Innocent Railway Tunnel

The word innocent prompts many evocative images – golliwogs on Robertson’s jam jars and overpriced fruit smoothies to name a couple. One image it certainly doesn’t elicit is that of a dark, dank tunnel replete with stalactites of slime and redolent of putrified pigeon. Indeed, to call such an underpass innocent would be as accurate as labeling Harold Shipman’s bedside manner as unorthodox. It is not its innocence – or lack of – that makes this structure so captivating however.

On the face of it, the Innocent Railway Tunnel is just that – a 500-metre subterranean passageway that once connected trains running between Dalkeith and Edinburgh. 270 years after its inception, it provides brief respite for cyclists commuting across the city under the stern gaze of Arthur’s Seat. You may think this elongated Smarties tube sounds about as exciting as an elongated Smarties tube, but you’d be wrong. Words simply don’t do justice to this acoustic chamber of secrets. Reverb, attack, sustain and decay are all present and accounted for here. So much so in fact that by mid-tunnel, it is possible to sing three-part harmonies with no one other than yourself. If the prospect of such a heavenly/hellish choir (delete according to vocal ability) fails to excite you, perhaps the artwork will. The Innocent Tunnel is festooned with all manner of tripped-out graffiti, none of it particularly accomplished admittedly, but this should be seen as a challenge, not a deterrent. This is the only structure in Edinburgh that will take kindly to visitors tagging its ancient brickwork in luminous spray paint; it would be churlish, surely, not to administer a quick Jackson Pollock on the way through.

Urban art and aural curiosities aside, it is worth reeling off a few historical anecdotes for those who prefer the world presented to them in tour guide format. The Innocent Railway Tunnel reputedly earned its moniker on account of all those involved in its construction fortuitously living to tell the tale. Others would have it so-named as a throwback to the era when horse-drawn carriages used to trundle through it, deemed to be a more pleasant alternative to the steam engines that ultimately replaced them. Notable for being the first public railway tunnel in Scotland, this semi-decommissioned structure can now revel in being the nation’s only public railway tunnel to be free from discarded syringes and empties of Super.

Try: Guessing which drug each graffiti artist was on when they created their work.

Avoid: Walking through alone at night if you’ve just watched the film Neds.

Directions: The south end of the tunnel can be accessed via Holyrood Park by crossing Queens Drive on the western edge of the park and following the path on the outer side of the roadway. The northern entrance to the tunnel can be found below Saint Leonard’s Lane, near the Commonwealth Pool and Pollock Halls.

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