Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Innocent Railway

As I briefly mentioned in a previous blog post I recently spent a few days in Edinburgh at a project meeting. I'd saved up a few blog posts so that you didn't get bored while I was gone as I didn't expect to see anything railway related (other than the inside of a Cross Country express train). In the end I actually stumbled across something interesting: The Innocent Railway.

Project meetings can be quite intensive and to lighten the load slightly one evening is set aside for a social dinner. These dinners can end up being held in interesting places; in the past I've eaten in a Slovenian Castle and a Viennese vineyard. This time the meal was being held at The Sheep Heid Inn which is apparently Scotland's oldest surviving public house having been first established in 1360. As it was a nice evening I decided to see if it was feasible to walk there from my hotel (one of the few chances for some fresh air). Google Maps was happy to generate me walking directions and while writing them down I spotted that I was crossing a feature labelled as the Innocent Railway. A little bit of tweaking the route and it became clear that whatever the Innocent Railway turned out to be I could walk along it. So I set out with plenty of time to get the pub in order to investigate properly.

The first sign that I was looking at the remains of a substantial railway was as I turned right out of St Leonard's Lane onto a bike path to be confronted by The Engine Shed. Having looked at an old map the building was actually a goods shed; the engine shed was a couple of buildings to the west and appears to have disappeared under newer housing. Even if it wasn't an engine shed, such a large goods shed (the photo only shows about a third of the length of the building) definitely suggests that the area was once home to a fair amount of railway traffic. I continued following a succession of roads and short cycleways until I almost reached Holyrood Park Road where I discovered the original feature on the map which had drawn my attention.

On the map the feature was marked by a pair of dotted lines, so I should have been able to work out that I was looking for a tunnel, and what a tunnel it turned out to be. If you were trying to find the tunnel from the main road it would look as if you were trying to find the car park for a set of modern flats. What greats you though is a well built slightly slopping railway tunnel, that runs dead straight for about 200 yards before reappearing below Arthur's Seat.

Once through the tunnel I left the railway and doubled back slightly to rejoin the main road so I could head off for dinner, but you could easily see where the railway line continued on south eastwards (the third photo). So after thoroughly enjoying my dinner I finally made it back to my hotel where I set about trying to figure out what exactly the Innocent Railway had been.

From a fairly extensive web search I discovered that the Innocent Railway was the nickname given to the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway. The station and goods yard at St Leonard's was Edinburgh's first railway station which opened in 1831 to help bring coal into the city from Dalkeith. The railway got it's nickname from the fact that the railway used horses rather than steam power to haul the wagons (other than through the tunnel, where a stationary steam engine was used to winch the wagons into the station). It wasn't until the railway was bought by the North British Railway in 1846 that the rails were strengthened to allow for the use of steam locomotives.

None of the railway remains in use today, as it finally closed in 1968, although the route has been fully preserved as a cycle path (of which I only walked a short part). The three main important pieces of remaining infrastructure are the goods shed, the tunnel and a cast iron bridge. While I'm sure the goods shed is a well preserved example of its time the tunnel and bridge are of more historic interest.

It appears that the tunnel was probably the first railway tunnel constructed in Scotland and was cut through the hard volcanic rock of Arthur's Seat. I didn't get to see the cast iron bridge (it's further out of Edinburgh), but just like the tunnel it is one of the earliest examples of a cast iron railway bridge to have survived.

Given the railways age I'll finish this post with a highly processed, yet atmospheric, view of the tunnel (if you are interested it was produced using the daguerreotype filter in PaintShop Pro).


  1. This is superb, I'll have to have a look.
    I like highly processed. It shows the photographer has valued what they've seen.

    1. I'm hoping I get to back to Edinburgh for more meetings at which point I'm determined to investigate the railway further by walking further out along the railway, hopeful far enough to at least find the cast iron bridge.

      I must admit to licking the PaintShop Pro time machine filters as they are almost just a single click to generate some really interesting looking images.

    2. okay I'm not quite sure how far licking the computer screen would get me! Clearly I meant liking not licking.

  2. I thought that I was reasonably au fait with the centre of Edinburgh and some of the old underground quirks although I confess to have forgotten some of them as it's a long time since my 'Edinburgh days'. However this is just slightly off my old haunts and I'd never, to my knowledge, heard of it. I am absolutely fascinated. I hope that I will get back to Edinburgh some time to explore. I was also astonished when I looked at the map you linked to to discover that Princes Street no longer features as a street. It took me a while to work out what on earth was happening. I thought that taxis and busses still ran along it. Am I really that out of touch?

    1. I must admit it isn't exactly well signed or obvious, and was only because of the single reference on the Google map that I stumbled across it. Mind you I'm starting to trust Google maps less and less. I'm not sure of Princes Street is fully pedestrianized or not, but I was in London this week and Google insisted there was a road where in fact that were only a footpath -- I was on foot so it wasn't the end of the world, but it was still rather confusing.