Just over 50 years ago a small branch running off the railway near Harrow closed, and is now much of the line has been converted into a pleasant if seemingly little used walk.
Part of the lack of use as a footpath can probably be put down to the reason why the railway closed down, it doesn’t go from anywhere convenient to anywhere convenient, essentially starting and stopping in the middle of urban housing estates.
The railway ran from Harrow & Wealdstone up to Stanmore Village. Opened in 1890, it was promoted by Frederick Gordon, a hotel owner who had purchased Bentley Priory a few years earlier.
It ran up to Stanmore, but didn’t go as far as the hotelier had wanted, leaving a decent gap to his hotel a mile or so further up the hill. Adding to the eccentricity of the little line, the terminus building at Stanmore was designed to look like a small church. Some old photos here and here
Never much of a success, an intermediate station was opened half way along in 1932 to try and drum up some traffic, but to no avail.
Another factor in its demise was the unfortunate alignment at Harrow and Wealdstone which meant passengers heading into London would have to change trains. This proved fatal when the Metropolitan line opened its own line up to Stanmore, and while that station was further away from the main urban area, the line was far more convenient for commuters.
With the Metropolitan line (now the Jubilee) sucking away what few customers they had, the Stanmore Branch Line stopped carrying passengers in 1952, and closed completely in October 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts.
The tracks were removed a couple of years later.
It is now a footpath, called the Belmont Trail after the intermediate station the old railway used to stop at.
Starting the walk at the Stanmore end, there is nothing left of the old line. The site had kept the old railway station right up to 1969, when following a failed attempt to save it as an art centre and museum, it was sold by Harrow Council for housing.
A modern looking home on the site of the former station carries a sign that it is in fact the old station house – considerably changed and stripped of all its old character.
From here though, the walk starts rather badly, as most of the line is buried under housing and the local golf course, so the only option is a rather boring walk along local roads until you can finally join up with the old railway tracks just off Wemborough Road.
Here at last you get to see something more fitting for an old railway turned into a footpath, a modest cutting lined with back gardens and just wide enough for the single line that used to run here.
I swear that the two chaps who were walking towards me actually slowed down to a crawl when they saw I wanted to take a photo of the empty path.
It’s a modest walk along this otherwise fairly uninteresting pathway when you come across a car park, and this is, curiously, interesting — it’s the site of the intermediate station at Belmont. Situated next to a housing estate and shopping parade, it should have been a success, but wasn’t.
Rebuilding of the station just five years after it opened enabled the single track railway to split into two on either side of the platforms, so that trains could pass each other and increase the capacity of the single track line — an overly optimistic presumption.
It would seem that the station and tracks were lower down than the car park though, as the cutting under the road is far too low for a steam train to have passed through,
The decoration within being completed in 2012 and was created by the artist Alistair Lambert based on paper collages made by a local school. It’s been augmented with graffiti by other so-called artists since then.
The route now carries on squeezing around the backs of houses that have evidently leaked across former railway lines to squash down what’s left to a tiny alleyway.
Not that nice in daytime and probably far less so at night — it does finally mark the end of the less appealing part of the walk and we finally return to something more picturesque.
A wider, occasionally muddy path with just enough wildness to suggest abandonment, and with only a couple of dog walkers and one jogger, it seemed abandoned.
It was also along here though that finally remnants of the old railway can be found — a couple of concrete railway line markers in the overgrown borders that run alongside the local cemetery.
It’s also along here that there’s an indication of the heritage of this otherwise random footpath with small signs suggesting that the Belmont Trail might have a railway history to it.
There is only more patch of railway history though as you near the end of the trail, as the old railway line rises up in an embankment, you might notice that the back gardens facing the railway are lined with old railway sleepers.
In some cases overgrown and rotting, but in some the bushes have been cut back and new fencing erected with a casual disdain for aesthetics that it could almost have been put there by a modern railway operator.
However, eventually the Belmost Trail runs out, at an embankment overlooking the main road. A series of steps, lain of course with railway sleepers is the terminus of the footpath.
The railway itself though ran on, over the road and around the back of old houses onto the mainline railway, where it joined up with the Harrow and Wealdstone station.
Here is one last bit of the line, in the form of an overgrown and empty railway line next to the platforms.