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Finsbury Park to Alexandra Park

Wednesday 14th April 2021

Not by one of my favourite London bus routes, the W3 (famous for its breathtaking top deck views across London as buses pass in front of Ally Pally), but on foot along what’s now called the Parkland Walk following the abandoned rail line that became known as the Northern Heights. It’s part of the ‘Capital Ring’ walk.

The panoramic view towards central London from the front of Ally Pally

There are plenty of fascinating YouTube videos about abandoned railways – even a dedicated channel – and the brilliant rail vlogger, Geoff Marshall is currently uploading each week his series of updated short films ‘London’s Lost Railways’ in which he tracks the tracks of the Capital’s long forgotten railways. You can check them out here (from number 1 in the ongoing series of thirteen).

Map courtesy Geoff Marshall

It had been a few years since I’d walked the Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace line. It was six years ago in 2015 in the company of renowned expert on the Northern Heights, Jim Blake. Jim used to provide a fascinating guided walk imparting his encyclopaedic knowledge of the line’s history and his deeply held conviction the line should never have been abandoned in 1954 when it closed with its part conversion to become a useful addition to London Underground’s Northern Line bringing Tube trains to Muswell Hill, Crouch End and Stroud Green. Ever since the line’s closure residents from these parts have had to rely on the busy and frequent W7 bus route to provide their link to the nearest Underground and National Rail station at Finsbury Park instead.

Map courtesy Geoff Marshall

Jim wrote a book, ‘Northern Wastes’, on the subject in 1993 highlighting the scandal of a wasted £3 million (£75 million in today’s money) expenditure on work already undertaken to electrify the line and bring it within the Underground network as well as infrastructure works at Finsbury Park station to accommodate an extra platform before the whole scheme was abandoned.

To add to the curiosity surrounding the line, the line’s high level station at Highgate, sited above the deep level Northern line station on the High Barnet branch, is still in place.

In 2017 London Transport Museum began site visits to this fascinating site as part of its Hidden London programme.

The former Highgate high level station
Steps would have taken you down to the deep level Underground platforms
This building is to the east of the tracks and the island platform

The full Parkland Walk is just over four miles from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, mostly on a gentle upward incline in the northern direction. To access the walk, the first section takes you through Finsbury Park itself where there’s an entrance immediately opposite the bus station in Station Place outside the National Rail station.

It’s here that some of the infrastructure work was carried out in the late 1930s and for many years you could see rusting iron girders erected just before the Second World War to support the additional platforms to the east of Finsbury Park station which would have enabled the trains to serve the station above ground.

You can imagine where that extra platform would have appeared to the right of the part canopy over the bus station in the above photograph.

The track from the Alexandra Palace line crossed the East Coast Main Line utilising a flyover which took the line on the eastern most track down towards Finsbury Park. The flyover has long been dismantled but you can still see where it would have joined the main line.

After a short walk through Finsbury Park you soon arrive at a footbridge over the main railway line taking you to the start of Parkland Walk along the abandoned railway line as far as Highgate.

It’s a lovely walk up a gentle incline all the way. It’s so quiet you really have no idea you’re passing through densely populated busy London suburbs until you occasionally pass over bridges where the railway crossed over Stroud Green and Crouch End’s road network.

The best part of the walk is discovering the still in situ platforms of Crouch End station although sadly traces of any station buildings on them have long since disappeared.

Also easily spotted in places at the side of the Walk is evidence of the wasted work carried out to prepare the line for electrification, not least the many concrete posts which were erected the whole way along the trackside to take the power cables as part of that £3 million preparation for electrification.

This section of Parkland Walk ends after about 3 miles in Highgate where trains used to pass through tunnels under the road called Shepherds Hill before reaching Highgate high level station.

These tunnels are now a bat sanctuary so are closed to the public and instead walkers need to use Archway Road passing the steps down to Highgate Underground station to rejoin the second part of the walk at Cranley Gardens off Muswell Hill Road.

If you’re able to visit Highgate high level station you can see where the tunnels came out just before the station’s platforms (as below).

The best way to reach the section of abandoned track at Cranley Gardens is taking the western most path through Highgate Wood.

