Alexandra Palace, the Parkland Walk (a former railway line), two restored Wetlands and several cafés in north London
Main Walk: 15¾ km (9.8 miles). Three hours 45 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 7 hours.
Short Walk 1, from Highgate: 11½ km (7.1 miles). Two hours 35 minutes walking time.
Short Walk 2, to Manor House: 11½ km (7.1 miles). Two hours 45 minutes walking time.
Explorer 173. Alexandra Palace is in north London, 10 km N of Westminster.
3 out of 10 (2 for the short walks from Alexandra Palace, 1 for the others).
This walk is essentially a merger of two short walks. The first part is the popular Parkland Walk, a linear nature reserve created along the trackbed of a disused railway line. The second part links two new nature reserves created from operational Thames Water reservoirs, using a waymarked cycle/pedestrian route along residential streets.
The walk starts with a short climb through Alexandra Park to Alexandra Palace, with splendid views of the London skyline from its terrace. This entertainment venue was intended as the north London counterpart to the Crystal Palace and although it was destroyed by fire just two weeks after opening in 1873 it was promptly rebuilt. Its private owners tried to sell the site and parkland for development in 1900 but it was acquired by a group of local authorities for the benefit of the public. Parts of the site were leased to the BBC for production and transmission of their new television service in 1936. The palace is now used for exhibitions, concerts and the like, and its original Victorian theatre is also being restored after many decades of neglect.
Alexandra Palace had been provided with a rail link from Highgate station and there were plans to incorporate this branch line into the Underground network in the 1930s. However, development was thwarted by World WarⅡ and regular passenger services between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace eventually ceased in 1954. Thirty years later parts of the line were converted into the Parkland Walk and it was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1990.
From Alexandra Park the walk route follows the course of this disused railway line through Muswell Hill to Highgate Wood. It curves through this ancient woodland to the underground station and continues on the longer southern section of the line to Finsbury Park. On the other side of the park a short section on the New River Path leads to the first of the two nature reserves run by the London Wildlife Trust, Woodberry Wetlands (free entry; open to 4.30pm, but may be closed for private events up to six days a year).
After a circuit of the East Reservoir the walk follows a link route through the quiet residential streets of Stamford Hill, home to a large community of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. It deviates from the waymarked route for a brief excursion into Springfield Park before descending to cross the River Lea. A short section across a corner of Walthamstow Marshes Nature Reserve then leads to the extensive Walthamstow Wetlands (free entry; open to 5pm Apr–Sep, 4pm Oct–Mar, although some of the paths are often closed for maintenance or to protect birdlife).
A café in the reserve's Engine House and a nearby pub with a riverside beer garden offer refreshment before a short stretch of road walking to a station for the journey home.
Two Short Walks which retain the features of both parts of the Main Walk are suggested. The walk route deliberately goes past Highgate station, so you could skip the northern section of the Parkland Walk by starting from there. Alternatively, you could loop back to Manor House station after visiting Woodberry Wetlands.
More simply, you could do the Parkland Walk and the Wetlands Walk separately, by starting from or finishing at Finsbury Park station.
There are plenty of local bus services if you want to abandon the walk at any stage.
Alexandra Palace is on the suburban lines from Moorgate, with an off-peak service of four trains per hour taking 20 minutes. For the two Short Walks, Highgate is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern line and Manor House is on the Piccadilly line.
At the end of the full walk Walthamstow Wetlands is between two stations on the Victoria line. In general Tottenham Hale is more convenient (it is closer and also has frequent trains to Liverpool Street on the West Anglia line), but Blackhorse Road would suit anyone on the Gospel Oak–Barking Overground line.
If you split the walk into two, Finsbury Park station is on the suburban lines from King's Cross and Moorgate, plus the Victoria and Piccadilly lines.
All these stations are in TfL Zone 3 except Finsbury Park (Zone 2) and Manor House (Zones 2/3).
The suggested starting time for the Main Walk is 10.45am. You could start the shorter walks later, providing you leave enough time to pass through the two Wetlands sites before their closing times.
The most convenient places for refreshment are the many cafés passed along the way, with the ones in Finsbury Park and at Woodberry Wetlands being best placed for a lunchtime stop. The park café is larger and offers a greater range of food and drink, but the Coal House Café in the nature reserve has fine views over the reservoir, especially from its small rooftop terrace.
Towards the end of the full walk there are cafés in Springfield Park and at Walthamstow Wetlands, but note that the Engine House Café in the nature reserve closes at 4pm. Directly opposite the reserve exit on Forest Road the Ferry Boat Inn (020-8808 4980) is a conveniently placed pub with a large beer garden alongside the Coppermill Stream.
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Out (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
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- Main Walk (15¾ km)
- Alexandra Palace Station to Highgate Station (4¼ km)
- From the platform go up steps to the station footbridge. Alexandra Palace is on the hill to your left, but you might have to go out through the ticket hall on the right and double back across the railway on the adjacent public footbridge.
