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Walking the Northern Heights

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31 Mar 2015
Canary Wharf
A few weeks ago, I set out to walk the old Northern Heights. As you may know, the Northern Heights was a plan to extend the Northern Line which got canned due to the Second World War. It took the route of the old Edgware, Highgate and London Railway, which ran from Edgware to Moorgate via Highgate and Finsbury Park, with a branch to Alexandra Palace. The Moorgate branch is still in operation as the Northern City Line, while the route past Highgate is used as the Northern Line Highgate Sidings, and then the spur to Mill Hill East.

I first went to Hornsey, had a look around, saw a 700 in the depot, then went south to Finsbury Park. I exited the station (no ticket barriers but a lot of police) and headed north towards the park. It seemed quite pleasant, and eventually I came across a bridge across the line. After spending a few minutes watching the trains pass I headed on and once across the bridge found the Parkland Walk, which is a nature reserve using the old trackbed. You start out quite high, several floors up in effect, and although the path is open at this point there aren't many views. The path is quite well-used, and there are even some benches in places. The floor is mostly hard-packed dirt and stones - possibly leftover ballast.

I came first to Stroud Green, where the Gospel Oak to Barking Line passes underneath. There's no real trace of the station anymore, just the bridge over the road over the railway. I stopped to watch two 172s pass and to visit the shop, then carried on. Beyond there the route gets more wooded, a tunnel of trees. I passed some people spray-painting a bridge, and an adventure playground, and eventually came to Crouch End. Crouch End is quite a place - it still has its platforms, albeit overgrown, and so I chose to walk along the up platform. There's a small café set up here, and it seemed to be doing a decent trade. Beyond Crouch End there was a tree held up with bricks, and, eventually, the path peters out before you reach the Highgate Tunnels. The railway continued into these tunnels, but they're now bat refuges so you can't go into them. Instead I walked along the roads until I got to Highgate tube station. I was able to peer over some fences to see the disused high level platforms, but the place is so overgrown it's impossible to get a photo.

From Highgate you have to continue on your own way, so I took the path through Highgate Woods, emerging at the north end near Cranley Green station, where the path starts back up. I followed this through Muswell Hill, stopping to take photos from the viaduct, and eventually you reach the end at what was once Muswell Hill station, of which no sign remains. The route however carried on, and so I ventured into Alexandra Park. I was able to see an old railway bridge, but the line went behind Alexandra Palace and I was unable to follow. Instead I climbed to the summit and looked out over London, in what has to be one of the best views of the city. By then it was getting cold, so I wrapped my coat around me and hurried down the hill to Alexandra Palace railway station and a 313 home. A roughly 5 mile walk.

Two weeks later, I decided that I should complete my walk, as I had only completed half the line. This time I made Alexandra Palace my start point, getting the large hill out of the way first. I made an attempt to see into Bounds Green TMD, but there's no real good vantage point what with all the OLE. Alexandra Palace, as mentioned, is on a hill. A bloody big hill. Luckily that meant that most of the rest of the way would be downhill.

I retraced by steps from the previous walk, doing the northern part of the Parkland Walk, parting ways at Cranley Green, where I followed a road towards Highgate Sidings, past Lanchester Road, which made me wonder if the North was lazy or the road namers just wrong. The sidings confused me a bit before I remembered the running lines are in tunnel at this point. I crossed a bridge and followed a road south of the line, past a tennis court in a cemetery and stopping at East Finchley to buy an ice cream before continuing on, first north then south of the line. At Finchley Central I followed the Mill Hill branch, which when you look at it is clearly the obvious way to go - the route to High Barnet is a significant turn. I carried on and after a while found myself at Dollis Brook Viaduct, the highest point above ground on the network. As I was wondering how long I'd have to wait for a train to go past, a train went past, unfortunately I had my camera in HDR mode. I noted the Dollis Brook walk for a future trip, and carried on my way, now on the south of the line again. By Mill Hill East I was pretty tired, so stopped for a while for a chocolate bar and a drink. I wasn't sure what I'd be able to do after Mill Hill East, but it turns out the embankment is still there, and, beyond the station, it's another footpath, albeit a slightly less well-kept one than between Finsbury Park and Highgate. It did however still have the concrete cable stays along the route, and that was quite exciting. You wouldn't necessarily know the route was a railway otherwise - there's no signage.

When you reach Mill Hill proper, the path ends, and the line is now a housing estate which appears to have been laid out to prevent any through traffic - on foot or otherwise. I took a diversion to the north and came across the line again under the A1, where it's fenced off. Then under the M1 and across the road into a park. The old station site is still there, but it's overgrown and not suitable for walking, so I carried on slightly to the south, following a small stream through suburbia.

I was now in Edgware, and the end was almost in sight. I crossed the line again, it's now an access road with a sign saying "Tube Lines welcomes you to Edgware Track Depot" (I work for them!). So no more walking the line, instead I had to go north and along some residential roads, over a brook, and finally found myself, after 10 miles, at Edgware. Happily there's a Greggs next to the station, as I'd run myself out of food and drink.

I suppose in principle I should start my next walk from Edgware and continue out to Bushey End, where the Northern was originally intended to go, but I think I'll skip that for now.
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Established Member
Associate Staff
4 Oct 2013
Sounds like a nice enough route to walk! Thanks for sharing - I enjoyed the read.
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