If you bear off to its southern and western boundaries you get some great views of the tracks now used as sidings for the Northern Line south of East Finchley, but were once the tracks of the abandoned railway continuing towards Alexandra Palace.

There’s also an entrance/exit to another blocked off tunnel to admire.

The rail tracks used to curve round to the north east, just as the adjacent path does through Highgate Wood….

…. bringing you out by Cranley Gardens where you can rejoin the trackbed for the final section of the former line that’s available to walk along to the site of the former Muswell Hill station on the road called Muswell Hill.

Before you get to Muswell Hill the former trackbed offers a panoramic view south towards east and central London…

The trackbed walk ends when you reach Muswell Hill, but you can continue through Alexandra Park to the Palace itself and explore the delightful grounds with their magnificent views.

Round the back of the Palace you can find the original terminal station for the railway which was restored and converted into a community centre in the 1980s.

Watch out for Geoff’s updated London’s Lost Railway video featuring the Parkland Walk along the former Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace line which will be uploaded in the next few weeks, then take a walk yourself combined with a lovely ride back to Finsbury Park on the W3.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

12 thoughts on “Finsbury Park to Alexandra Park Leave a comment

  1. A great walk, and an excellent article.

    It is also possible to walk much of the former Harrow and Stanmore Railway, a walk of around two miles. From Harrow & Wealdstone Station walk along Masons Avenue (loop round via Herga Road if you want to follow the line of route closely as the houses back on to the formation as it curves away from the main line). You can pick up the course of the line itself to the left off Christchurch Avenue. This will take you round the back of Wealdstone Cemetery where a gradient post was still in situ last time I did the walk. Just before you get to the site of Belmont Station, a pedestrian underpass will take you under the Kenton Lane road bridge which was extensively rebuilt in the 1970s – I grew up near there and well remember the traffic chaos this caused. Of Belmont Station itself the remains of the platform existed well into the 1970s but have now been levelled to create a car park. The trail continues northward to what was a foot crossing linking Vernon Drive and Wemborough Road, it was originally intended that these two roads should be linked by a level crossing of the railway but this was never built. Beyond here the trackbed is overgrown, but you can follow its course by keeping to the right around the edge of the golf course. North of Wolverton Road and the golf course the site of Stanmore Village Station has been built over, but there is a footpath which will tale you into Gordon Avenue. Turn right, and at the end you will find a dwelling called The Old Station, which was built on the site of the former station entrance and reused parts of the station building. Round the corner to the right the housing of September Way is built on the site of the former trackbed, platform and goods yard.

    It is also possible to follow part of the Tooting, Merton and Wimbledon route on foot for just under a mile. There is an entrance to the formation off Morden Road, opposite the junction with Merantun Way (which also follows the course of the line) From here the formation curves round gently almost to the former Merton Park junction, where the tramstop is situated. A path will take you into Rutlish Road and past a house which was once the Merton Park station building.

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  2. The steelworks for the abandoned line to Ally Pally remained in place for many years. I think the line was still used up until the mid 1960’s for the odd freight train to High Barnet and there was usually a weekly stock transfer over the line for the Northern City Branch which was totally isolated from the rest of the Underground. At Ally Pally about the only remains of the station is the old Booking Office

    It is a pity they did not protect the routed of the old abandoned railway lines as many would justify being reopened but most have now been built over. The line to Ally Paly could have been justified to be reopened as the bus service to Muswell hill is pretty busy so much of the line has been built over though and the flyover(of whatever they are called in railway terms) that took the line over the East Cost mainline just North of Finsbury Park has gone and would cost a fortune to replace The old Palace gates line of course has also long gone

    Muswell Hill and Crouch End remain areas poorly served by rail

    There could still be some scope to incorporate some of the short railway lines into the Underground. The Enfield town Branch would seem to be one that could be incorporated into the Victoria Line by Extending the Seven Sister branch

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  3. Thank you for a fascinating article. It brought back some memories of my early childhood in Finchley around 1960. I remember the steam hauled goods trains unloading coal at Finchley Central Goods Yard. When returning from trips into London we would go by Northern Line to Highgate and then continue by 143 bus to save a longer walk from Finchley Central (Outwards was always by 645 or 660 trolleybus to Golders Green and then 13 bus). Exiting the station by the then new escalator from the deep level station, I always thought it strange that there was a modern station, with tracks, but no trains and completely deserted. I only learnt the full history later when I found a copy of ‘Rails through the clay’ in the library of the small Somerset city to which we had moved, Wells.

