The Five Sisters


(Westwood Bing)

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

It 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. Although by the 20th C. this industry began meeting competition from crude oil pumped directly from the ground in the USA and the Middle East, Westwood Oil Works which provided the spoil for the Five Sisters Bing was constructed as late as 1941, to ensure a dependable supply of oil during the Second World War. This was the last of the West Lothian oil works to be constructed and the final one to close in 1962. Several of the original buildings remains as the Five Sisters Business Park.

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 (or 91m / 299 feet from its base to its summit), making it the highest of the 20 or so similar structures which remain. It owes its distinctive shape to the use of a mechanised system of immense buckets which were hauled from a single point to the northeast to be tipped onto the bing. It is now a scheduled historic monument, protecting it from being quarried for its blaes, to be used in construction. The unusual substrate provides an important habitat for a range of locally-threatened flora and fauna.


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