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First glimpse in over 700 years at Scotland's secret catacombs

A FARMER has unearthed a network of 700-year-old tunnels beneath his land.

Peter Waddell was shocked when he uncovered the catacombs, which are believed to have been built by monks.

The network, which does not appear in any records, features a large arched tunnel which runs for about a mile beneath Park Farm, near Linlithgow, West Lothian.

Archaeologists believe the culvert, just a few miles from Linlithgow Palace, dates back to the early 14th century when a secretive brotherhood of monks farmed the land.

Some local people even believe the tunnels may have provided escape routes and hiding places for the Carmelite monks.

The main tunnel is constructed from hand-cut sandstone blocks formed into an arch using medieval building techniques.

Nearly 10ft underground, it is about four-and-a-half feet high by a yard wide and is still in immaculate condition.

Mr Waddell uncovered the network while carrying out building work to convert one of his barns into a canal-side bistro.

Mr Waddell, 41, a third generation farmer, said that when he was ten, his father told him a story about secret passageways beneath the land, but nothing was mentioned again.

The farmer, who lives with his wife Tracey, 32, and daughters Tara, two, and seven-week-old Olivia, said: "I couldn’t believe what we had unearthed.

"We pulled away the stones and there was this gaping hole beneath. We looked in and there was this perfectly preserved arched stone tunnel running as far as we could see. It was quite a shock."

Dr Tony Pollard, an archaeologist at Glasgow University, called for the site to be surveyed. He compared the tunnels to ones he had worked on at Paisley Abbey dating to the 14th and 15th centuries and built by monks for drainage.

Dr Pollard, who co-presented the BBC series Two Men in a Trench, said: "This is potentially a very important discovery.

"The one at Paisley had slightly better stonework and ran off a millpond. It was used to flush out the latrines of a number of buildings which are no longer standing.

"But this one is rougher which would make it older. The construction seems quite elaborate for what is probably a glorified drain, but monks were quite wealthy."

Bruce Jamieson, a local historian, said the tunnels may have been built by the Carmelite monks who lived in a friary near the site at the end of the 13th century.

He said: "Whoever built it must have been well off. The Carmelite friary stood at a place now called Friars Brae and they would have been working the land at this time.

"The only people who could afford such a grand structure would be monks or royalty."

 
 
 

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