    Whilst circumstances would make the reinstatement of the line from Finsbury Park very difficult it would have made a very useful extension of the Overground from Highbury & Islington to East Finchley, relieving the Northern Line and creating many new journey opportunities.

    My first introduction to buses past Alexandra Palace was on the top of an RT on the 233. Either the timing for that section was tight or the crew late for their relief but I remember going at some speed and getting a wonderful view.

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  4. The Northern Line, as envisaged by the New Works programme, would have been impossible to work. Not only would there be trains converging from three northern legs at Camden Town, then diverging again to City and West End only to reconnect, but there would have been other junctions at Highgate (to/from Moorgate and then to Ally Pally/High Barnet/Edgware) and Edgware (from Finchley and Camden Town and then onwards to Bushey Heath). As someone who has not only walked much of the Parkland Walk but who also grew up in Mill Hill, remembers the last freight trains to Edgware and then frequently walked the trackbed, I have long been fascinated by the “network that never was” But it was bonkers! https://i.ytimg.com/vi/4IuUOhp8Guc/maxresdefault.jpg

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    • My understanding of the plan is not as complicated as yours appears to be. I believe the plan was for Edgware branch trains to terminate at Edgware, so no converging there except for movements to Aldenham Depot. Trains converging at Camden would have been no different from the days when there were through Mill Hill East services. I am not sure that you would even have those as the proposed lines on the 1937 map https://www.clarksbury.com/cdl/maps/tube37.jpg give the impression that the trains via Mill Hill (the Bushey trains when that extension was added) would have been routed to Moorgate, along with those from Alexandra Palace.
      There would have been no convergence at Highgate as there would have been two separate sets of platforms, one on top of the other, with the convergence occurring at East Finchley which is built with four platforms.

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  5. Northern Line

    Whilst the Norther Line Extension is well known about and well document there was another planned extension that most people will never have even heard off. As the Northern line was becoming increasingly congested in the 1930’s a plan was developed to dual the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line to allow for express trains across London. These plans were shelved at the outbreak of WWII but as the platforms of Underground stations ere being increasingly used as air raid shelters it was decided it was decided to build deep level shelters which would eventually become the platform tunnels for the express route The stations on the Northern line with the extra tunnels are Belsize Park , Camden Town. Goodge Street, Stockwell , Clapham North Clapham Common, Clapham South, A few others were started but abandoned for various reasons, After the war the plans were dropped, The tunnels still exist nd are mainly used for storage purposes

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  6. The fact that two additional station platform tunnels exist raises the question as to why TfL have not considered dualling the tunnel between Camden town and Euston it is a distance of less than a mile. It would solve the North Line bottle neck problem at Camden town and give a lot more flexibility with operating the service

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  7. I am not sure if the Ally Paly line was going to go to Moorgate. They may have changed their mind and decided it would operate between Finsbury Park and Ally Paly only. What suggests this is the platform steel work at Finsbury park ended there and there was no way the trains could get to Moorgate from those platforms. Extending it across Severn Sister Road to connect to the mainline would have required a lot of work and given the advanced stage of building the line before it was abandoned I would have though that wok would have at least been partially completed

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    • The 1948 Tube map would beg to differ. There would have been little point in having a line Alexandra Palace to Finsbury Park and a separate one Finsbury Park to Moorgate. What route did the stock movements take when going from the Northern City Line to Wellington Sidings at East Finchley which had required the track to be in place until the early seventies?

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  8. The stock movements did not have to use the planed new platforms. Maybe the work to extend the line across Seven Sister Road was never started. It seems strange though give the advanced state of the rest of the line

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  9. I’m pretty sure that the plan was to connect the Great Northern & City line to the Northern at Finsbury Park. How, I don’t know! Of course, what happened is that the GN&C platforms were taken over when the Victoria Line was built to give cross-platform interchange with the Piccadilly, and the line cut back to Drayton Park. Then, from 1975 it became part of British Rail.

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