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A surprisingly green walk along a disused transport link in North London

Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, North London

Crouch End Station

The disused platforms at Crouch End Station

The stimulus for this walk came from attending a talk by Oliver Green, curator of the London Transport Museum, held at the Museum of London but one of a series of fascinating (and free!) public lectures arranged by Gresham College. In his talk, Mr Green discussed pre-and post-Second World War developments on the London Underground. One major project was the ‘New Works Programme‘, begun in 1935, which included proposals relating to what is now the Northern Line – the Northern Heights plan.

Back in the 1860s, the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway (EH&LR) had been busy proposing and constructing a line between Finsbury Park and Edgware (with a branch to Muswell Hill), eventually opened on 22nd August 1867 shortly after the EH&LR had been taken over by the Great Northern Railway (GNR). An extension of the Muswell Hill branch to Alexandra Palace was opened by the Muswell Hill & Palace Railway on 24th May 1873, but closed almost immediately when the Palace burnt down only 16 days later; re-opened in 1875, by 1911 this too was under the control of the GNR.

Under the Northern Heights plan, London Transport proposed to take control of and electrify these existing lines, replacing ancient carriages pulled by obsolete steam locomotives with modern, efficient electric tube trains. Also proposed was an extension to the Northern Line from Edgware to Bushey Heath. Construction commenced in the late 1930s only to be halted on the outbreak of war. But when peace returned, post-war austerity and the advent of legislation to create a Green Belt around London meant that the incomplete works were never re-started, despite the extensions being marked as ‘Under Construction’ on tube maps for a number of years. The electrification plans never fully came to fruition, while the early but unfinished stages of construction for the Bushey Heath extension now lie abandoned in fields near the M25. Between Finchley and Edgware, electrification only reached Mill Hill East and the remaining line never reopened to passenger services. It continued to serve goods trains until its final closure on 29th February 1964, leaving only the stubby branch off the Northern Line still in use today. A similar fate befell the line between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace: passenger services ended in 1954, and after a few years of goods-only usage, the line gradually closed in stages such that all traffic ceased by September 1970.

The line of the railway between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace is now a linear park, a green ribbon winding its way stealthily through the suburbs of north London. Plenty has been written about the Northern Heights (and this great video explains the Bushey Heath extension) and many others before me have followed its abandoned trackbed – what is it about disused railway lines that so fascinates so many people?

Start: Finsbury Park Station

Finish: Alexandra Palace Station

Length: 4½ miles/3 hours

How to get there: Finsbury Park is very easy to reach: by tube (Victoria and Piccadilly lines), by bus or by First Capital Connect train services from Kings Cross or Moorgate. The return from Alexandra Palace is by train back to Kings Cross or Moorgate. An Oyster card can be used for both journeys, probably the cheapest option.

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Tracing the boundary of historic London in search of a dirty Roman ruin (no, not Silvio Berlusconi)

Walking the London Wall – Tower Hill to Cripplegate

London Wall at St Alphege

Salters' Hall Garden and a section of London Wall: originally Roman, but incorporated into the 11th Century church of St Alphege, and with 15th Century brick battlements.

I recently attended a tour at the Museum Of London, of which more later, which (together with my recent visit to Reculver) inspired me to try and trace the line of the Wall that originally surrounded the City of London to see what remains. Roman in origin, the Wall has seen a swelling City burst its bounds over the following centuries and has at various times and in diverse places been altered, added to and obliterated. Yet, despite the phenomenal change the City has seen in the two thousand years since Roman invaders first settled there, some surprisingly large chunks of the Wall still remain, in wonderful juxtaposition to the modern office blocks. And its legacy can also be seen in any A to Z, in many of the street names and landmarks so familiar to modern Londoners, many of whom are likely to be entirely unaware of the history beneath their feet, or, as I discovered, tucked away around a corner or down an obscure sidestreet.

By and large, I followed the Museum’s ‘London Wall Walk’, originally devised in 1984 and marked with plaques along the route, some of which are in poor repair or have been removed as the City has rebuilt itself. The booklet that accompanied the Walk is out of print, but can be downloaded in sections from the Museum’s website; I’ve merged the separate sections into one handy pdf file which you can download here.

Start: Tower Hill Station TQ335807

Finish: Blackfriars Station TQ317808

Length: 1¾ miles; allow plenty of time for exploring

How to get there: Plenty of options! Tower Hill is on the Circle and District Lines and is also within a few minutes walk of Tower Gateway (Docklands Light Railway) and Fenchurch Street (National Rail, served by c2c). Currently, Blackfriars is a little more complicated in that the Underground station is closed while the National Rail station (served by First Capital Connect) is open on weekdays only while extensive engineering works are carried out as part of the Thameslink Programme. However, nearby alternatives are available – City Thameslink (National Rail) and Mansion House (Circle/District Lines) amongst others – and this being London there are plenty of buses serving both start and finish.

