I’ve lived in Edinburgh for nearly 30 years and, especially recently, spent a lot of time around the south east side of the city, so I thought I knew most of what was there. I didn’t, for example, think there was a huge great disused railway tunnel that you could walk through right on the edge of Holyrood Park.
But whaddaya know. There is!
It was built for Edinburgh’s earliest railway line, the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway, also known by the slightly curious name “Innocent Railway”. (Apparently this was due to the fact that it was horse-drawn at first rather than using steam engines, but I read an alternative theory that it could be because no-one was killed in the construction of the tunnel, sadly rare in those days).
The tunnel is over 500 metres long and dead straight, so you can see right through to the other end. It’s now part of National Cycle Route 1. We spent a happy twenty minutes or so messing around with long exposure photography in there last night. That red blur you can just see in the photo above is a passing cyclist. I also discovered what a difference the white balance setting can make:
I like tunnels for some reason. I expect Freud would have had something to say about that, but in my case I think it’s mostly a geeky fascination with old industrial sites, combined with a slightly childish desire to go and explore hidden places.
Edinburgh doesn’t have too many old tunnels. (Glasgow, being a more industrial city, has loads, but that’s a topic for a whole other post!). Most interesting is probably Scotland Street Tunnel on the old Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway. It ran 1,000 yards from Scotland Street Goods Station (on the site of which you can still see the blocked up north portal) down to Waverley. The south portal is now lost underneath Princes Mall but apparently a corrugated iron tunnel was put in when the mall was built to maintain access and ventilation; it exits near Platform 19 of Waverly Station. The main tunnel was closed to trains in 1868 but it’s still down there and was used as an air raid shelter during World War II.
There are two smaller tunnels further north on the route of the same line, at Rodney Street and Trinity, and like the Innocent Railway Tunnel you can walk or cycle through them. And there’s this one:
on the Water of Leith Walkway at Colinton Dell. It’s pretty short but it’s on a curve so you can’t see both ends at once, which makes it seem longer.
Finally, here’s Scotland’s first (and for a long time, only) canal tunnel under Prospect Hill at Falkirk:
Apparently there was no pressing technical need for a tunnel here, but the local landowner didn’t like the idea of the canal spoiling his view and forced the canal company to put it underground instead. And good for him, I say. It certainly made my walk through to Falkirk High Station a lot more interesting.
The roof seems a lot more porous than in any of the railway tunnels, probably because the middle bit is mostly just bare, unlined rock – there is a constant dripping of water into the canal as you walk through, and stalactites in places. This was the first time I’d been here since the Union Canal re-opened in 2002, and I was glad to see that the addition of electric lighting hadn’t detracted from the atmosphere of the tunnel too much.