Colinton Tunnel – Edinburgh, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

Colinton Tunnel

This former train tunnel is filled with lines from a poem crafted by Robert Louis Stevenson.  


Back in the heyday of the locomotive train, the city of Edinburgh was served by a network of railway lines. This commuter pastime continued for several decades. The advent of the automobile caused a massive decline in rail travel starting in the 1920s. Miles of tracks would lie dormant for several years around the city. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th-century that many of these abandoned pathways were converted into walking and cycling routes.

One such line was the Colinton Railway. This particular train track was once traveled by novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, who would take the train to see his grandfather, Dr. Lewis Balfour, who the local minister in a village on the outskirts of the city. It’s said that his series of poems entitled, A Child’s Garden of Verses was inspired by his time spent in the quaint village. One poem he wrote recollects his memories of riding along the rails. The poem was called From a Railway Carriage. It was the inspiration for a public art installation that adorns the walls of the Colinton Tunnel. 

The Colinton Tunnel Project is due to the combined talents of Mike Scott and artist Chris Rutterford. Aided by local organizations and various sponsors, they’ve turned this dark and dank underground passage into a bright and colorful mural. Neighborhood schools and non-profit institutions painted panels that are expressions of Stevenson’s 16 lined poem. The tunnel is complete with a bevy of flora and fauna, not to mention the faces of would-be passengers. Many of whom are community members.

The poem’s stanzas stretch for around 153 yards (140 meters) and can be read as one travels from the southern end near Colinton Dell. The poem reads:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches, Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches,

Charging along like troops in a battle

All through the meadows the horses and cattle:

All of the sights of the hill and the plain

Fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again, in the wink of an eye

Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,

All by himself and gathering brambles;

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;

And here is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart run away in the road

Lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill, and there is a river:

Each a glimpse and gone forever!

Know Before You Go

The tunnel is free and accessible at all times, just keep in mind that this is an active cycle trail and there are plenty of dog walkers as well. The weekends tend to be busier.

The mural is located not far from the Water of Leith Walkway in southwest Edinburgh. The town of Colinton is the closest spot to a bus stop. Both places are about a 10-15 minute walk away.

The nearby town of Colinton has some interesting features. There is a "Garden of Verses" Trail that will take you to a statue of young Robert Louis Stevenson. Even though the man himself wished that there be no such memorial be made.

Nearby in the grounds of the Colinton Parish Church is a Mortsafe.( A Mortsafe was a deterrent for the Body Snatchers who dig up the recently deceased and sell their bodies to the burgeoning Medical Schools for dissection in anatomy lessons.

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October 12, 2020

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