diamond geezer

 Friday, October 21, 2016

Number 19: Walk the Belmont Trail

If you're ever in Harrow, say making a visit to the Heath Robinson Museum [TTDIH no18], why not fit in a walk along the Belmont Trail? This path follows the route of a disused railway which once ran between Harrow and Wealdstone and Stanmore, and has recently been refreshed to make it more appealing to cyclists and pedestrians alike. At one mile long it's not an over-challenging assault, and could easily be combined with a hike along the Wealdstone Brook [TTDIH no10] or a poke around Headstone Manor [TTDIH no4].

The Harrow and Stanmore Railway was opened in 1890, its original aim to help deliver hotel guests to the Bentley Priory estate [TTDIH no12]. Traffic was not brisk, but was boosted unexpectedly in 1932 when the Metropolitan Railway opened a competing branch line to Stanmore and kicked off a housing frenzy. Major developments halfway along the line at Belmont led to an intermediate halt being built, but offpeak traffic never matched the daily commuter flurry. In 1952 the terminus was cut back from Stanmore to Belmont, and in 1965 Beeching's axe lopped off the entire branch. Stand at Harrow and Wealdstone station [TTDIH no26] today and you can still clearly see a broad grassy strip opposite platform 6 where trains on the 'Belmont Rattler' used to depart.

But we can't start there. The first half mile of the old branch line is inaccessible, lost beneath an industrial estate and Harrow's Waste, Refuse and Recycling Centre. So the Belmont Trail begins on Christchurch Avenue, at the lacklustre end of Wealdstone, where a rail bridge once spanned the road. One side of the embankment still stands, in its modern way resembling the ancient Grim's Dyke [TTDIH no3]. A nice touch here is a staircase of old sleepers which has been laid to ascend from the pavement, but don't bother going up there because the footpath dissolves into an overgrown tangle. The main trail follows a gentle sandy ramp alongside, and here the golden mile begins.

If you've walked a disused railway before you'll know what to expect. A strip of land maybe two tracks wide, fringed with undergrowth and a line of trees, perhaps with a series of back gardens beyond the fence. This is very much like that. One intriguing neighbour is the Harrow Driving Centre [TTDIH no7], a miniature world of roads and roundabouts and traffic lights for beginners to practice on, except this appears to have closed following council cuts and is now used to park a entire fleet of municipal minibuses. Fractionally more interesting is Wealdstone Cemetery, a small Edwardian burial ground with serpentine paths, concealed behind a screen of evergreens. There's no direct access, so enterprising locals have broken a gap in the railings and a scattering of cans suggests good use is made.

Self-righteous strollers will appreciate the sign bolted to a tree announcing that the Belmont Trail was cleared with the aid of Community Payback, specifically "offenders working for the community". Wave your Daily Express with pride as you pass. Those whose love is railways will instead be keeping their eyes open for leftover infrastructure and signage, so can't fail to notice an actual gradient marker, and a post labelled three over four marking ¾mile from Harrow. Elsewhere I spotted a Rat On A Log, a Brick In Some Privet, and several As Yet Unharvested Blackberries, these very much the staples of any disused railway walk. Naturally you'd see better wildlife along the River Pinn [TTDIH no11], and better views from the top of Harrow Hill [TTDIH no1].

The path narrows slightly as it funnels between Grasmere Gardens and Kenmore Avenue, and wiggles fractionally off course, even rises and falls briefly in a way the railway never did. A 'No Tipping' sign stands alone in a brief clearing, before the confined path connects again with the surrounding estate at the foot of (I am not making this up) Dobbin Close. After skirting the rear of several owl-like flats, the bridge over Kenton Lane is reached. Once a rural lane amid fields, this span has been lowered several feet since trains ceased running and now feels very much like an urban subway, brightened by colourful artwork added by the local primary school in 2012. Northolt Park [TTDIH no15] has nothing on this.

By this point you'll have been walking for fifteen minutes, so it may be time to take a break. Thankfully Belmont Circle is alongside, its car park coving the land where Belmont station* once stood. When the new suburb of Belmont was built in the Thirties this was the obvious place to locate its retail heart, a circular brick parade that's very Metro-land, with traffic orbiting a central shrubbery. My go-to bakery in this quarter of town is Wenzel's, but you could alternatively try the Greggs at the garage, grab some Fancy Peri Peri, or take a seat in the independent Cinnamon Cafe. When fed and watered be sure to go window-shopping, specifically to Shoe Repairs where £9.99 slippers rotate on a turntable, and patriotic front pages provide a backdrop to sundry bric-a-brac.
* Not to be confused with the existing Belmont station in South London, one of the 10 Things to Do in Sutton.

The trail continues at the far end of the car park. It's much wider here, a sandy track wending between the trees, their leaves now brightly reddening in sequence. Local residents use this part of the trail as a shortcut to and from the shops - the route evidently both safe and useful in this respect. In a former cutting I passed a lady with a small dog, which was probably the highpoint of this brief five minute section. And then the Trail stopped. The route ahead is blocked by a synagogue's fence, then more importantly swallowed by the edge of Stanmore Golf Course, so technically the Belmont Trail ends here. To reach the former station at the end of the line you'll have to divert circuitously along residential streets, or maybe cut across the golf course via the artificial mound which gives Belmont its name [TTDIH no17].

However you decide to trace the intervening mile, you'll eventually reach a prim triangular green with a cluster of pines at its centre, where Gordon Avenue meets Old Church Lane. It was here that Stanmore Village station was built, its original structure topped off by a spire to make it more acceptable to the slightly snooty residents. When the terminus was finally sold off to developers in 1969 the building was unsympathetically refurbished with a modern roof, and is now a smart squat home called The Old Station, with church-sized front doors and a plaque alongside listing the Harrow and Stanmore Railway's key dates. The former tracks behind are now covered by more ordinary housing, and Stanmore tube is a mile away on the other side of town [TTDIH no29].

» A line I've drawn on a map to show where the Belmont Trail goes
» Ian has also visited, and wrote this longer report with more photos
» Geoff made this 90 second summary video for Londonist
» Julian has taken 50 photos so you can see what you're missing
» Full line history for those who require 100% railway background
» Tommy has taking a video while cycling the Belmont Trail
» 30 Things To Do In Harrow
is taken from the forthcoming book 1000 Things To Do Across London

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