If you’re visiting Edinburgh any time soon, and have exhausted the must-sees of the city centre, then I’d highly recommend venturing further afield to check out the Colinton Tunnel Mural Project. It’s a stunning creation in the old Colinton railway tunnel, celebrating the history and heritage of the area.
The words on the walls are Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “From a Railway Carriage”.
Stevenson had a long connection with Colinton and is well-known for his novels, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The poem is a wonderful rhythmical description of a child’s first rail journey. Try reading it out loud:
From a Railway Carriage
Faster than fairies, faster than witches
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horse 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 there 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 for ever!
(RL Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885)
The lead artist, Chris Rutterford, gathered a team of professional and volunteer artists to illustrate each line of the poem. The words of the poem run along one wall and related images appear on the other wall, connected by art on the roof. For example, ‘troops in battle’ is linked to a field of red poppies, including the crests of every regiment to have been based in Colinton.
Over 600 local young and older people also contributed to the mural so it’s an incredible community effort. The extra artwork was painted onto ply boards and then fixed onto the walls. It adds an extra dimension to the mural – like a vast decoupage.
The entire 140 metres of tunnel has been painted and it’s an absolute treat: vibrant, intriguing, emotional and uplifting. Keep walking to see, at the very end, a montage of ‘real’ people waiting for the Balerno Pug which was a local engine serving the many mills that were powered by the Water of Leith.
Where is the tunnel?
Colinton is in the South West of Edinburgh. Check the website for details of driving and cycling directions plus bus routes. The What3Words geolocation is envy.pills.lands. We drove there when we were staying in the outskirts of Edinburgh and managed to get a space in the small car park under the Gillespie Road viaduct. If you’re planning to explore the Water of Leith walkway through the city, then the tunnel is on the route.
Is there a charge to visit?
The Colinton Tunnel Mural Project is open 24/7 as it’s on a public walkway. There is no charge but donations are always welcome to help with the long-term maintenance programme. We visited late 2021 when it had just opened. There were plans then to take the story of the mural into schools and the wider community. I imagine it’s been a huge hit.
A visual delight
Chris Rutterford’s aim was to change a dark, scary tunnel into ‘a visual delight’. He wanted to bring more visitors to Colinton, improve community safety and help prevent antisocial graffiti. He also did it ‘to make people smile’. It certainly does that.