The Parkland Walk is a 4.5-mile (7.2 km) linear green walkway, in the London Boroughs of Haringey and Islington, which follows the course of the railway line which used to run between Finsbury Park through Stroud Green, Crouch End, Highgate and Muswell Hill to Alexandra Palace.
It is a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. It was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1990 and is London's longest LNR.
The walk is almost all in Haringey, but a short stretch between Crouch Hill and Crouch End Hill is in Islington. (Crouch Hill Park in Islington is to the south of the Islington stretch and immediately bordering on the Parkland Walk) The route follows the bridges and cuttings of the line, passing through tunnels on each side of the closed surface section of Highgate station, which is closed to walkers for safety reasons. The route between the northern end of the Highgate Tunnels to the Northern line depot at Wellington Junction is used by trains entering the depot, while the rest of the cutting round Highgate Wood from Wellington Junction to Cranley Gardens is outside the wood’s fence, not officially part of Parkland Walk, and so is allowed to stay overgrown.
This path was once the route of part of the London and North Eastern Railway's (LNER's) line from Finsbury Park to Edgware constructed in 1867 by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway, with the branch to Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace added in 1874. Plans were published by London Underground in the 1930s for its incorporation as part of the Northern Line (The Northern Heights Plan) but the onset of World War II stopped the work at an advanced stage.
After the war the development plan was abandoned but passenger trains continued to run on this line until 1954. The service was reduced to freight haulage and tube traffic, until its final closure in 1970.
Tracks and infrastructure were removed and most of the platforms and station buildings demolished. The Parkland Walk was officially opened in 1984 following extensive re-surfacing and improvements to access.
Outline of the route
Finsbury Park to Crouch Hill
From the Finsbury Park end the route starts from the western side of the existing East Coast Main Line beside a foot overbridge that gives access from the eastern end of Oxford Road to the Finsbury Park open space itself. The route rises on an embankment overlooking the back gardens of the Victorian suburban houses. The route then bridges Upper Tollington Park before crossing Stapleton Hall Road at a point where the Gospel Oak to Barking rail route also passes beneath the road. The station building of Stroud Green railway station still survives, but there are no traces of the trackside buildings. The embankment then gives way to a cutting as the land rises north-westwards. The route continues beneath overbridges carrying Mount Pleasant Villas, Mount View Road, and Crouch Hill.
Crouch Hill to Crouch End Hill
Immediately after passing under Crouch Hill to the left can be seen a large block house originally built to house switching gear for the Northern Heights as part of the plans to incorporate the line into the tube system. The blockhouse was used for a number of years by Islington Council to house a youth project, closed while extensive building operations were carried out by Islington Council which involved a significant refurbishment of the block house, but has now reopened ("The Crouch Hill Project") There is a public cafe in the building to which there is direct access from the Parkland Walk.
Crouch Hill Project
This project, at a cost of £13m, created one of the first ever 'zero carbon' schools in the UK. New accommodation was built for a primary school (Ashmount School) and a voluntary nursery (Bowlers). The block house ("The Cape") was refurbished to house a community energy centre, a youth centre, a cafe (with views over the Parkland Walk), and a new ecology centre housed within a steel framed box, cantilevered off the north and west sides of the existing building. This is clad in timber and glass to respond to the woodland context and allow views of the wider site. Additional windows were added to the original building, as well as a mezzanine level between the second floor and the roof, and a new roof terrace. The ecology centre provides an educational resource for schools in Islington as well as Ashmount School, although obviously it is most convenient for Ashmount. The building also houses an "After school club" used mostly by Ashmount School. Further to that the "Crouch Hill Recreation Centre" building which also used to be visible from the walk was demolished. (It was closed in 2004.) The free standing Bowlers' Nursery building was also demolished. They were replaced by the new building which houses Bowler's Nursery, (from August 2012), and to which Ashmount Primary School moved in January 2013. A substantial area of Metropolitan Open Land to the south of the Parkland Walk was reinstated as a public park and nature reserve with the whole being called "Crouch Hill Park" Crouch Hill Park is a triangular parcel of land designated as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and a Nature Conservation Site of Metropolitan Importance which includes that part of the Parkland Walk in Islington. It is bounded by housing on all other sides and is 25,730 sq.m. in extent. Stretching between Crouch End Hill and Crouch Hill It can be reached on foot from a number of access points on the Parkland Walk, from a public footpath called the Vicarage Path and from pedestrian entrances to the South and West of the park. Vehicle access is from Crouch Hill. It is located in the Postal district N8. Building operations were finally completed in February 2013. As the site is Metropolitan Open Land the footprint of the new building did not exceed what had been demolished; no MOL was lost. There is a slight increase in the area of open land available for the park compared to previously; this is possible because the new buildings do not occupy anymore space than the old, although they are not in exactly the same location, i.e. the "footprint" of the buildings on the site is no greater than before, and some additional land adjoining the park to the south has been added to it. The park is home to birds, invertebrates and bats, including some species locally uncommon or declining; to protect these and encourage more species to populate the area, the design of the new school building includes a brown roof, climbing plants on walls, an area of planted grassland and wildflowers and more woodland. The care taken to minimise the impact of the building operations on the site, both in terms of the wildlife, and protection of the deciduous Woodland which is t left unharmed, was required by the planning conditions attached to the project by the London Borough of Islington, some of which arose in turn from conditions imposed by the Mayor of London. The project is the subject of a case study by the UK Green Building Council  which gives a detailed description of the project. In addition the Crouch Hill Project received a 2012 BREEAM award. Factors behind this award include the use of rain water harvesting, natural ventilation systems to keep the school building cool in summer and the setting up of an "energy centre" in the blockhouse which by means of combined heat and power provides district heating both for the whole site and for social housing near the site, as well as generating electricity. The main fuel used is gas, but there is also provision for the use of biomass in the form of woodchips. The Architects were Penoyre & Prasad and the Contractors were Willmott Dixon.
