EVEN if you have never stepped foot inside Polkemmet Country Park, you are likely to be familiar with the eye-catching public art installation that stands at its north-east fringe: The Horn.

The 79ft-high stainless-steel structure beside the M8 motorway near Whitburn is often likened to the warbling trumpet in Teletubbies, the BBC children's series that was all the rage when the distinctive sculpture by artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion was unveiled in 1997.

This little corner of West Lothian has no shortage of gems: the Scottish Owl Centre, a golf driving range, bowling green, orienteering course, adventure play area and a former colliery steam engine, as well as pretty, meandering woodland trails.

The 168-acre park boasts a fascinating history. The land was purchased by the Baillie family in 1620 and it became a thriving estate. At its heart was Polkemmet House which, according to the 1871 census, had 39 rooms with 11 live-in domestic servants.

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At the outbreak of the First World War, Sir Gawaine Baillie, the 5th Baronet, offered use of the house for the war effort and it operated as an auxiliary Red Cross Hospital from 1915 to 1919. Tragically, Sir Gawaine never lived to see this: he was killed in action in September 1914.

Over the years, Polkemmet House underwent many incarnations including being requisitioned as a hospital and a camp for Polish soldiers during the Second World War, before later becoming a Trefoil School run by the Girl Guides movement and then the Scottish Police College.

The estate was sold to the National Coal Board and the once-grand, Scots Baronial-style house was demolished in the 1960s with a view to gaining access to the coal seams that lay beneath it. The stable block and offices survived, along with Baillie family mausoleum in the former grounds.

After the land grew derelict, it was bought by West Lothian Council in 1978 and developed into Polkemmet Country Park, officially opening to the public three years later.

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A steam engine is displayed in the park as a war memorial. Dating from 1909, it was named Dardanelles after the First World War campaign in progress when nearby Polkemmet Colliery opened, the pit where the engine spent most of its working life.

Nature lovers will enjoy strolling through the mature woodland along a winding stretch of the River Almond, home to deer, foxes, badgers, heron and bats. Tree species include oak and Scots pine, with a tranquil copse of Western red cedar close to the mausoleum.

Useful information

Visit westlothian.gov.uk/polkemmet and scottishowlcentre.com