This was an unusual explore in that, for once, I wasn’t technically in an abandoned place… it’s still in use for exactly the same purpose as it was originally built for! But despite that it was certainly an interesting and well hidden location.
Next to an ordinary looking car park in the middle of Dunfermline is the oddity that is St Margaret’s Cave. The cave itself isn’t particularly odd, but to get to the tiny cave these days you have to descend a long and winding concrete staircase inside a corrugated metal tunnel. The reason for this is that part of the Tower Burn’s glen was filled in back in the 1960s to make space for the car park, but because the cave was a sort of shrine to St Margaret, there was an outcry about the idea of just burying it… hence the long and winding tunnel so that people can still access it even though it’s now deep underground.
But St Margaret’s Cave isn’t the only thing down there. Even deeper underground, inside another corrugated metal tunnel, the Tower Burn still flows out of sight along the bottom of its now-filled valley. In fact, this tunnel was actually an extension of a much older stone tunnel, put in so that Bridge Street and its surrounding buildings could be constructed across what was once the glen.
I’d been meaning to have a look at this tunnel for a long time, and I was reminded of it this week when it attracted quite a lot of attention on one of the Facebook groups I follow. I decided it was time to go and check it out. I was a bit worried that due to all the interest online I would find the place full of wannabe urbexers trying to explore it, or find myself stopped by irate park attendants fed up with people trying to get in there, but when I got there I had the place to myself and it was easy to get inside unnoticed.
I was also a little nervous since this would be the first river culvert I’d ever explored, but there was nothing to worry about on that score either. This is a pretty tame one, easy to get into and with shallow, fairly calm water. I entered at the downstream end and walked upwards, initially passing through the original stone tunnel. There was a lot of debris in the riverbed and colourful calcite formations on the stone arched roof. At this point the tunnel was still high enough to stand up in.
About halfway along, the stone arched tunnel is replaced by the modern corrugated metal extension from the 60s. Although both halves are straight, there’s a slight angle between them that makes it impossible to see right from one end to the other and makes the combined tunnel feel longer than its (approximate) 200 metres. At the join is a small concrete chamber with a circular shaft leading upwards, presumably to a manhole up at street level, since I would occasionally hear a muffled ‘clank’ as if something had passed over the manhole cover.
I didn’t go all the way through the tunnel. The modern section was a bit less hospitable for walking through, the roof being too low for me to stand up and the riverbed smoother and hence more slippery. It also wasn’t quite as photogenic as the original stone. I wouldn’t have been able to get out at the other end anyway as there’s a metal grating there blocking the portal, but from a distance I could see the daylight and the water cascading in.
It was very interesting to tick this one off. I’ve been meaning to do it ever since I visited St Margaret’s Cave a couple of years ago and I’m glad I explored it before it gets too widely known about and potentially ends up getting blocked off.