List of walks in date order, with links
Date Walk Distance
Introduction The Northern Heights plan -
16 April 2011 The Northern Heights - Mill Hill East to Elstree 13.8 km (8.6 miles)
13 September 2009 The Northern Heights - Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace 7.4 km (4.6 miles)

Introduction: The Northern Heights plan

Although I'm not personally a great railway enthusiast (that is, someone with an interest in railways for their own sake, rather than as public transport) I know a lot of people who are, including Ian and Phil. As a result, I occasionally get to go for walks along dead railways. This page records two unrelated walks which together form a fairly comprehensive exploration of unrealised plans to extend the Northern Line (the Northern Heights plan), aborted by the outbreak of the Second World War.

I won't try to explain the complex history of the proposed Northern Heights extensions (whole books have been written on the subject), but Wikipedia has a good outline:

In June 1935, the LPTB [the London Transport Passenger Board, responsible for public transport in London from 1933 to 1948] announced the New Works Programme, an ambitious plan to expand the Underground network which included the integration of a complex of existing London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) lines north of Highgate through the Northern Heights. These lines, built in the 1860s and 1870s by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway (EH&LR) and its successors, ran from Finsbury Park to Edgware via Highgate, with branches to Alexandra Palace and High Barnet. The line taken over would be extended beyond Edgware to Brockley Hill, Elstree South and Bushey Heath with a new depot at Aldenham. The extension's route was that planned for the unbuilt Watford and Edgware Railway (W&ER), using rights obtained from the earlier purchase of the W&ER (which had long-intended an extension of the EH&LR Edgware route towards Watford). This also provided the potential for further extension in the future if required; indeed, Bushey's town planners reserved space in Bushey village for a future station and Bushey Heath station's design was revised several times to ensure this option would remain available in the future.

The project involved electrification of the surface lines (operated by steam trains at the time), the doubling of the original single-line section between Finchley Central and the proposed junction with the Edgware branch of the Northern line, and the construction of three new linking sections of track: a connection between Northern City Line and Finsbury Park station on the surface; an extension from Archway to the LNER line near East Finchley via new deep-level platforms below Highgate station; and a short diversion from just before the LNER's Edgware station to the Underground's station of the same name.

Northern Heights map
Map showing the Northern Heights plan


13 September 2009: The Northern Heights - Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace

7.4 km (4.6 miles)

Tube map
Tube map

Phil had been proposing a walk to explore some of the disused railways of north London for some time, and today we finally managed to organise a walk from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, following the route of a disused LNER/BR branch line. It had been intended to electrify the branch and make it part of part of 'the Northern Heights' extension of the Northern Line, but the Second World War intervened and the branch continued to run steam trains until it closed in 1954.

Highgate tunnel
Highgate tunnel portal

Phil, Margaret, Leigh, Wendy, Ian and I met at Victoria Station, had coffee, and then walked to Green Park Station to take the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park. Ian is an expert on the history of the underground, and was able to point out features and explain how the branch had connected into the existing railway on a viaduct above the entrance to Finsbury Park station.

Old Highate Station
Old Highgate high-level station

We started by walking through Finsbury Park to pick up the route of the Capital Ring, which here follows part of the Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace branch line.

Drinking Fountain
Drinking Fountain, Highgate Wood

The Capital Ring follows the old branch line until it reaches the portal of the first of the Highgate tunnels (there are a pair of tunnels, with the old Highgate high-level station in a cutting between them). Ian remembers being able to walk through the tunnels, but they are now sealed off with barred iron gates (allowing the resident bats to fly in and out).

View over London
View over London from viaduct

We diverted from the Capital Ring to take a pint in the Woodman, and then walked down to look at the site of the old station (still remarkably intact). From there we walked the short distance to pick up the Capital Ring, which runs through Queens Wood (managed by the London Borough of Haringey) and then Highgate Wood (managed by the City of London), providing a route around the closed-off tunnels. The path reaches 101 metres above sea level.

Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace

Once through Highgate wood, we left the capital ring to follow a path alongside a school, to again pick up the formation of the old branch line. At one point it crosses a long viaduct, giving superb views over north-east London, as far as the City.

