Ghost Railways: Walk The Belmont Trail

By M@

Last Updated 08 May 2024

Ghost Railways: Walk The Belmont Trail
Belmont trail sign
Image: Matt Brown

A walk along a disused railway in north London.

It was never on the tube map, but between 1890 and 1952 you could catch a train from Harrow & Wealdstone to Stanmore. The track was taken up in the 1960s, and now makes a semi-pleasant walk between the two centres. Let's get our bearings with a map:

Map of stanmore branch line
Our route is shown in red. The Jubilee line to Stanmore is shown in purple, as it was formerly part of the Metropolitan line. Image: Public domain, created by Cnbrb

Potted history

The Stanmore Branch line was opened in 1890 by entrepreneur Frederick Gordon. He'd recently bought Bentley Priory, a John Soane-designed stately home, with a view to turning it into a posh hotel.  (It would more famously become the headquarters and later museum of RAF Fighter Command, but that was still half a century in the future.)

Gordon built the branch line as a convenient way of getting his guests up to Bentley Priory. A handful of holidaying toffs was never going to make for a commercially successful railway, so Gordon also dabbled in housing. The well-to-do Gordon Avenue, adjacent to his rail terminus, was part of that.

The area grew sufficiently to warrant a second station in 1932 called Belmont. After the war, a steady decline saw the gradual closure of the route. Services terminated at Belmont from 1952 and stopped altogether from 1964. Had it somehow clung on, then today it would probably have formed a spur of the Bakerloo line.

BUT... look on a street map and it's easy to trace the old route. Most of it still exists as a walking/cycling route, and that's what we're following today.

Walking the Stanmore Branch line

On the map above, the green line shows the walkable bit of the rail route, black shows connecting sections to get to stations, and yellow is the route of the original railway.

The walk starts at what was the terminus, a little way down Old Church Street in Stanmore. Had you stood here a few decades ago, you'd have seen this:

Stanmore Village station on an old black and white postcard
Image: public domain

Today, it looks more like this:

The site of Stanmore station
Image: Matt Brown

Believe it or not, you're peering at the same building, albeit denuded of its outrageously characterful gothic baubles and given a modern roof. A plaque on the wall confirms this is the old station.

Now, the bad news. You can't follow the route of the railway just yet. Some dastard has built a load of houses and a golf course over the route. (I would recommend taking a quick detour along Gordon Avenue, where you can then follow a delightful trail alongside a brook, through the grounds of Hugh Dowding's former home of Montrose... but it's not on the rail alignment.)

To pick up the trail, you have to follow Old Church Lane a fair ways south, then hang a right on Wemborough. The track at the end looks a little something like this:

Belmont trail start
Image: Matt Brown

We're now back on track, if not the tracks. They were lifted in 1966. Instead, we have a well maintained and (even after heavy rain) very walkable footpath called the Belmont Trail.

This stretch runs for about half a mile south. On my visit, it's alive with birdsong, festooned with bluebells and dog violets, and busy with absolutely no one. Two face-masks hang from a birch twig, as though a token of a dystopian tryst. A goldfinch mithers a dunnock. Otherwise, it's an uneventful stretch.

The footpath reaches civilisation again at the site of Belmont station. Nothing remains of the stop. It's a small car park that photographs badly, so I won't include it. From here, an underpass beneath Kenton Lane, strangely free of graffiti or uric odours, leads on to the southern stretch of the trail. This has no special surface treatment, and was a bit of a quagmire in the aftermath of a downpour:

A hollow tree
Image: Matt Brown

This gently curving stretch leads past Wealdstone Cemetery. It's a reminder that all things must pass, including railway lines. Here and there, I spy lumps of concrete and other remnants of the long deleted line. The most visible survivor is this gradient sign, towards the southern end:

Gradient sign
Image: Matt Brown

The trail eventually spills out onto Christchurch Avenue, not far from Harrow and Wealdstone station. The tracks originally carried on south and west to meet the station, but are now lost beneath more housing and commercial space. A set of overgrown steps — once part of the trail but now to one side of the trail — look suspiciously like rail sleepers.

Old railway sleepers as steps
Image: Google street view. On my visit, the steps were slick with orange vomit, so I didn't take a photo

One more remnant of the Stanmore Branch line can be seen at Harrow and Wealdstone station. The old platform — number 7 — is still largely intact, though now overgrown with grass.

Harrow and Wealdstone station
Image: Matt Brown

The Belmont Trail is, for the most part, a very pleasant amble between Stanmore and Harrow Wealdstone, with occasional glimpses of railway heritage. It's just a pity that golf course won't open up a route along its eastern flank so you could walk almost the whole abandoned line.

Geoff, Ian and DG have also walked this route.