Whitrope Tunnel

(Photos 8 © Klaus Föhl, photo 9 © Transport Treasury/Norris Forrest,
photos 10 & 11 © Bruce McCartney)

Built by contractor William Ritson between 1859-1862, Whitrope Tunnel is Scotland's fourth longest at 1,208 yards. Its construction - beneath the remote Sandy Edge in the wilderness to the south of Hawick - was a remarkable triumph. It sits on a rising 1:96 gradient to the south. Whitrope Summit, 1006 feet above sea level, is just a quarter of a mile further up the line.

Headings were driven from five construction shafts. At its peak, 600 navvies worked on the tunnel, experiencing huge variations in temperature which caused them to work in coats one minute and topless the next. At least two lives were lost. 400 gallons of water gushed into the workings every minute, managed by a complex drainage system.

At the southern end is an arched entrance with ashlar voussoirs, projecting band course and plain spandrels, with a parapet inset into hillside. On the approach cutting's east side, a vast abutment of red engineering brick - built as a result of the unstable soft rock through which it was cut - comprises irregular terraces to hold back the hillside. Inset bricks are laid to form a sloped wall, all benefiting from a rock-faced ashlar supporting wall to ground level with plain copings. To the west is a lesser abutment of similar style.

The northern portal mirrors that at the southern one but the retaining abutments are far less extensive.

Inside, the tunnel is brick-lined and still boasts its ballast base. Occasional downpipes takes the water away to a large central drain below the trackbed.

The line closed in January 1969 after which the Up line was soon lifted. The Down line was visited by an engineer's special on 1st April 1970 before it too was taken up.

In March 2002, a small collapse at the southern end forced the previously-open tunnel to be secured with steel fencing. The efforts of the Waverley Route Heritage Association - which has laid track close to the tunnel - have been rewarded with the Grade B listing of the tunnel, affording it some future protection.

(Klaus Föhl's photo is used under this Creative Commons licence.)

Click on this icon for Dick Sullivan's story 'Navvymen' which covers the construction of Whitrope Tunnel and other nearby structures.
Click on this icon for Andrew Bethune's story on the building of Liddlesdale's railways.
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