The Phoenix
Inn sign, the Phoenix

At Alexandra Palace we called into the Phoenix bar for a pint and something to eat. Phil had found it was doing a barbeque and had got us 20% off discount vouchers. It was only doing beef burgers, but they weren’t bad. All draught beer was off, but they had bottled Spitfire - chilled.

We took the bus the short distance to Wood Green station, to return the way we had come.

A short walk, but one we managed to stretch out to occupy most of the day in an entertaining way.

Traveller's Joy


16 April 2011: The Northern Heights - Mill Hill East to Elstree

13.8 km (8.6 miles)

Mill Hill East
The end of the line, Mill Hill East

The London Underground Railway Society (LURS) had heard that the Railway Ramblers were planning to walk the remains of the old railway from Mill Hill East to Edgware, and then follow the route of the planned extension to Bushey Heath, looking at the remaining works left after the plan was abandoned, and asked to join in. The Railway Ramblers thought numbers would be excessive, but agreed to lead another walk for LURS. Ian is a member, and invited me along as a guest, as we had both walked the other part of the Northern Heights plan, from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, with Phil on 13 September 2009.

Bridge under Sanders Lane

We therefore met up with other walkers on Mill Hill East station at 09:50 as instructed. We then set off to first look at the bridge over Bittacy Hill, which takes the railway into Mill Hill East Station. There is evidence the road has been diverted and lowered through the bridge. Just to the north is the site of the old Middlesex Regiment's depot, once home to the British Forces Post Office.

Old cable posts
Old cable posts

We then turned down Bittacy Road to pick up the formation of the old railway where it continued beyond the buffer stop at Mill Hill East, starting as a green space but soon turning into a footpath. The first bridge (a continuation of Sanders Lane) is in very poor condition, with the spandrel of the second arch beginning to collapse.

The main points of interest for the enthusiasts along this stretch were the old cable posts, installed in anticipation of electrification.

Slip road
Abandoned slip road off the M 1 (from the A 1)

At Page Street we had to leave the old formation. There is a small modern tunnel under the street, but it's now bricked up. Crossing Page Street, we took a footpath into newish small estate, bounded by Bunns Lane, Page Street and the A 1 (Watford Way). I'm not sure I could retrace our route through the estate, but I think we left it via Rowlands Avenue to reach Bunns Lane. The old formation ran for some way parallel to Bunns Lane, and can be seen from the road.

Nature Reserve
Lydhurst Park and Mill Hill Old Railway Local Nature Reserve

Where Bunns Lane passes under the A 1 we paused to climb some steps (which lead up to the A 1) to look at an abandoned slip road off the M 1, where it once terminated before it was finally extended to its present limit.

The railway once ran through what is now Mill Hill Industrial Estate. We had to continue along Bunns Lane to pass under the M 1 and the Midland Main Line. Bunns Lane eventually crosses the formation of the railway at the site of Mill Hill (The Hale) Station. We dropped down into Lydhurst Park, which gave us access to the old formation - overgrown, but walkable.

Stream, The Meads

We followed the formation to the 'Lydhurst Park and Mill Hill Old Railway Local Nature Reserve', run by the London Wildlife Trust. The nature reserve is formed of the old railway land and extends to Deans Lane. Normally it's only open on Sundays, but the Railway Ramblers had arranged access. We had no difficulty in getting through the gate at the eastern end, but when we reached the western end we found the gate locked, and no one answering the contact phone number the Ramblers had been given. We therefore walked back through the nature reserve (which is very pleasant) to reach Deans Lane by walking along a stream, in an area of open ground (The Meads) between the houses (as for all urban streams, rather full of litter) and then along Dryfield Road.

Banstock Road
Steel clad house, Banstock Road

We went a little way along Deans Lane to look at the depot (Tube Lines Edgware Track Depot) now occupying the old railway formation to the east of Edgware. Ian remembers walking through the depot years ago, but now it's only possible to walk along the access road.

