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Five Sisters, The

One of the most significant of the distinctive pink-coloured oil shale bings of West Lothian, the Five Sisters are located at Westwood, on the left bank of the Breich Water, a mile (1.5 km) northwest of West Calder. Lying abandoned since 1962, this remarkable landmark is a reminder of the oil shale industry pioneered in 1858 by James 'Paraffin' Young (1811-83), which soon comprised 120 oil works extracting more than 100 million litres (22 million gallons) of oil from 3 million tonnes of shale annually in West Lothian, and employing up to 40,000 people. By the second decade of the 20th century, this industry began meeting competition from crude oil pumped directly from the ground in the USA and the Middle East, but it was to continue for another 50 years.

Today, resembling the fingers of a defiantly clenched fist rising above the surrounding landscape, the bing still reaches a height of 240m (787 feet) above sea level, making it the highest of the 20 or so similar structures which remain. It is now a scheduled historic monument, protecting it from being quarried as hardcore for road construction, and provides an important habitat for a range of locally-threatened flora and fauna.

This iconic landmark appears as part of the West Lothian Council logo and has provided the inspiration for a sculpture on Newpark Roundabout in Livingston.


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