Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Parkland Walk and the Northern Heights (1)

Most people's images of the Northern Line stem from being stuck at Tooting Broadway station, or waiting on the Charing + Branch for a train past Kennington, or the swapped tunnels at Bank. But the Northern Line can be also surprisingly beautiful, in parts.

I make no secret that the Northern Line (which is also the busiest on the tube) happens to be my favourite way to get round London, when it is working. But it also happens to pass by some of the funkiest areas in the city. The brilliance of Belsize Park, the cool of Camden, happy Hampstead and moronic Morden (well that last bit may not be that good).

The Northern Line, if the planners of the 1930's had their way, would have been a complex beast stretching from Sutton to Potters Bar. All right, maybe not that far, but pretty far enough. And they would have called at every point in London including Finsbury Park, the Ally Pally and Crouch End. But as always, something got in the way, and like the Dollis Brook Viaduct that I earlier blogged about, nothing came to fruition.

So instead of utilising the land for the railways, in typical London style, the old railway route of the proposed Northern Line extensions of the 1930's (termed the Northern Heights) was taken over as a ramblers paradise through urban North London – the Parkland Walk.

Now, there are people and web pages out there who have far more detail on the Parkland Walk and the propositions known as the Northern Heights. Read those links, fascinating stuff.

But, as I was on holiday and had an hour or so to spare, I decided to take a quick stroll from Stroud Green 'station' to Finsbury Park.

Before we begin, let me just say that this was my first time in Crouch End, and I was impressed by what I saw. These North Londoners know how to live well. A dainty urban park threading through their own neighbourhoods. So yes, I walked over to Stroud Green and found the entrance to Parkland Walk, as well as the only remnants of the station that now exists, a rickety set of steps up to the railway bed itself.

Off I went, onward to Finsbury Park. I would not call it a grand hike, but it was definitely something a little less ordinary. To be honest, if I was regularly commuting towards the Park, this would be quite a painless way to do it. It is hard to think of something similar that exists on this side of the Thames. And a bit freaky to think that once upon a time steam trains ran along here and there were plans for the tube to be here. What do you reckon, if they converted the bit between, say, Richmond to Turnham Green into a walk, what great views could be had from the elevated trackbed there? But this is the view from North London, looking above the great houses over here.

And you are walking on a trackbed itself. It shows as you are trundling alongside embankment overlooking North London. Just about wide enough for two Underground trains to pass each other. But this is North London and while we are walking through some of the nicer parts of Haringey, we are still in this wonderful borough itself (except for a little bit at the end in Islington). Here's a message of support for the G20 guys this week:

Now I will actually come back to the Parkland Walk one day, as this is a fascinating part of London. A nature reserve that threads above the rooftops of London and one that encompasses a huge amount of local history. From ground level it looks strange. An assortment of bridges that cross overhead with far too much growth pouring over the sides of the brickwork.

And this is not a massively maintained site, very few plantations have actually taken place and the only clearing has been to keep a minimal path open. What you see here, is the result of 50 odd years of random growth scattered on the wind or in the guts of various mammals that scurry around here. In other words, if London was left to its own devices in a generation it would look like much of the Parland Walk does today, except without the nice neat path that lies in the middle of it...

So onwards I went until I came to Finsbury Park. The Parkland Walk now heads straight into the park and it is a great way to end (or begin) the journey along this unconstructed bit of the Northern Line. I will come back to Parkland one day, hopefully this summer and eventually I would like to take in the whole stretch from the Ally Pally, through Highgate and onto Finsbury Park. And when I do that, I promise to do my research in order to give a full rundown of the history, etc...

How I got there and away:

As this is not a comprehensive guide to the Parkland Walk, the info here is just about my journey. I ventured here on the Goblin Line (London Overground) and jumped off at Crouch Hill station. From there, the site of Stroud Green was a five minute wander away.

My wanderings to the Dollis Brook Viaduct, also a part of the Northern Heights works.


IsarSteve said...

Interesting stuff...

I've left a link to this comment on Harringay Online.


el director! said...

Cheers for that Steve! I've always wanted to do the Parkland Walk and while on that day I only had enough time for a short section, hopefully I will return there to do the whole thing this summer...

IsarSteve said...

Strange thing is.. I often wonder what the service on the line would be like now, if the thing had actually been finished. - I bet the trains would be full to capacity..

Nobody, used the steam service, because it was slow and dirty - plus the 212 bus (now W7) down to Finsbury Park was more frequent and faster.

It was and still is in some ways, a waste of resources - I bet the majority of the locals in N4, N6, N8 & N10 would prefer to have an Underground Line connection into town (via Finsbury Park) than a 'Parkland Walk' (sic).

Asad said...

A terrific post...but next time head to Alexandra Park: it is the best feature of the area. I took an Italian friend of mine there last summer and she loved it. It's like being in another place and time...

Azam.info said...

Top post again Charles. Discover so much reading your blog.

Must go for a walk with you and Asadski sometime this spring/summer to see the 'real London'.

el director! said...

Steve, I agree with you that many locals would prefer the tube, but the nearby GOBLIN (Gospel Oak to Barking) if properly improved could take a lot of strain off the local roads as well as a proper interchange with the Picadilly at Green Lanes. However that is all wishful thinking if we can't even build a simple (and popular tram extension) to Crystal Palace.


Asad, I agree, the Ally Pally is my next stop on this route.


Nadeem, this is what I get upto in my spare time and you are more than welcome to come and join me in my wanderings!