From the depot we followed roads in a southwards loop (crossing the Northern Line to Edgware) to regain the old formation on Church Way, behind the Broadwalk Shopping Centre. On the way we went down Banstock Road, which contains some interesting prefabricated steel framed and steel clad houses from the early 1920s. These were one of several novel designs developed to overcome shortages of materials and skills after the First World War in the drive to build 'homes fit for heroes'. One was being redecorated, and a section of the sheeting had been taken back to bare metal.

Boundary post
Boundary post, Church Way

On Church Way there were a number of large iron posts in the ground which no one seemed to be able to identify. I thought they were boundary posts, and showed this to be the case by photographing the back of one of them, otherwise hidden by the adjacent fence (there was just room to squeeze in the camera). They were marked GNR.

In Edgware we split up for an hour to find lunch - having been told there were no pubs fit to drink in (the Railway Hotel, a fine example of Tudorbethan architecture, had been closed some time). Ian and I ended up in a not-very-good Italian restaurant for pizza and pasta.

Edgware Station
Edgware Station

After lunch we met at Edgware Station again, for a quick tour along the platforms, pre-arranged with the station supervisor. We could see the slab put in to carry the proposed extension under Station Road, now occupied by an odd arrangement of sliding buffer stops with sand drags behind.

Sliding buffer stop
Sliding buffer stop, Edgware Station

From the station (only the central section remains of the original design) we crossed the road and walked down Rectory Lane to look at the land originally reserved for the railway. Most is now built on. We followed the route down a path that opened out in an area of garages, all broken into and vandalised. We then returned to Station Road by Heronsgate, then followed Edgwarebury Lane, Purcells Avenue and Hillside Gardens. The railway would have followed the line of Shelley Close (now a dead end), parallel to Hillside Gardens.

Shelley Close
Shelley Close, on the line of the proposed extension

Reaching Green Lane, we almost immediately turned south into Stirling Avenue, which is a continuation of Shelley Close. Ian remembers climbing the stairs of a nearby block of flats when he walked the route years ago, to get a view of the alignment, which he said was marked by roofs with green tiles.

From Stirling Avenue we took a path to cross the A 41 (Edgware Way) and enter the green belt. The change from city to countryside is very abrupt here. The 1:25 000 OS map clearly shows the formation built for the railway but never used. This was to be the site of Brockley Hill Station (at first to be called Edgebury). The piers of a viaduct are still visible, the arches being demolished some time ago.

Viaduct pier
Viaduct pier, site of Brockley Hill Station

We continued northwards across fields, heading towards Junction 4 of the M 1, with great views over the countryside and back towards London. Eventually we could go no further. The portals of twin tunnels are said to be buried somewhere under the motorway junction.

View towards Edgware Bury

We then turned back, waking as far as a footpath giving access onto the A 41, which we had to cross. This was difficult, as the traffic was very heavy, possibly a consequence of the M 1 being closed due to a fire. Eventually some kind hearted motorists stopped to let us cross. We then followed the A 41 northwards to Junction 4, where we crossed the motorway slip road and had a good view of a silent M 1, empty save for a lorry delivering cones.

View back to London, from the Northern Heights

North of the motorway we paused at the junction of the A 41 and Brockley Hill, to look at the site of the proposed Elstree Station - but there is nothing to see. We then walked the short distance to the entrance to Centennial Park, an industrial estate, once the site of a new depot for the extended Northern Line. The depot was built, but never used as a railway depot. During the war it was turned over to aircraft manufacture. Nothing now remains of the original structures.

M 1
M 1 (closed)

At the far end of Centennial Park would have been the site of Bushey Heath Station (once to be called Aldenham). As we were running late, we didn't walk to it (though I have been there, as it's on the route of the London Loop), but walked the short way back to a bus stop on the edge of Elstree. Here we got a bus back to Edgware, for the tube home. Ian and I stopped off in Hampstead on the way back for a pint or two in the Flask.

A surprisingly interesting day out. My thanks to the London Underground Railway Society (LURS) and the Railway Ramblers.

Centennial Park
Centennial Park

Coffee pot