Work is about to start on the biggest outdoor (though actually underground!) mural in Scotland, designed and delivered by top Scottish muralist, Chris Rutterford.
The Colinton Tunnel mural will fill a dark, dirty and slightly scary former railway tunnel on Edinburgh’s Water of Leith Walkway with a glorious visual reminder of the old Caledonian Railway’s Balerno Branch line. It will show how the Water of Leith villages grew, thanks mainly to the “Balerno Pug” that puffed along the rail line, and will also celebrate the 920-year history of the west-Edinburgh village of Colinton.
The exciting design concept links Robert Louis Stevenson’s short poem “From a Railway Carriage” to local history to create an engaging, exciting and amusing public artwork. The expression of a child's excitement at the sights and sounds of a rail trip to the country takes us on an unforgettable picture-book journey.
The poem will be reproduced and graphically illustrated on one wall of the tunnel, linking across the roof to more stunning images on the opposite wall. This connects the poetry to the rich heritage of the authors and poets, painters, the Army and a wide range of individuals and organisations who have had links with Colinton since the first church was established there in 1095.
Project Chairman Mike Scott comments that “Chris Rutterford’s design, using RLS’s short poem, gives a wonderful visual description of how a rail trip from the city centre to the country might have felt to a child. It connects amazingly well to our community’s history”.
Chris will start work this Spring, after preparatory work on the surfaces has been completed and the detailed design has been developed. There’s a lot of design to develop, as the tunnel is almost 140 metres long. He and Heritage Interpreter Ann Tweedie will work on it with local school students and youth groups, as well as with the wider community, military families and local interest groups. A team of Edinburgh-based professional artists will also work with Chris and the community to translate his design into a stunning mural.
Why are project team doing it? Quite simply, it is to create an engaging public artwork and community history that will serve as a legacy for up to 40 years. It will also:
- Bring visitors, who will want to use the village’s shops, restaurants, pubs, cafes and other facilities. The increased footfall will help to revitalise the struggling village centre.
- Get rid of the accumulating anti-social graffiti inside the tunnel. It will be replaced with images that tell a fascinating story – and lighting improvements will mean that they can be seen.
- Help to prevent new graffiti. A wealth of research, confirmed by CEC’s own anti-graffiti team, shows that good quality public art actually helps to prevent graffiti happening.
- Improve community safety. The engaging images and improved lighting will help to improve public safety – an important issue for all tunnel users.
What started out as a wacky idea by a couple of former community councillors to brighten up a dull area of the village has evolved into a comprehensive project which is being delivered and managed by Scottish charity, The Colinton Tunnel. All you need to know is on the project website – www.colintontunnel.org.uk. See also the artist’s website at www.chrisrutterford.com
Initial funds have been raised, including generous grants from the cycling charity Sustrans and City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) and smaller sums from local donors, but there is still a long way to go to fully fund what the charity behind the project believes will be the most significant historic and heritage mural in Scotland - possibly in the UK. Local organisations and CEC are also collaborating closely with the organisers to improve access to the tunnel and provide technical assistance. Grant applications continue to be submitted to potential funders and the local community is being urged to be generous.
The Balerno Pug was the specially-built engine that ploughed up and down the track from what was the old Caley Station in Edinburgh (now the Caledonian Hotel) all the way out to Balerno (a brief history is on the next page). The engine, its coaches and wagons were designed and engineered to cope with the twists, turns and steep gradients of the line. The last passenger train departed in 1943 and the final goods service whistled out of the old Colinton station in December, 1967. Chris Rutterford’s design will bring the Pug back to life, as it puffs through the lines of the poem and the exciting scenes that the mural will show.
The organisers continue to carry out widespread consultation and engagement with all possible stakeholders. The Army, with a 100-year presence in Colinton, is just one of many supporters along with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, cycling organisation Sustrans and, of course, CEC whose experienced professional staff maintain the tunnel and care for the local natural heritage. In fact, everyone with whom they have consulted – including all local organisations, CEC Councillors, local MSP Gordon MacDonald and MP Joanna Cherry - has been 100 per cent supportive.
The driving force behind the project is the desire to produce a rich tapestry of art that will bring visitors to Colinton, helping to rejuvenate a wonderful little corner of Edinburgh by creating a brighter and safer environment - making a dark, slightly forbidding tunnel into an engaging and attractive graphic story. Chris Rutterford’s stunning design concept make that a highly achievable ambition.