Derelict Colinton tunnel transformed by a beautiful 140m mural that honours local area

A community mural depicting Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem ‘A view from a railway carriage’ has been completed and locals are hoping it will put Colinton on the map as a visitor attraction.

By Jacob Farr
Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 4:45 pm
An element of the transformed tunnel
An element of the transformed tunnel

Stretching over 140 metres and showcasing historical, mythical and local art work - the project has taken the artist, Chris Rutterford, over two years to complete

And it has already brought with it a wealth of visitors from across the UK who have been pumping money into local businesses during their visits

Mr Rutterford has designed several murals in the past but this project is said to be the first of its kind and also the largest outdoor mural in Scotland.

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Chris, a furry friend and some trustee's in the transformed tunnel

The sprawling 2,000 square meters of tunnel has been covered with beautiful artworks that depict various elements of the infamous poem as well as telling the history of the community at the same time along the abandoned railway line

"From a Railway Carriage" is illustrated in text on one wall of the tunnel, and links across the roof to other visuals on the opposite side which represent the rich heritage of authors, poets, painters and other individuals and organisations who have had links with Colinton throughout the years.

The text of the poem that runs adjacent to the mural side of the tunnel has been created by Craig Robertson and Duncan Peace who are both experienced graffiti artists.

Mr Rutterford said: “The way of building murals this way is sustainable and we should be transforming towns like this as there is no excuse for an ugly world. We could have sat here twiddling our thumbs and saying fate has destroyed this place and not do anything.

Recognise any familiar local faces?

“We have tried to encapsulate the community in the piece of art and in the process have added various notable faces to give it that lasting legacy.

“I would like to thank my partner Libi who was brilliant throughout (especially with the kids) as well as everyone who has worked on the project with me.

“There is a real intersection of traditional work alongside the honesty of the kids which makes it really profound and a beautiful piece.”

Mr Rutterford also worked with three local primary schools Colinton, Bonaly and Juniper Green as well as third years from Firhill secondary to create a myriad of varying designs that showcased familiar local faces as well as mythical and historical characters.

School kids helping out Chris and Libi on the project

The total project has cost just under £100,000. Almost one third of which came from the local community and others who visited the mural. There were also generous grants from cycling charity Sustrans’ ArtRoots Fund, the Armed Forces Covenant Trust, the Turtleton Trust, the National Lottery Community Fund, City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) and many other local businesses and charities.

Cosmo Blake, Art and Diversity Co-ordinator at Sustrans Scotland said: “It has been an absolute pleasure to support this project through our ArtRoots programme, which is funded by Transport Scotland

“We want the National Cycle Network to be valued and loved by all of the communities it serves- supporting groups across Scotland with ideas to shape their areas and empowering them to improve local National Cycle Network routes are cornerstones of this vision.

“The impact of this stunning, community-driven project has already been huge, and we are seeing a significant positive impact in the number of people walking, wheeling and cycling in the area.

Robert Louis Stevenson in all his glory

“In August 2018, before the community started work on the project, our counters recorded an average of 482 weekend trips along the traffic-free path. This has now jumped to an amazing 1421 trips recorded across the same weekend in August 2020.

“Art is incredibly important in making journeys more enjoyable and attractive for everyone, and we hope the impact of the Colinton Tunnel project inspires more communities to get in touch with their ideas to improve local National Cycle Network routes.”

The mural is situated along the Water of Leith Walkway by Spylaw Park. Unfortunately the traditional car park for visitors is no longer in use due to ongoing work, so visitors are advised to park nearby and venture down where possible.

Colinton Tunnel - Balerno Branch Line - A brief history

1865 – Act of Parliament authorising the Balerno Branch Line received Royal assent. Water of Leith villages each have populations of 100 – 150. 40+ mills active.

1869 – Caledonian Railway Company, having misappropriated the relevant funds, seeks to abandon the project.

1870 – New Bill in Parliament. Deadline of 1872 set for completion of railway.

1874 – Line opens, twenty months late. 5 miles from Slateford to Balerno. Balerno Pug – custom-built locomotives and rolling stock. Journey time to Princes Street Station 15 minutes – vs. over an hour on horseback.

1880 – Eight services daily.

1896 – Twelve services daily. Local tourism, picnics and outings in the country increasingly popular – line known as the “picnic line”.

1900 - 1920s – 21 passenger trains daily. The line was the single major catalyst for the growth of Pentlands villages into residential communities. Limited bus services to Colinton began in 1920, Currie/Balerno in 1922. Trams 1928 to 1955.

1943 – Last passenger train runs.

December 1967 – Freight train is the last service on the line.

1973 onward – the Water of Leith Walkway is developed along the track of the former railway.

Today: A beautiful mural stretching the length of the tunnel welcomes visitors from close to home and from further afield.

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