ARCHWAY walk to FINCHLEY CENTRAL
3 1/4 hours
This Underground line was originally a suburban train line opened in 1867 that ran from Finsbury Park through Highgate and East Finchley towards Edgware. It was taken over by the present London Underground and a connection was built in 1939 north of Archway enabling Underground trains to continue to East Finchley and beyond. The train line was then cut off and closed.
Routing note: This walk connects in Archway with Northern line walk 1, in East Finchley with Northern line walk 3 and in Finchley Central with Northern line walk 4. This implies that I give you exceptionally two routes between East Finchley and Finchley Central. This makes sense in terms of the length of the different routes and the routes are really similarly attractive.
The station opened in 1907 on the new Underground line. It was originally called Highgate because passengers for this village alighted at what was then the terminus and transferred to a cable tramway. The name was changed to “Archway (Highgate)” in 1939 using the name of a nearby pub, then to “Highgate (Archway)” in 1941 when the Underground line was extended towards the new station at Highgate proper. The name was simplified to Archway in 1947.
The original station building was demolished in 1963 as part of a scheme to build a major new urban centre in this area. This involved a shopping centre beneath a bulky office tower, something also done in locations like Elephant & Castle or Hammersmith. The building had become very outdated in terms of insulation and construction materials and was converted in the 2010s to luxury flats. The station concourse is now just a porch within the ground floor commercial area.
Exit the station on Junction Road
L in Junction Road past the Methodist Church (along the traffic, not through the pedestrianised plaza)
Ahead St John’s Way walking along Archway Park
Archway Park is a minor neighbourhood park but it does have an interesting detail. The slide is not your usual strip of metal on legs with a staircase, it is a slide set in a small concrete mound and children can climb the mound over irregular slabs if they want. This is quite sensible in terms of fostering muscle control and balance for young children.
St John’s Way continues along a strip of greenery (bordering Elthorne Estate)
The strip of green is actually the southern section of Hillside Park, a narrow green space in the shape of a T. It is a convenient way to walk through the neighbourhood without walking on pavement but it has no features of interest otherwise. The one or other hummock is probably a way to landscape ground excavated during the construction of the nearby estate.
At the end ahead across the short corner of Sunnyside Community Garden
Ahead into Elthorne Park, turn L along the children’s playground and walk past the Peace Garden
Elthorne Park is one of the nicest parks in the borough of Islington and it does have unusual features. One I found particularly lovely is the silver birch glade because the white trunks are wonderfully set off by the dark green laurel bushes. It is one of the few colour schemes in London parks that also work in winter. In the middle of the glade, there is an interesting bronze sculpture that seems inspired by the Amerindian totems of the West Coast of Canada. I get an idea of a beaver and a frog but I may be wrong.
In addition to the birch glade, Elthorne Park has an enclosed Peace Garden set up in the 1980s when there was a strong movement against nuclear weapons and the East-West rivalry. The garden may be closed because of occurrences of vandalism and drunkenness; if open, it enables you to look at strongly geometric paths and beds with rose bushes.
Exit the park at the end of the birch alley
L on Hornsey Road
Very soon R uphill in Hillside Road, a much smaller road
When passing Warltersville Road, note that the estate looks rather unusual for London. It is obviously not built in the style of the many council estates of the 1930s and the colour of the bricks is also much lighter than in the 1930s. It is also not the typical style of estates in the 1960s, when concrete bars and towers were considered faster to build and less fussy. I guess the estate might have been built as a moderately upmarket scheme by a private developer in the 1970s but I have been unable to find details.
At the end of the road ahead along school grounds until you reach a footbridge
L down to Parkland Walk, a converted former train cutting
You should soon see the one or other green roundel for the Capital Ring, a very well marked long-distance path. The roundels are usually on wooden signposts or on flags as on the picture. My route follows the Capital Ring all the way to East Finchley station.
Shortly after you join the Parkland Walk, you walk between the platforms of the old Crouch End train station. The Walk is indeed the bed of a railway line that ran from 1867 until the 1970s. It provides a very convenient link for pedestrians and small animals between Finsbury Park and Highgate over a rather long distance of 4 km. As such, it is the longest nature reserve and probably the longest train line converted to a walking path in London. Interestingly, it is not really convenient for cyclists as it is unpaved, possibly because cycling paths were not considered that important back in the 1980s.
