also home to a 4 Star-rated touring caravan and camping site, located conveniently close to the park's restaurant. As a result, those wanting to visit the area have the option of actually staying at the park. Touring caravans are accommodated in a series of glades, each surrounded by woodland. For those who enjoy winter caravanning, Beecraigs is open to caravans all year round: it is not open to tents during the winter.
High on the list of reasons why people come to Beecraigs is the fishery. On the east side of the park is a well established 20 acre loch which is stocked daily with hand graded Rainbow Trout plus the occasional Brown Trout. Anglers fish from one of the eight boats accessed from the floating pier and maintained by the park. Other facilities include a fishing lodge and a tackle shop. The fishery is open all year, and advance booking is essential.
Beecraigs Loch was formed by the dam built at its east end by German prisoners during the first world war. In the shadow of the dam is the trout farm that ensure the fishery remains well stocked. Parts of the fish farm are open to visitors, who can buy feed to throw to the fish.
North of the loch you emerge from beautiful woods, complete with a badger sett, into the high grassland that forms the deer farm. A series of large fields might - or might not - give you much of a view of their residents, depending on how sociable the deer are feeling and how many enthusiastic children have passed along the path before you.
At the upper end of the path through the deer farm, near the main farm buildings, a wooden "bridge" gives an excellent view of this area of the park. From here, too, you gain your first sight of the core of Beecraigs, the Park Centre complete with its grass roofed visitor centre and large car park.
The deer farm was established here in 1977 and visitors can purchase the product at the Park Centre. Here, too, you can purchase trout farmed at the fishery within the park, craft items, and soft drinks and sweets: and Christmas trees in season. It is also the central point for advice and information about the park. The Park Centre lies just off one of the minor roads passing through the park. Beyond the road is the woodland in which the caravan and camping park is located, while a little further uphill is the red-painted restaurant. The restaurant is open seven days per week and here you can enjoy lunch or dinner. Advance booking is advised. Like the Park Centre, the restaurant was built in 1991.
Other parts of the park provide venues for many of the outdoor pursuits on offer here. Outdoor activities at Beecraigs began to be offered in 1978, and today the park runs a range of courses for schools, colleges and for groups of individuals, many using facilities found in the park itself.
Activities based in the park include field archery, in the area to the south of the loch; target archery using a range in the centre of the park; climbing and abseiling in what appears to be an old quarry at the south end of the park; and orienteering using the course laid out on the west side of the park. Outdoor pursuits run from here also include canoeing, kayaking and skiing.
At a less formal level, visitors can undertake a range of other activities within the park. An area at its north end has been designed for horse-riding, while cyclists can enjoy an area at the south end of the park. There is also an extensive play area, complete with huge climbing net; a trim course for those interested in fitness; and a barbecue area for those wanting to enjoy outdoor cookery in beautiful surroundings.
Those visiting Beecraigs can also enjoy the benefit of the countryside rangers based here. They offer environmental education sessions to visiting school parties; lead walks; and manage a variety of other events designed to help visitors gain the most from the park. And, finally, there is also a sawmill attached to the park supplying a wide range of treated wood products.