Issue 216
Spring 2021

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May 15, 2021

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Spring 2021 (7.8MB)

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A tunnel vision brought to life in Edinburgh

ONCE DARK and deserted, an old railway tunnel in Edinburgh has been transformed by the biggest mural of its kind in Scotland as part of a community project.

Edinburgh was once served by a network of railway lines but the advent of the car caused a huge decline in rail travel starting in the 1920s, leaving miles of tracks lying dormant around the city. Only at the end of the 20th-century did many of these abandoned pathways begin to be converted into walking and cycling routes.

One such line was the Colinton Railway, once travelled by novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, who would take the train to see his grandfather, Dr. Lewis Balfour, the local minister in a village on the outskirts of the city.

His poem From a Railway Carriage recollects his memories of riding along the rails, and is the inspiration for the public art installation displayed in the Colinton Tunnel. Built in the 1800s, the Colinton Tunnel formed part of the Balerno branch railway line from Slateford to Balerno until its closure in 1967.

The project is the idea of Mike Scott and the artist Chris Rutterford. Aided by local organizations and various sponsors, they've turned the abandoned tunnel into a safe and welcoming home for Scotland's largest historical mural, celebrating the industrial, social, artistic and literary history of the local community.

Project chairman Mike Scott explains how the idea began: "I was one of Colinton's Community Councillors in 2016 when the closure of our local bank and half of our local shops meant you couldn't buy a pint of milk or a newspaper in the village and it was clear that something had to be done to bring visitors to keep the remaining village alive.

Talking with colleagues I proposed that our former railway tunnel, which was dark, dirty and scary, would be a great place for a mural to celebrate our village's 930 year history. A group of seven of us set up a charity, did masses of research, and so the project began."

The total project 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 the cycling charity Sustrans's 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.

Scott explained: "Over 600 schoolchildren contributed, plus the Pentlands Art Club, and many other volunteers, and we have created a community artwork in every sense. It's been adopted by the village and has been visited by thousands of people from all over the world."

The multi-skilled arts team comprised local muralist Chris Rutterford and graffiti artists Craig Robertson and Duncan Peace.

Stretching over 140 metres, the project took over two years to complete. Chris says: "It's only a millimetre of paint on this tunnel but it completely changes its story. The tunnel was a huge challenge – building the mural around the poem which had historical provenance and also mentioning all the aspects of Colinton seemed like a natural solution. I wanted visitors to feel the same wide-eyed wonder at the heart of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem - a boy revelling in a journey on a train for the very first time."

The mural has enlivened the 14 mile Water of Leith Walkway and has become something of a focal point. "In these fraught times positive, optimistic spaces telling stories reflecting the kind of society we want to build and demonstrating how it is done is more important than ever," says Chris.

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, communitydriven project has been huge, and we are seeing a significant positive impact on the number of people walking, wheeling and cycling in the area.

"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."

Mike Scott concludes: "We had a tunnel which was black, badly lit, and actually people were scared to walk through it. We wanted to create a safer place and the mural has transformed it. It's very much a community project. Now you'll see people linger and smile, they're comfortable being here."

Colinton Tunnel, Colinton Village, Water of Leith Walkway, Edinburgh, EH13 OJX



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