A quest for a tunnel, and beyond

One of my favourite cycling routes in Edinburgh involves a lap of Holyrood Park / Arthur's Seat. The long upwards incline is a struggle (I was once overtaken by a jogger) rewarded with breathtaking views (though I usually have little breath left at that point) and a sweeping slope back down again.

Considering this route for yesterday's ride I looked over the Spokes cyclists' map of Edinburgh and realised that on my many journeys to Holyrood I had unknowingly ridden over a tunnel that was part of the cycle network: the Innocent Railway Tunnel. Not entirely sure how I had managed this (although Edinburgh's ups and downs conceal a multitude of secrets), I decided to try to find it. After a couple of false turns in the intimate roads and residents' parking zones of East Parkside, there it was.

Stopping suddenly to take this photo I nearly invited a collision with a rider close behind me. My speed was soon similar to his as the smooth tarmac and my road tyres gripped each other and sent me racing along. The only thing that slowed me down was a desire to take more photos and get my bearings, worked out by considering the angle of the shoulders of Arthur's Seat from where I now was. A display board told me that the Innocent Railway was so called because it initially didn't use "dangerous" steam locomotives but was pulled by horses. A pheasant watched me as I read.

One small adventure completed, I carried on for more. Trusting that National Cycle Route 1 could not see me far wrong, I continued for several miles. Edinburgh has many photogenic locations but I was not in one now. The presence of water to the right of the path meant several small parks had been made to accommodate this block on building, whilst rudimentary geometric housing to accommodate the rest of us loomed on my left.

Further human intervention filled the water way too. Whilst noting another subaquatic shopping trolley, I saw a flash of white feathers. A bird I didn't recognise was perched in the stream, brown of hood and wing but with a bold white bib. Of course it resisted my advances to photograph it close up and skipped along the water, pausing only to give me false encouragement that I would be able to get nearer next time. Later research revealed that this was a Dipper.

On the path went, over and through the inappropriately-named Jewel and other places whose names I only vaguely recognised. On reaching a road crossing with a sign welcoming me to Edinburgh I decided I'd gone far enough and dutifully turned up a hill that promised to take me to the city centre. A glimpse to my right changed my mind. Boldly blue and enticingly close: the sea. Down a couple of side roads and I was in Edinburgh's beach district, Joppa and Portobello. Gangs of white gulls and smaller collections of oystercatchers with their orange blazes contrasted with the deep bright blue. I loved Edinburgh some more and thanked God for letting me live here.

The way home was now obvious and direct, uphill and into the wind. A price well worth paying for an unknown tunnel, an unseen bird, and the familiar joys of an extinct volcano and the sea.