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Walk London - Winter WandersAs Winter follows Autumn, so Walk London’s Winter Wanders follow their Autumn Ambles, which I mentioned last year. Held this year on the weekend of Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th January, the programme is as comprehensive and diverse as that last Autumn, and, having enjoyed a selection last time round (including a ghost walk and a tour of underground London, albeit above ground – no, seriously, it makes sense if you were there), I’m looking forward to this.

Full details of all the walks, including tours of historic and literary London, riverside rambles along the Thames Path, walks to the Olympic site, and, further out, sections of the London Loop, Green Chain and Capital Ring are available on the Walk London website.

Now, which to choose……….?

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More from the London Loop, this time following a tributary of the Thames from source to mouth through deceptively rural surroundings to the place of coronation of Saxon Kings

London Loop, Stage 8: Ewell to Kingston-upon-Thames

Following the Hogsmill near Berrylands

Following the Hogsmill near Berrylands

Following hot on the heels of Stages 6 & 7, is Stage 8, completed a few weeks later. Just 3 of us on this walk, many of our usual group having presumably been cured of their OCD (or the opposite in one case, deciding to start the whole thing again next year having a missed a couple of stages. Why, Andy, why?!). This is a greener stage than the previous two, largely following the Hogsmill along its length from Ewell to Kingston, yet still has stretches that involve unavoidable street walking.

Start: Ewell West Station TQ214627

Finish: Kingston Station TQ182695

Length: 7½ miles/3 hours

How to get there: Both stations can be reached quite quickly (30 minutes either way) and frequently from the centre of London by travelling from London Waterloo with Southwest Trains.

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A pleasant stroll through urban green space on the periphery of London, through the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Reigate & Banstead and Epsom & Ewell

London Loop Stages 6 & 7 – Coulsdon to Ewell

On the Loop near Little Woodcote Village

On the Loop near Little Woodcote Village

Back to the London Loop once again, in the company of the regular completists who have been my Loop companions so far. We decided to combine two stages, Stages 6 & 7, as the combined length of both is only 8½ miles. Both stages pass through green and pleasant land, but, as the London Loop website warns, Stage 7 is one of the least green sections of the Loop including as it does substantial stretches of uninspiring pavement walking through nondescript suburban mock-Tudor housing. Because of this, there was a temptation to skip Stages 6 & 7 altogether, but our profound obsessiveness that requires us to complete the Loop in its entirety and in order prevailed in the end.

Start: Coulsdon South Station TQ298590

Finish: Ewell West Station TQ214627

Length: 8½ miles/4 hours

How to get there: Both stations above are in Travelcard Zone 6, so easy and cheap to reach. Southern services from Victoria and London Bridge go to Coulsdon South, while Ewell West is served by Southwest Trains from Waterloo.

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Green Belt and a National Nature Reserve – decaying asylums, veteran trees, Roman history and deer

Chessington to Ashtead, Surrey

Veteran Oak, Ashtead Common

Stag-headed veteran Oak, Ashtead Common. Despite being dead, such trees still provides valuable wildlife habitat, particularly when allowed to remain standing as here

One of my interests for many years has been veteran trees, not just because they make such an amazing habitat for other wildlife (each tree can be an entire ecosystem, involving birds, bats, other plants, invertebrates and saprophytic decay fungi) but also for their incredible size and the sense of awe that results from seeing, exploring and touching an organism that can be several hundred years old. There are many sites in Britain that can boast substantial populations of ‘vets’, many of which I’ve visited (including Richmond Park in Surrey, and Bradgate Park in Leicestershire), but one location that I have never explored is Ashtead Common National Nature Reserve, near Leatherhead in Surrey. I combined a visit to Ashtead with a walk through Green Belt on the very edge of London.

Start: Chessington South Station TQ179633

Finish: Ashtead Station TQ180590

Length: 5½ miles/3-4 hours

How to get there: Chessington South is at the end of a branch line from London Waterloo and is in Travelcard Zone 6. There is a half-hourly service operated by South West Trains, journey time 35 minutes. The return journey is from Ashtead, served by both Southwest Trains services from London Waterloo to Dorking and Guildford, and Southern services from London Victoria to Dorking and Horsham; both journeys back to the centre of London take roughly 40 minutes.

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Strolling round Stepney, wandering through Wapping

East London

Detail from Cable Street Mural

Detail from Cable Street Mural

I’ve just signed up to The London Mural Preservation Society, recently set up by some lovely friends to record, protect, preserve and celebrate murals in the Capital. Having undertaken to research the Cable Street Mural, and as the sun was shining, it seemed a good idea to combine a visit to the mural with a walk around the East End. Along the way some wonderful local history, industrial heritage and a great part of London I was not too familiar with were to be found.

Start/Finish: London Bridge Station TQ330801

Length: 5¼ miles/3 hours

How to get there: This being London, as far as public transport is concerned, the world is your Oyster. Or your paper Travelcard if you prefer. London Bridge is served by numerous buses, trains, (Southern, Southeastern and First Capital Connect), and the tube. And you can join or leave the route at any point, using DLR, tube or bus.

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