Next to Holyrood Park, near the foot of Arthur’s Seat lies a pathway that runs partially underground. It was once Edinburgh’s first railway line, where horse-drawn trams started bringing coal to Edinburgh from the mines further south. It started operating in 1831 as the Edinburgh & Dalkieth Railway Line, designed by Scottish civil engineer James Jardine.
A plaque at the entrance ascribes the name “Innocent Railway” came from the horse-drawn trams being safer and more sophisticated than steam engines. Some sources attribute the name to the fact that there were no casualties while building the railway.
It was the first underground railway passage in the United Kingdom, stretching for an estimated nine miles. The railway was popular with the locals and became more popular as a passenger line than as coal transport. As many as 14,000 passenger trips were taken in its first month of operation, with an estimated million journeys taken between 1824-1844. In 1845, the railway switched to steam-operated trains.
After the coal depot at St. Leonard’s shut down, the railway ceased operation in 1963. In 1981 it was reopened for use as a pedestrian and cycle path, one of many in Edinburgh. It’s also part of the U.K. National Cycle Network’s Route 1.
The entrance can be tricky to locate, unless you know what you are looking for. Once you locate the entrance, the tree-lined trail can take you from the south side of the city, around the bird sanctuary of Duddinston Loch near Duddingston Village before continuing on southward.
Just a short distance to the north of the mouth of the former railway is the Holyrood Distillery. They currently produce both gin and whiskey out of the former goods shed of St. Leonards railway station. They offer tastings, tours, and products they make in the first refurbished distillery in Edinburgh in over a hundred years. Well worth a visit for a wee dram after cycling underground.
Know Before You Go
The tunnel entrance off of St. Leonard's is slightly hidden. Situated on the opposite side of the road of Pollock Halls, near the entrance of Holyrood Park on the side of Salisbury Crags.
The pathway is open and accessible 24 hours a day. Access may be denied if there is a marathon or other such activity taking place. Signage will be displayed letting you know if entry is off limits. High-visibility clothing and a light are recommended if going after dark. There are lights in the tunnel, but they are sporadic on the footpath.