At the end of the former station platforms, you walk under a road bridge with strange, inverted arches. They relate to the former train station as it was cantilevered over the railway line. The building burnt down in 1967.
The Walk leaves the cutting through the hill afterwards and passes two roads. As you are higher up, you can see that the surrounding suburbs are becoming greener with many sports fields and also a linear park which is actually just a strip of trees along the former train line.
The Walk ends in a deep cutting that originally gave access to a tunnel under Highgate. Just before, there is an access L to Holmesdale Road. You can see on my picture the wooden post with a green roundel as it actually still the route of the Capital Ring.
Walk up Holmesdale Road
At the end R Archway Road
What looks like a church at the corner of Archway Road with Jacksons Road is actually the lively Highgate Youth Theatre, created in 1981 as a community centre where young people aged 16 to 21 can study plays for a modest fee. The architecture of the former church is Edwardian neo-gothic, which is nothing special for London suburbs. There is something amusing about converting a church into a theatre as I have heard people describing religious services as a sort of theatre.
R Shepherds Road
Just before Highgate Library L into a footpath still marked as the Capital Ring
The path ends in Priory Gardens
You will continue along the Capital Ring R, but you can detour before to Highgate station if you wish. It is located L at the end of Priory Gardens.
The station opened in 1867 as a suburban train station. The line was lifted after it was closed in the 1970s and the old station has no connection with the present Underground station. The Underground line passed through the future Highgate station platforms from 1939 onwards but the platforms were only opened in 1941 following construction delays linked to World War II.
The impressive station building planned by Charles Holden was never built and the only evidence of a station at surface level is the entrance porch to the underground concourse.
Follow the Capital Ring away from the station entrance along Priory Gardens
When the road starts to turn R uphill, follow the trail sign L down into the wood.
Follow the trail as it turns L a bit further. It then crosses Queenswood Road and continues on the other side as a paved path into Queen’s Wood Local Nature Reserve.
Queen’s Wood is one of four ancient woods located nearby, two additional of which you will cross later on. Specialists recognise that it is ancient (i.e. not re-growth after being cut off) because it contains a high number of so-called wild service trees that don’t grow spontaneously in a reforestation or even re-growth scheme. This wood also has more undergrowth than many others in London, which is extremely helpful to wild flowers and to insects. The rather pretty pavilion in the middle of the wood is a community-run café; I like its appearance as a romantic getaway.
The clearly marked path goes down, then up again until you can cross the next road, Muswell Hill Road
The trail then enters Highgate Wood through the New Gate and rises initially parallel to the road but within the wood.
Highgate Wood is a bit less wild than Queen’s Wood and was actually called at a time Gravelpit Wood. A mysterious artificial structure in the ground indicates as well that there was human intervention, possibly in neolithic times. Until 1886, this wood was leased to businesses that sold young hornbeam timber, popular for fencing and as firewood. Hornbeams grow quickly again from the stump, making it a sensible business proposition.
The wood was managed by the City of London and the concept was apparently that of an urban park rather than a wood. Paved paths, football grounds and pavilions were laid while traditional trees were replaced over time by faster growing conifers. The lack of concept for what is actually a nature reserve was criticised in the 1970s and the wood is managed again as more of a normal English wood since.
Follow carefully the signposts as the trail meanders through the wood, passing first a nature study centre, later a café and further a drinking fountain. At one point, you will notice a Capital Ring sign indicating the total distance of the trail, 35 miles to Crystal Palace via Woolwich in the one direction and 43 miles to Crystal Palace via Richmond in the other direction. This is the only location on the whole trail where the total length is indicated.
My second picture shows the drinking fountain in the wood; it is a very normal design but it looks good because of the background. The fountain is an additional hint that the City of London was thinking of a park rather than of a wood.
The Capital Ring finally exits the wood through Bridge Gate and the path ends on a residential road. The steel gate you go through has a lovely design with typical woodland animals.
R Lanchester Road
Ahead Fordington Road
At the end of the straight section onto a footpath marked “Welcome to Cherry Tree Wood” still following the Capital Ring signs. Do not turn too much R, you need to continue in about the same direction as before.
