Ochiltree – The Shale Mine That Never Was
A disappointing coal mine for the Linlithgow Oil Company
F17011, first published 14th April 2017
The road between Little and Wester Ochiltree runs along the northern-most ridge of the Bathgate hills, and offers views southwards to Binny Craig and northwards to the Forth. In a field close to the road, an island of hawthorn, nettles and brambles obscure the ruins of massive brickwork foundations, labelled on ordnance survey maps as “old shale mine”.
These are actually the remains of Ochiltree coal mine which briefly supplied Houston coal to the furnaces and retorts of the Linlithgow Oil Company at Champfleurie near Bridgend. The company, formed in 1884, was an ambitious enterprise, but was in a state of financial crisis throughout most of its life. A full history can be found at www.scottishshale.co.uk.
In the early days of the company, the poor-quality Houston Coal had been worked on the Ecclesmachan side of the hill and hauled to the oil works along a rough horse-drawn tramway running for three-quarters of a mile alongside the public road. In a final desperate effort to improve the efficiency of their operations, the company constructed a new mine in 1900 to access the old coal workings at a point nearer to the works. A properly engineered haulage-way was also installed. Difficulties were encountered underground, the company collapsed in 1902, and the mine abandoned.
When visiting the site in 2012 it was possible to peer into a brick-lined adit that plunged down eastward beneath the Bridgend to Ochiltree road; this has now collapsed to form an open pit. The major foundations closest to this point are presumably those of the main winding house. Other brick foundations with mounting bolts presumably mark the site of the enginehouse for the haulage-way.