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Death of a velodrome: Remembering Edinburgh’s Meadowbank

Death of a velodrome: Remembering Edinburgh’s Meadowbank

David Martin

9 Jan 2023

Photographer, bike mechanic and rider David Martin documents the decline and demolition of the Scottish capital’s outdoor track

Built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games as part of the Meadowbank Stadium athletics complex and resurfaced for their return in 1986, it was never supposed to last as long as it did.

Meadowbank velodrome was demolished in 2018 to make way for housing and a much smaller sports arena. It saw many come and go during its 48 more-or-less active years.

The track left in its wake a legacy of olympic, world, commonwealth and British champions along with countless local heroes both sung and unsung. The names you all know – Hoy, Maclean, Archibald, Skinner, Stewart et al – used Meadowbank as a stepping stone to cycling greatness and beyond.

There was something to love about that place and its unique idiosyncrasies – not least the temperature variation between the outside world and the track centre.

Watching Dutch or Czech sprinters unwittingly ride through the melted tar on one of the genuinely hot days, and subsequently resurfacing their rollers. Or the sleeping bags and rugs deployed in a vain attempt to keep warm most other times.

One of the good days: Phil Trodden chasing Davy Urquhart

Very little could beat the experience of a warm Saturday afternoon’s training though – chasing Davy Urquhart’s derny for hours on end until he blew up. Or riding on a Tuesday night as the rain started to fall, waiting until ‘the drops join up on the concrete’ which meant get off the track as quickly as possible with no erratic movement.

A wooden velodrome, when wet, is one of the most treacherous surfaces on which you could attempt to ride.

The lack of roofing for such a structure – built in the drop zone of Arthur’s Seat’s effective cloud condenser – was a bone of contention for the entire lifespan of the site.

Despite this, the two Commonwealth games along with a plethora of successful international grand prix meetings, British, Scottish, and regional championships took place when the local atmosphere permitted.

During the latter days of its tenure the track was a somewhat dilapidated affair, held together by the will of a core of committed local volunteers with scant resources and fewer finances.

The stands had long been condemned, not that there were many spectators by then anyway. The last local track league finished in September of 2014, by which time numbers were at an all-time low; a mere handful of diehards trying to make the Damp Wood Society’s committee quorate.

Sometimes there were only four of us. Afterwards, the track was only used for sporadic local training sessions, in defiance of the local administration’s efforts to surround the enclosure in a möbius of red tape, until its last rites were read at a closing ceremony in 2017.

The finish line on demolition day

Now it has all changed. The track is no more, the site currently wasteland waiting for something to happen.

The magnificent Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow has brought Scottish track cycling into the 21st century and has helped to nurture genuine world-class talent.

With that, though, some sort of innocent nostalgia has faded. Future generations will no longer need to understand what it means to gear down for the hurricane strength headwind in the back straight, or how best to pack up your kit in a hurry and evacuate when the next rainstorm hits.

Meadowbank velodrome – there really was nowhere else like it.

These photographs depict the end of the road, if you will, for a once great structure. The majority were taken between 2014 and 2018, by which time it was all a rather sad affair.

Tiny acorns

1973 Scottish Championships poster

1986 Commonwealth Games programme

Kenneth Clark 1986 CG 10 mile scratch race

The Morgan trophy, for the season long Derny-paced league. I won this three years in a row until they ran out of working Dernys

Boarding up, last track league, Sept ’14

Davy Urquhart’s Derny

The Flame! I spent years trying to rub the paint off this with my front tyre

One of the other days, rain stops play

The tunnel, access to the track centre

Of unknown provenance


Ominous signs


Yeah! Davy Urquhart amongst abandoned photos in the changing rooms

Chiaroscuro, under the stands

Demolition #1

Demolition #2

Demolition #3

Demolition #4

Goodbye to all that (this is not photoshopped)

All that remains

David Martin has been a bicycle mechanic in Edinburgh for longer than he hasn’t been one. He spent an awful lot of time at Meadowbank Velodrome and has been taking photographs for an age, be they cycling related or not.

Some of the loosely bicycle-related ones end up on his blog and many others @threepockets.

Need something to lift your spirits? Discover the OG gravel riders: the Rough-Stuff Fellowship

All photography by David Martin

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