Cherry Tree Wood is actually a park and not a wood. It was even called Dirthouse Wood in the 19th century because there was a facility just nearby converting horse manure and human excrements collected in London to fertiliser. You can easily imagine that no one was tempted to have a walk in this wood at that time. It is a park since 1914.
It is just a pleasant green space with lots of grass, a few rose bushes and a pavilion. The most interesting item is the set of steel gates; the one towards Finchley East station is as nice as the one you crossed on leaving Highgate Wood.
Ahead across the parkland to the exit directly opposite the Underground station. You will now be leaving the Capital Ring trail.
The station opened as a suburban train station in 1867 and was replaced by the present Underground station in 1939.
The station was designed by celebrated architect Charles Holden who planned many stations in the modernist style of the 1930s i.a. for the Piccadilly Line. He was inspired by Nordic Art Déco, stressing simple geometric shapes and dark bricks enlivened by very large vertical glass panels (so-called clerestory windows). This particular station combines simple blocky shapes with semi-circular shafts that harbour the staircases to the platforms.
The building is listed also because of its statue, an unusual ornament for a Charles Holden building. The 10-foot high archer by Eric Aumonier, a well-known exponent of Art Déco at the time, refers to the fact that Finchley was on the southern border of the medieval royal hunt of Enfield.
Routing note: From East Finchley, this route continues via Islington Cemetery. Walk 3 from East Finchley to Mill Hill East also passes Finchley Central station but goes there via the Mutton Brook trail.
R Finchley High Road (do not cross under the tracks)
Soon R Baronsmere Road
The road changes names at the borough border and is then called Southern Road
L Springcroft Avenue
Ahead Twyford Avenue, the road turns R
L Beech Drive
I noticed the size of the properties in this road. This is definitely not a council estate area. Properties come very rarely on the market, the last transaction was in 2013 for 2.5 million £.
L and soon R through the kissing gate into Coldfall Wood
This is the third of the ancient woods you cross on this walk. The vegetation (primarily oak) does not prove that the wood is ancient, this is based on historical testimonies. Like in Highgate Wood, there were commercial activities like coppicing and gravel extraction. The wood is interesting because the slope occasionally causes trees to fall victim to storms, enabling rare flowering plants to take advantage of the sunlight in the new clearing. The wood was purchased by the borough in 1930 when the previous owner, a school, started converting significant portions to sports grounds.
Ahead across the wood, turning L at the two significant crossings of paths
The second turn left links with St Pancras & Islington Cemetery
Aim ultimately for the main exit to your L, but you can definitely tour the large wooded cemetery before by walking counterclockwise (first R) rather than clockwise (first L). My walking estimate includes the longer, counterclockwise version.
The cemetery is the largest in Britain in terms of burials and one of the largest in size. Legally, it is actually the combination of two separate burial grounds. It is former farmland purchased by two boroughs in 1854 when a new law forced the closure of churchyards to new burials as they were suspected of contributing to epidemics.
The cemetery combines a heavily wooded section with a more barren part. It does not have graves for many celebrities but it is considered one of the best collections of funerary monuments in the country with many interesting examples from the 19th century. Graves with angels are Roman Catholic, admitted in this cemetery on an equal basis. I give you a few interesting examples of monuments.
There are also several listed buildings within the cemetery, one of which is the crematorium built in 1937 in a typical Art Déco style. The roof, actually a stepped, very flat dome, reminds a little of an UFO and is just the kind of pure geometric shape architects loved at the time. Some Underground stations from the 1930s have similar shapes.
The Anglican chapel from 1853 is also listed. The architecture is rather run-of-the-mill neo-gothic but the chapel is particularly well proportioned and not too ornamented so that it does remind quite well of an old village church.
Exit the cemetery on Finchley High Road (that is, not downhill on the North Circular Motorway). There are two exits on this side of the cemetery, Viaduct Road and Exit Road. The second one is occasionally closed but is the more convenient if it is open.
Depending on which exit you use, you might get an opportunity to see the nice wrought iron gate from 1854 with an enameled coat of arms.
