The Magic Tunnel

During the Edinburgh Fringe my good friends at Such Small Portions published an actual human book; a guide to the city and the festival as written by a wealth of comics. It’s called Secret Edinburgh, and as such I for my entry I picked something so secret people weren’t even sure if I was making it up or not. (I wasn’t.)

More info on their book is available here:

And here is my favourite Edinburgh Secret;

The Magic Tunnel

The Edinburgh you see before you is not the only Edinburgh. It is a borrowed city floating on ancient waters. For underneath the sprawling posters and broken dreams breathes the old, Ever Edinburgh. Like a river diverted underground it gracefully makes way every August but even now it still runs silently beneath us and, just occasionally, it breaks surface.

It can be hard to spot at first. Perhaps because we of the Edinburgh of August don’t want to believe it exists, perhaps because Ever Edinburgh chooses to remain hidden from us. But slow your pace, cast your eyes from the paper stars and gaudy smiles and you might just see it glide past you.

Who is that clean man in a suit boarding a bus as you stagger over South Bridge at 6am? Did you see? A woman with a Farmfoods bag? Where is she headed? I tell you friend, she is headed for the magic tunnel, the only certain path between the two worlds.

After twelve years in the Edinburgh of August I thought I knew it all, but in 2012, at the tail end of the powerful summer of sport, I found myself at the mouth of a tunnel I never knew existed. Along 517 dark metres cyclists hurled themselves towards me as though to ward me off. But eventually the blackness receded to green, the tunnel spewed me out at the foot of Arthur’s Seat; an angle I had never before seen, a brightness to the sky I had never previously felt.

As I strolled back towards town I began to perceive things, new things. I became aware of the old names, lost to memory of the Edinburgh of August. I saw now that the Gilded Balloon was a construct built into ancient other words. Like a half remembered dream we whisper “Teviot” but know its true meaning is lost to us.  We stand beneath the belly of the cow and imagine we have heard the sounds of skateboards rattling stone edges yet when we turn, they are gone. But this day, in Ever Edinburgh, I saw it all, and as I walked I learnt of other ways. The desolate caves of the Underbelly are given back to the smugglers and bandits who menace the wealthy travellers of Cowgate. The confused pomp of the Assembly Rooms gives way to a man buttering bread. Food is cheaper in this Edinburgh, the weather, slightly better. They steal the sun for themselves. The Bedlam survives, of course. A rare constant between these two shifting worlds, kept open only by a perpetual, bloody sacrifice of improv. In this world, the penguins run the zoo.

I do not make this recommendation lightly, but this tunnel does exist. Should you wish to walk it yourself, strike out from the Pleasance towards St Leonard’s Street, they will try and dazzle you with a Homebase but you must be strong and resist. Turn left and weave your way through suburbia towards Pollock Halls, a nestling ground for students and vagabonds. Hidden from view in an unassuming cul-de-sac, waits the Innocent Railway tunnel, a name lost to us in the Edinburgh of August. Burrowed deep into the ground, it broods, waiting to share its secrets.