The project was opposed by the Friends of the Parkland Walk, The Ashmount Site Action Group the Highgate Society and the 20th Century Society all of whom favoured retention of the original school building on the original site off Hornsey lane. It was also opposed by the Islington Green Party. The project was supported by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, by the Ashmount School Governors, and by school parents. When the council carried out a consultation amongst residents, two thirds of the respondents were in favour of the scheme.. The project was also closely scrutinised by the Mayor of London whose consent was required as the land is specially protected Metropolitan Open Land and further examined by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who could have chosen to call the project in and hold a public inquiry but despite requests to do so, did not. Objections to the project were made both to Islington, to the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State. An application for judicial review was threatened, but in the event did not materialise. Further a formal complaint against the council for proceeding with the project was made to the Local Government Ombudsman by the "Ashmount Site Action Group" (ASAG) but was not upheld.
Beyond the site of the new school building, and just before Crouch End Station is a footbridge across the Parkland Walk dating back to the original railway, (so originally a crossing over the railway) which was retained and now connects Hazelemere Road, in Haringey, to the Crouch Hill Park in Islington.
Crouch End Station
At this point the still intact but partly overgrown platforms of Crouch End Station remain at the end of which the route passes under the site of the former station building and the road bridge over the cutting carrying Crouch End Hill.
Crouch End Hill to Highgate tunnels
Beyond this the cutting opens out on the northern side as the route skirts a hill, parallel to Hornsey Lane where some apartment blocks have been built. The route bridges Stanhope Road on a footbridge replacing the original structure. The route continues on an embankment to a brick-built bridge over Northwood Road, beneath which traffic can flow in only one direction at a time. The surrounding ground rises rapidly and the route becomes a cutting at the end of which the portals of the southern pair of Highgate tunnels come into view. Vestiges of line-side electrical equipment for the planned 1930s electrification of the line and part of the structure of the old Highgate station are visible through the tunnels. The tunnels are closed to pedestrian access. Consequently the main route ends here with an exit onto Holmesdale Road. Should the walker choose to proceed further they can travel up hill along Holmesdale Road which soon joins onto Archway Road. Continuing along Archway Road travelling north past Highgate station leads to the junction between Archway Road and Muswell Hill Road.
Cranley Gardens to Alexandra Palace
A further shorter section of the walk begins along Muswell Hill Road, just beyond Cranley Gardens, where the road overbridge crosses the old line. On the left (western) side of the road a primary school completely occupies the site of the former Cranley Gardens station and the old trackbed. The walk continues opposite via steps down to the trackbed towards Alexandra Palace, which skirts a hill. The span of the seventeen-arch viaduct over St James's Lane gives a view eastwards and southwards over London. The route ends with a reconstructed overbridge under Muswell Hill itself. At this point Muswell Hill primary school has been built on the trackbed. A pedestrian route by passes the primary school into Alexandra Palace Park proper. Further remains of the rail route can be seen in Alexandra Park. Alexandra Palace railway station (Muswell Hill branch) building still exists and is used for community purposes.
The Capital Ring goes through the Walk between Highgate and Finsbury Park.
No trees were permitted to grow close to the track when the railway was operational. The range of trees found today has grown up in the last fifty years. Most arrived naturally (oak, ash, birch, hawthorn, cherry, apple, holly, rowan, sycamore and yew), but a few additional species have been planted (field maple, hazel, black Italian poplar and white poplar).
More than three hundred species of wild flowers have been recorded on the Parkland Walk. They range from commonplace to exotic. Species sighted include Michaelmas daisies, golden rods, buddleia and Guernsey fleabane.
The great variety of plant life sustains a wide range of animals. Twenty two species of butterfly have been recorded. Hedgehogs benefit from the proximity of adjacent homes and occasional feedings from homeowners. Foxes are plentiful and muntjac (a small species of deer) are seen occasionally. A colony of slow-worms thrive along the grassy embankment. More than sixty species of bird have been seen along the walk and many breed here. Parkland Walk is known to be an important site for bats in the London context, providing important foraging habitat and an excellent dark commuting route. A significant bat roost is known to exist in the vicinity.
Along the walk just before the disused platforms at Crouch End, a man sized green spriggan sculpture by Marilyn Collins had been placed in one of the alcoves of the wall on the right at the footbridge before the former Crouch End station. This was thought to be a tribute to a ghostly 'goat-man' who haunted that particular area in the mid 1980s. Local children playing out in the evenings would 'dare' each other to walk the Parkland Walk from the Crouch End Hill bridge to the Crouch Hill bridge in the darkness. The sculpture, and Parkland Walk generally, provided the inspiration for Stephen King's short story "Crouch End".
There is also a myth that trains could still be heard rumbling along the route close to the Highgate tunnels, even after tracks had been lifted. This is unfounded, as is the ghost of a workman who threw himself in front of a train near the tunnels at Highgate station.
Another rumour regarding the failure of the route cited that the whole area had been cursed by gypsies who were evicted from the pre-Alexandra Palace site. They cursed the Palace construction project and "all connected proposals".
- Natural England, Local Nature Reserves, Parkland Walk
- "Parkland Walk, Queen's Wood and Highgate Wood". Greenspace Information for Greater London. 2006. Retrieved 10 September 2012.
- Haringey Council website
- Friends of the Parkland Walk
- Urban75 — Walking the Northern Heights
- A collection of photos of the Northern Heights before it was decommissioned