2009 was the first year I found myself with genuine free time. A mixture of university and working weekend shifts had occupied all my time prior and because of that, I found it hard to find time to pursue any personal interests. My flatmate at the time said something to me one day in early 2009 which has stuck by me ever since “you have a day off, you can do whatever you want and go where-ever you want”. As such, I started going for long walks around the local area, discovering paths, roads and sights I’d never seen before. It also became apparent that former railway lines made for great walks due to their flat nature and the increased chance of bridges cropping up en-route.
Around September of that year, I went through to Abernethy in order to investigate some of the paths around there. The morning walk was enjoyable enough and involved a healthy hill climb but the real eye opener came from the walk we did in the afternoon. I’ve always had a keen interest in cartography and something around the Glenfarg area always grabbed my attention. There were two tunnels, about half a mile apart marked on the map so we decided to check them out.
Armed with nothing but a camcorder and a sense of adventure, we approached Glenfarg South Tunnel. I was fully expecting them to be blocked off but it came as a surprise to learn that we could just walk in and experience a walk unlike any other I’d been on before. Sure, short tunnels had appeared on walks before this, usually in the form of underpasses and I’ve had an interest in them ever since I was a child (every time we went down south to visit family, I pestered my parents to go via the Tyne Tunnel instead of the A1) but this was the first time I’d been into something so substantial, so cavernous and yet so inviting. We intrepidly negotiated this large, dark space with no torches (we didn’t really plan this trip very well), keeping an eye towards the vague light we could see intruding from the northern portal and before long, we’d made it to the other side.
Half a mile later, we caught a glimpse of the southern portal of the northern tunnel. There’s very little difference in the length of the two tunnels, the southern tunnel is 517 yards in length whilst the northern tunnel is 507 yards long. However, they both have very different characteristics. Compared to most tunnels of it’s length, Glenfarg South Tunnel is very bright on the inside, this is caused by the size of the bore, factored in with it having hardly any approach cutting. This means that during the afternoon, the low sun will penetrate quite far inside, making it just about negotiable without a torch. The northern tunnel follows a constant curve so it becomes almost pitch black in the middle. Somehow, we managed to walk from one end of the northern tunnel to the other without too much difficulty but it does become a real strain on the eye as they’re fighting to pick out even the tiniest bit of light to work with but ultimately, there’s nothing to go on.
The first trip, despite it’s haphazard and poorly planned nature was such an amazing experience that I’ve been back time and time again to photograph and just appreciate the tunnels for what they are. Since 2009, I’ve come to learn almost everything there is to know about the Glenfarg tunnels so whilst I don’t want to cause anyone to fall asleep, I’m going to convey a few facts about them before showing off a few photographs.
1890 saw the opening of Scotland’s finest and most iconic piece of civil engineering. I don’t have to tell you how great the Forth Bridge is but it’s existence would be somewhat pointless if there was nowhere for the trains to go once they crossed over to Fife, as such, 1890 also saw the opening of the Glenfarg Line, which over it’s short length involved the construction of the two aforementioned tunnels and two viaducts. In order to tackle the steep ascent from Perth, the line climbs at a steady 1:74 until it reached the summit of the route at Glenfarg village. The tunnels were also pioneering for their time as they were amongst the first to adopt a concrete lining, foregoing the traditional use of masonry or brick. With that said, there is a bit a mishmash of lining materials present in Glenfarg North. It’s as if they couldn’t settle on a lining material.
After the tunnels opened, the Board of Trade inspector demanded that holes be cut into the lining so he could properly examine it. You can still see the inspection holes today but the concrete lining was declared “infinitely better than brickwork”. Thanks to this, concrete railway structures can be found all across Scotland’s more modern railways. The iconic and landscape defining Glenfinnan Viaduct is almost entirely made from concrete as a result of it’s success in Glenfarg.
The Glenfarg Line provided the most direct route between Edinburgh and Perth, which allowed the line to avoid the infamous Beeching cuts. However, the line succumbed to closure in 1970 due to large sections of the trackbed being required for the M90.
This photo shows the straight section of Glenfarg South Tunnel under ambient light. It’s one of the few tunnels I can photograph without needing to light paint the bore with the torch. You can also see a little light coming in from the northern portal, which lies around a short curve. This tunnel is just about negotiable without a torch but there’s a lot of junk on the ground so don’t be as unprepared as we were on our first trip and bring one along with you. You can appreciate more of the features of the tunnel if you can see them properly as well.
Here’s a photo of the view you’ll be treated to when you first step into the southern end of Glenfarg North. As you can see, there’s a real tapestry of colourful chaos when it comes to the lining materials present. If you know where to look, there are a couple of glow in the dark skeletons hanging off cable hooks, just waiting to jump out at you in the darkness.
Finally, here’s a panorama taken from the centre of Glenfarg North, with light from both portals just about visible. There are 11 component photos here, all of which had to be light painted. Thankfully, Photoshop was good enough to merge them into one for me. Still, this photo stands as one of the most involved I’ve ever taken. It was worth it, though.
I often found myself revisiting Glenfarg between 2009 and the present day but after a trip in 2012, I thought there must be more of these around and as such, I started taking longer and more exciting trips into the World of abandoned railway tunnel exploration.
K-Burn is an amateur photographer, based in Fife who has a keen interest in exploring and photographing abandoned railway infrastructure, namely the numerous viaducts and tunnels that grace the landscape. Starting in 2009 and progressing from there, his photos also study the Scottish landscape, often focussing on waterfalls, bridges and night photography. You can view his photos on Flickr.