Fashionable West Lothian
Fashionistas have found it, now it’s our turn. Meticulously coutured Simon Walton follows King Karl Lagerfeld down the queen’s catwalk and into West Lothian, the plaid not plain host for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art
Chanel has a love affair with Scotland. One rescue mission after another, as the fashion house takes in the strays and waifs of Caledonian couture. From Dawson’s, to Barrie, to Pringle, they’re all quintessentially Scottish, and they’re now all part of the hegemony of high-fashion, rather than consigned to the remainder bin of Scottish manufacturing. Still though, none of that connects with Linlithgow Palace. Once the residence of choice for Scotland’s French speaking royal court, just eighteen modern minutes by train from Edinburgh, but very long before the railway, the canal or even macadamed roads, it was consigned to ruinous abandon, after the occupying force of Cumberland’s men, in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, went out for a curry, and left the gas on. Before you can say ‘Fashion fades, only style remains the same’, the place was on fire and on the way to becoming Scotland’s most visited ruin.
Linlithgow Palace. It’s likely that Karl was not on a tour coach, driving by on the M9 motorway, making the mistake that befalls 90 per cent of amateur tour guides and 100 per cent of amateur tourists – taking the sculptured crown atop adjacent St Michaels church, for Mary Queen of Scot’s BBC2 aerial. More likely a well briefed coterie of courtiers sought out the magnificent ruin and reported back to Karl that this was the place – this was the palace – within which his 2013 collection would be revealed to the world.
So it came to pass that the cutting edge of the fashion world, amid extraordinary security, descended on the birthplace of Scotland’s ill-fated matriarch. Linlithgow is the Royal Burgh, it says so on the charter, so it’s no surprise it claims to be the jewel in West Lothian’s crown. Fair to say, from the aspect of the loch, the town retains its medieval charm, while wearing its modern clothes of convenience with effortless elegance. A High Street stroll reveals a selection of craft shops, and a collection of projects, in various stages of completion. Mary herself looks on, in statued form, from the gardens of Annet House, home to a museum of the Royal Burgh down the ages. Restoration continues on Scotland’s oldest coaching inn – the Star and Garter – and of conversion of the former court buildings into a bespoke apart-hotel. Among those already receiving visitors, the high-profile Burgh Halls, on the door step of the Palace, already welcomes cafe and gallery visitors, watched over by the statue of John Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, and first governor-general of Australia.
Johnny’s old gaffe, Hopetoun House, lies a few miles to the east. It’s open to visitors too and, let’s face it, there’s room for a few unannounced guests. Put simply, Hopetoun is the grandest of all the regency creations of the entire Adam architectural dynasty. That’s no idle boast, with a plethora of other iconic structures attributed to the family name. Hopetoun though, quite apart from its grandeur and grand scale, represents the pinnacle of gentrified Scottish society, and it’s still the family seat to boot. Visit during the summer horse-trials, or the winter fairs, and you could be forgiven for dreaming of wandering into the film set of a stately screening – as indeed is often the case among the picture-perfect 6500-acres of manicured and tended estate. Karl may have missed a trick but, as alluded to Coco earlier, Hopetoun is about style not fashion.
So, up on the roof of Hopetoun, where the entire gardens (not the entire estate) can be surveyed, what of the great black bulk, looming out of the early morning sun? Cutting a wake in the Firth of Forth, but never to sail down the estuary, the ramparts of Blackness Castle defend the ancient port of the same name. The castle, now in the care of Historic Scotland, was built in the fifteenth century by one of Scotland’s most powerful families, the Crichtons. They may have intended it as the ultimate riverside pad, but Blackness had a different destiny. It’s strategic position soon meant that the original tower house was surrounded by formidable walls and all the accoutrements of a garrison. It’s the unique design that gains the castle its popular name – the ship that never sailed. From the granite ‘prow’ it’s possible to survey the waters unimpeded and, should anyone be foolish enough to approach unannounced, you could survey them to a watery grave.
Still, the jetty is no catwalk. Lagerfeld might feel more at home in West Lothian’s more fashionable retreat – The Centre. Admittedly, not the most inspiring of monikers, but it does what it says on the tin-plated white-on-brown tourist attraction signs. In so much as Linlithgow and Hopetoun represent pinnacles of regal and gracious living, Livingston, the home of The Centre, is the apposite emblem of success in the Scottish new town project of the sixties.
After a hiatus of changed economic priorities, Livingston is the seat of high-tech manufacture, local government, by far the biggest settlement in West Lothian. While all that was going on, thanks to The Centre and the adjacent McArthurGlen Designer Outlet, and a whole phalanx of parallel developments, Livingston has become Scotland’s most desirable single shopping destination. A triple whammy of regular retailing, outlet shopping, and a mall of designer boutiques make this a mecca for mammon. Even the most reticent shopper – ie: most men – will soften at the wide indoor boulevards and unhurried feel of the place. Oh, yes, and the pub at the forecourt, that helps too. For the family man, there’s a crazy golf centre right up in the rafters. Then, when you have shopped until you’ve dropped, there’s a Mercure hotel property not a shopping trolley ride away. OK, so David Brent may find it to his taste, but let’s not forget that, away from the office, this is a comfortable hotel, comfortably located, and offering very good value. If you’ve business in Glasgow or Edinburgh, choose to leisure in Livingston. Should there not have been mention of the pool , the gym and the nearby golf – now is the time.
To read part two of Simon’s article, don’t forget to log onto CD-Traveller this xx!