- At the end of the bridge go up a slope to a road, cross over and turn left. As the road bends right into Alexandra Park the pavement becomes a tarmac path climbing steadily above the level of the road.
The park opened to the public in 1863 and was named after the Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark), who had married the future EdwardⅦ earlier that year.
- For the simplest route, stay on the surfaced path (there are alternative paths through the wood on your right). At a T-junction turn right onto a broad path, then turn left onto a path climbing directly towards the Palace.
- Go through the Rose Garden and make your way round to the long terrace on the left-hand side of Alexandra Palace, with fine views towards the city.
At the south-eastern corner there is a blue plaque and information panels “The Birthplace of Television” about the BBC's pioneering transmissions in 1936.
- Go all the way along the terrace and round to the right past outdoor seating for a bar. Go past the Palm Court entrance to the north-western corner and continue on an access road curving down to the left.
- Before this joins the main road bear right onto a broad path into the trees. At the bottom of a slope go across a broad pedestrian walkway (slightly to the right) and back uphill, past a car park. Follow the surfaced path along the right-hand side of the park, passing the Grove Café along the way.
- At the far end keep right to leave Alexandra Park on a footbridge, which drops down and takes you under the A504 (Muswell Hill) to the start of the Parkland Walk (North). Soon there are fine views off to the left as the path goes across a long viaduct over St James's Lane.
- The path curves gently round to the right through woodland. At the far end go under the B550 (Muswell Hill Road) and follow the path up to the left. Continue briefly along the main road but almost immediately turn right through Cranley Gate into Highgate Wood.
- You will eventually come back out onto this road so the shortest route would be to stay close to it on paths near the left-hand side of the wood, but the suggested route is to take a long arc around the other side. For this route, fork right at the first path junction.
- Follow the woodland path near the right-hand edge of the wood. After passing Bridge Gate the path dips down across a hollow, where there is an information panel about prehistoric earthworks. Unless you want to cut through the centre of the wood (where there is a café), keep right at the next fork to stay near the edge of the wood.
- The path eventually comes out into the corner of a playing field. Keep ahead along its perimeter, curving round to the left on the far side. In 250m follow the main path as it veers right into the trees, passing a children's playground on the right.
- Merge with another broad path on the left to continue in the same direction, avoiding paths off to the right towards Archway Gate. The main path goes past a toilet block on the right and comes to Gypsy Gate. Leave Highgate Wood and turn right onto Muswell Hill Road.
- At the traffic lights cross the road and turn left briefly into Wood Lane, then almost immediately turn right onto a path going steeply downhill, signposted to Highgate station. This comes out by the Priory Gardens exit from the station, where there is a café.
- Highgate Station to Finsbury Park (3¼ km)
Starting from Highgate Station
Sections B & C broadly follow the Capital Ring, a circular walking route around inner London which was completed in 2005.
- Leave by Exit 2 (Priory Gardens), with Café Noir outside being the suggested meeting point for a group walk.
There are information panels about the fauna and flora to be seen on this linear nature reserve, plus others showing your location. Behind you are the old railway tunnels into Highgate station (not open to the public).
In the top of the graffiti-covered arches after Crouch End station you will see the figure of a spriggan (a kind of goblin) emerging from the brickwork.
Finishing at Finsbury Park Station (+½ km)
- The park café is up ahead on your left if you want some refreshment, but to go directly to the station turn right onto the path going down the right-hand side of the park, parallel to the railway line. At the bottom leave Finsbury Park and go across the A1201 into Station Place. The underground and main line station entrances are on the right.
Starting from Finsbury Park Station (+½ km)
- Turn left out of the Station Place exit and cross the A1201. Enter Finsbury Park and continue up its left-hand side. After passing some tennis courts bear right onto a grassy path leading to the park café.
The misleadingly-named New River is an aqueduct, constructed in the early 17thC to increase the supply of clean water to London (and still in use).
Finishing at Manor House Station (+1 km)
- Turn left out of the Wetlands and then immediately left again to repeat your previous route along the New River Path. Go past the main Wetlands entrance, cross over Lordship Road and turn right at a water sculpture into Riverside Walk. Go across a residential street and turn left at the end of the walkway into Woodberry Down. The station is at the far end of this long street.
- Turn right out of Woodberry Wetlands onto Newnton Close, then right again onto Bethune Road.
For the next 2 km you will be following a designated cycle/pedestrian route signposted to Walthamstow Wetlands. The route goes through an area sometimes referred to as the ‘square mile of piety’ because of the many Jewish men to be seen going to and from worship in their distinctive clothes.
- In 400m turn left at a crossroads into Dunsmure Road, passing a parade of shops and crossing a railway line.
The woodland strips on either side of the tracks have been designated as the East & West Bank Nature Reserve but there is no public access to them.
- At the end of Dunsmure Road go across the A10 (Stamford Hill) at the traffic lights to continue on Portland Avenue, to the left of the library.
- At the junction with Darenth Road stay on Portland Avenue as it turns half-left. At the end cross the A107 carefully onto a corner of Clapton Common, with a pond ahead on your right.