After leaving the cemetery, walk in both cases R along Finchley High Road
L Sylvester Road
R Tarling Road
When the road turns R, leave it for a footpath ahead. This leads to a footbridge across the North Circular Motorway
The nice footbridge painted striking red was built in order to take pedestrians away from Finchley High Road. This in turn was necessary in order to build a fully fledged motorway interchange between the road and the motorway. The motorway is the North Circular Road, planned originally in the 1960s as a ring motorway all around London. The plan proved very difficult to apply, in particular because countless properties needed to be expropriated at considerable cost.
In the end, only a few sections were built, mostly in the northern suburbs using river beds where there was no previous construction. The North Circular Road proved extremely useful to link suburbs. The problem is that traffic jams appear very quickly due to the traffic lights in the areas where the motorway reverts to a dual carriageway. Media occasionally mention the road as the most polluted or busiest road in the country. It causes considerable noise and had a very detrimental effect on properties along it, but it could be argued that the problems would be similar if it were just a normal road with traffic lights as cars would still need to be routed somewhere through the suburbs.
L along the motorway on the noisy footpath. It is difficult to find an other route here because you need to cross tracks and there are not many bridges. The advantage of the route is that you walk past the elegant fire station for Finchley, a building from 1936 with very simple shapes, lots of windows and an inconspicuous but cleverly stepped roof cornice. I also give you a nice detail of boots and pants waiting for a fireman to slide down the pole from his resting room if needed. I find it sort of funny to imagine the fireman sliding down in underpants and landing directly into his clothes.
The area between the fire station and the Underground tracks seems to be unused wasteland but it could actually be a small nature reserve. If you look carefully at my picture, you see people taking a walk along a small pond. But you also see a bright orange emergency vest. I wonder whether the pond is so deep that you need such an item. As the footpath along the motorway rises towards the bridge over the tracks, you also get a good view towards central Finchley with two rather ugly blocks.
Soon after passing over the Underground tracks R into Rosemary Avenue
L Dudley Road
R Briarfield Avenue
L Manor View
soon R The Avenue (actually a public footpath)
The footpath soon leads along sports grounds. They are called Wilf Slack Grounds and I was a little surprised at this unusual first name. Mr Slack was a popular cricketer from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and his first name was Wilfred. He died at only 35 during a game after several previous less serious incidents and it seems doctors were unable to diagnose in the 1980s what illness caused him to black out when overexerting himself.
The footpath leads along Avenue House Grounds, called Stephens House & Gardens since 2014. Avenue House is a Victorian mansion built in 1859. The last owner, Mr Stephens, was a businessman who gifted the property to the borough in 1918. Part of the house had to be rebuilt in the 1990s following a fire and it is now primarily used for meetings and receptions. There is a small museum inside dealing with Mr Stephens and the ink he invented. As opening hours are very restricted, you need to check before on http://www.stephenshouseandgardens.com/visit/opening-hours/opening-hours.
The gardens around the house are very pleasant, with meandering paths around a large pond, romantically shaded dells, undulating ground and a variety of trees. This is not a formal park and there are few flowers except for the odd herbaceous border.
At the end of the footpath R on Regent’s Park Road
You might notice a conspicuous building with a tall, thin tower crowned by a copper spire. This looks like an old manor house except that it is actually too tall for an old house and that manors don’t have such towers. It was built as a school in 1860 and refers partly to Tudor architecture, particularly the set of four parallel gables to the front and the brick pattern on the side wall. The school moved away recently and the property is now an Orthodox Jewish secondary school for boys.
Just after crossing over the tracks down the ramp R for the station.
The picture shows that the tracks are in a rather deep cutting here. The whole Northern line section between Archway and Finchley Central crosses a very hilly part of London and the original engineers had to build a high number of tunnels and viaducts.
The station opened as a suburban train station in 1867 and was converted to the present Underground station in 1939. Trains ran originally only towards Mill Hill East and beyond to Edgware while a junction for the branch towards High Barnet was added as early as 1872.
An impressive station building planned by Charles Holden for the Underground line was never built and the modest Victorian suburban train station is still in use today. Light yellow bricks and a lack of ornaments were quite usual for minor stations in the 1860s, particularly in areas like Finchley that were still very rural at the time.