Before the railway
The Parkland Walk is in the hilly part of North London. The hills are known as the Northern Heights. The old main road from London to York and Edinburgh had a notoriously steep section on Highgate Hill as it rose to the toll gate at the top of the ridge (the High Gate). Thomas Telford eased the problem in the 1820s by building the Archway Road as he improved the route from London to Holyhead and bypassed Highgate Village and its hills. Those same hills were a challenge to the railway builders and the line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace had to climb and cut through Hornsey Ridge and then cope with Muswell Hill. Hornsey Ridge is where the layer of blue clay breaks out. It is the strata under London in which the tube railways were built. Muswell Hill is a left over from the Ice Age and is the terminal moraine of the ice sheet that once covered much of the country.
Life as a railway line
The railway line, part of which now forms the route of the Parkland Walk, started as a steam service off the East Coast Main Line with suburban services for the Great Northern Railway. The line was authorised in 1862, for construction to Edgware as the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway and it was opened in 1867, by which time the EH&L had been absorbed by the Great Northern.
A branch was added to High Barnet leaving the original line to Edgware north of Finchley Central and opened on 1 April 1872. The branch to Alexandra Palace followed in 1873 when the Peoples' Palace opened. The Palace burnt down two weeks later and the branch closed for two years during rebuilding and had another couple of closures in the 1880s. The August 1945 picture (upper right) shows an LNER tank engine and carriages at Stroud Green. The company that opened the line, the Great Northern Railway (GNR), was absorbed into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in 1923.
In the late 1930s there was an ambitious plan to expand the Underground that then terminated at the station we now know as Archway (it was Highgate at the time and was renamed in 1940 to avoid confusion with the LNER Highgate - the present station). A long tunnel was built under the Archway Road and the old steam lines north of Highgate became part of the Underground system. The 1939 diagram above shows how complicated it would have been.
The dotted lines in the diagram are noted as 'under construction' and this was true for the Edgware to Bushey Heath section. The three dotted arms from Highgate were existing but needing significant re-engineering to make them part of the Underground.
The dual service to Edgware was deemed not necessary and the route of the M1 motorway cut across the line at the Hale. Thus, the line was cut back to Mill Hill East in the 1960s.
Much of the engineering work, started as the war broke out, was never fully commissioned. The present Cape building at Crouch Hill was built as a transformer station (shown in the second picture above). The designation of the 'Green Belt' after the war killed the economic case for the alterations and the advent of better buses combined with suspensions due to a coal shortage in 1952 saw the end of passenger services on the southern parts in 1954. The tracks from the Highgate depot to Finsbury Park were retained for shuttling stock to the Drayton Park to Moorgate section of Northern Line.
Finsbury Park got a better Underground service with the opening of the Victoria Line in 1968 and the Drayton Park to Moorgate section (built to main line loading gauge) ceased to be part of the Underground in 1975 and was transferred to the Welwyn Electric service opening in 1976. Stock movements ceased over the southern section on 29 September 1970 and the tracks were lifted the following year
Transformation into a nature reserve
The land of what is now the Parkland Walk was transferred to Haringey (with a small section to Islington) and re-opened as a linear park after some bridge replacements were carried out.
In the late 1980s the linear park was threatened by a plan to build a dual carriageway along its route. The threat was withdrawn following a vigorous and well-supported campaign by the Friends of the Parkland Walk (formed to coordinate local residents and environmentalists) and a sea change in transport thinking.
Access for people with mobility problems is not perfect and could be improved with further investment. It is something for which the Friends are campaigning. The whole route now has a firm surface with step free access at some locations for people with mobility impairments. There is almost level access from the Finsbury Park end and at Blythwood Road, with a reasonably firm surface between, but it does have some rough bricks protruding in places and a few slopes that are steep for wheelchairs. There is a steep slope at Holmesdale Road and a narrow path in the western part of the southern section and some localised short, steep sections. Other entrances are stepped up embankments or down the sides of cuttings.
The Islington section (south of Haslemere Road) has a Tarmac ramped access way. Drainage and surfacing work went on in 2008 and further work through March 2009 and the Friends are monitoring the outcome. It is our aim to press for more works where the surface becomes an obstacle to enjoyment. Being a former railway there should be no steep gradients, but adjacent to some bridges some of the embankments have eroded resulting in localised steep sections. These need to be re-profiled as works progress. Both the northern and southern sections have step free access at either end.
On the last inspection all the wet sections have been treated and there is a firm surface throughout for the first time in many years.