The ornate church with the tall spire behind the trees on the left was built in the 1890s as the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ for a mystical sect called the Agapemonites (Abode of Love). It declined after its leaders died and in 2010 the building was sold to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
- The signposted route is along a new cycleway behind the pond but a slightly shorter route would be to turn right onto the tarmac path parallel to the main road and then fork left after 200m. Either way, at the opposite corner of the common turn left into Spring Hill.
- Follow this road downhill for 75m and then turn right into Springfield Park.
The walk route now leaves the designated cycle route, which takes a more direct route to Walthamstow Wetlands (continuing down Spring Hill and crossing the River Lea on New Bridge).
- You could take any route down to the bottom of the park (you will be crossing the River Lea on a footbridge beyond some tennis courts), but the suggested route takes a short loop around the park. For this route, fork right onto a path going up a short slope and through a wooded area at the top of the park.
- After passing a small pavilion the path reaches a more open area, The Knoll. A little further ahead the perimeter path veers right and leads to the park café, but if you are not stopping for refreshment the suggested route is to leave the path and bear slightly left across the grassland, aiming for some clipped yew hedges 150m away.
These hedges conceal some park benches with fine views across the Lea valley to Walthamstow Marshes.
- From the yew hedges take a grassy path going straight down the hillside to a gate. Leave Springfield Park and turn left onto a path alongside the River Lea, which in 75m comes to Horseshoe Bridge across the river.
- If you know that Walthamstow Wetlands is closed you could carry on along the riverside path for just over 2 km to Tottenham Lock, with Tottenham Hale station a further 250m away along the A503. However, this route is only slightly shorter than the main walk route through the wetlands.
- Go across the river bridge (with Springfield Marina ahead on your left) and down the right-hand path on the far side. Go straight across the broad riverside path into Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, as shown on an information panel.
Part of the Lee Valley Park, this is one of the few areas of semi-natural wetland around London which has escaped both development and gravel extraction. As noted on the panel, this was the location of the first all-British powered flight in 1909.
- Follow a path through a picnic area and take either of the two grassy paths ahead into Horseshoe Thicket (the right-hand one swings round to join the other on a short stretch of boardwalk).
This area of wet woodland became established in the 1970s when the river was dredged for the marina and the mud deposited here.
- After the paths rejoin by a small fenced-off area keep left at a path junction. At the next junctions fork right and then left to continue in the same direction, soon coming out into an open area. Make your way to a gate in its far left-hand corner.
- Turn right onto a lane and duck under the very low railway bridge carrying the West Anglia line. Continue along the lane for 150m and then turn left into the Coppermill Lane entrance to Walthamstow Wetlands.
- If you will not have enough time to get through the reserve before its displayed closing time you will have to use the map to complete the walk. Either continue along Coppermill Lane to St James Street station (1½ km away) or Blackhorse Road station (2 km), or make your way back to the River Lea and head north along its towpath to the A503 and Tottenham Hale station (3 km).
- Cross the (stagnant) Coppermill Stream and follow the path through the reserve, with the bank of East Warwick Reservoir on your left. Soon after the path bends left you pass Coppermill Tower on your right, which is usually open: there is information inside about its long and varied history, and you can go upstairs to a fine viewpoint.
The water company bought the Coppermill in 1859 and converted it into a pumping station, adding the Italianate tower a few years later.
- The simplest route through the reserve is to follow the broad path heading N alongside the Coppermill Stream for 1 km, although it is usually possible to go up steps on the left and walk along the top of the bank. Alternatively, 150m after the Coppermill Tower there is a concrete bridge on the right leading to a couple of slightly longer ‘seasonal routes’ which might be open:
- A gorse-lined grassy path between Reservoir 1 and Reservoirs 3 & 2.
- A broad shingle path between Reservoirs 3 & 2 and Reservoirs 5 & 4.
- All routes lead to the Engine House, which has a rear entrance leading to its small Visitor Centre and Café, and another viewing point from its Turbine Room at the top.
The Engine House was built in 1894. Its 54m tower has been specially built to house nesting swifts and bats.
- To complete the walk leave from the front of the building and follow the main path under a railway bridge (carrying the Gospel Oak–Barking line). Continue as directed on the pedestrian walkway between the River Lea and the reserve's small car park.
- The path comes out onto the A503 opposite a possible refreshment stop, the Ferry Boat Inn. Tottenham Hale station is 600m off to the left, Blackhorse Road station 900m to the right.
- If you want to explore the northern part of Walthamstow Wetlands before finishing the walk, its Maynard entrance is just off to the right. The main path through this part of the reserve leads to an exit on Lockwood Way (not convenient for any station), but there is a seasonal route looping back around the Low Maynard Reservoir, a circuit of 1¾ km.
- Unless you want to finish at Blackhorse Road head W on the A503, crossing the River Lea and passing a small Community Garden on the right. After crossing the River Lee Navigation at Tottenham Lock keep ahead at the traffic lights, going up a slope and over the West Anglia line. Tottenham Hale station is on the right.
» Last updated: October 31, 2020