The step-by-step guide to London: Michael Leapman gets high on a walk from Highgate

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The Independent Culture
One railway unaffected by the summer strikes has been the scenic two-mile little branch line built to carry visitors to Alexandra Palace from Highgate. The route has been closed since 1957; but quite a lot has been converted into a charming walkway with fine wooded stretches, with marvellous views of the east London skyline and palace. The first half of this walk traces it.

Take the Priory Road exit from the Tube station (turning left after the ticket barrier) and climb the steep path on your left to the corner of Wood Lane. Cross Muswell Hill Road and go through Gypsy Gate into Highgate Wood, then bear left at the first fork to pass through a dappled glade to a children's playground. Keep left, following the far edge of the sports field as it curves right, and cross some cricket practice mats to enter the wood.

After about 30 yards look through the trees on your left for an irregular line of concrete posts, marking the old railway route. Make for them and follow the path that links them: although it gets narrow at times - and at one point progress is hindered by a fallen tree - it is always traceable and passable.

Some stray pieces of reinforced concrete and the remains of a brick hut confirm that you are still on the route, until suddenly a large brick bridge looms ahead. Go under it and scramble up the bank on your right, turning left on a surfaced path that leads out of the wood past a school built on the line of the old track.

Emerging on to Muswell Hill Road again, turn hard left down the slope taking you back to the rail route through a tunnel under the road, then on to a path into more woods. After about a quarter of a mile you emerge on top of a viaduct with tremendous views away to your right. As you move on, the Canary Wharf tower comes into sight in the distant south-east. Above you on the left is the spire of St. James's Church, Muswell Hill, while ahead is Alexandra Palace's old television mast.

Just after the path goes under the main road turn sharp right to reach a covered raised walkway leading into The Grove, a pleasant little park. Take the left-hand path to what must be the most gastronomically correct London park cafe, featuring wholefoods, salads and, defiantly, 'no crisps, no junk food'.

Beyond it, follow the path round to the right, then turn left past the car park to reach a road that curves up the hill to Alexandra Palace - the curious folly built in 1873 that has suErvived two fires. After serving in 1936 as the world's first reTHER write errorgular television transmitter, it has been restored as an exhibition centre. The old railway station was in the basement.

Walk around to the front of the palace to get the full blast of its fanciful Victorian architecture and take in yet another stunning hilltop view. Just in front of the television mast go down the second flight of blue-railed steps and turn left towards more steps. Descend these and walk straight down across the grass, always keeping the mast directly behind you.

After crossing several paths and passing to the right of a large clump of trees you reach level ground. Until 1970 this was part of Alexandra Park racecourse, the closest to central London, its cheerful summer evening meetings habitually dominated by Lester Piggott, a master of negotiating the curious frying-pan shaped circuit.

Still walking directly away from the mast you reach a park exit by a dead tree trunk. Go between houses and turn left on to North View Road, then right at Nightingale Lane.

When you reach Priory Road, cross it and turn left, soon entering Priory Park at the junction with Middle Lane. Where the path in the park divides by the flower beds fork right, keeping along the right-hand edge of the park, soon passing a maple tree sporting autumnal red leaves.

Reaching a hard-surface playing area, go half right along an avenue of mature trees. Turn right at the end on a path with a low hedge on your left. After passing Philosophers' Garden (a solitary picnic table and no dogs allowed) turn left out of the park into Abbeville Road and right on Barrington Road.

At Park Road turn right, then left down a footpath signposted to Wood Vale, passing first between cricket fields and then tennis courts. Walk straight across Wood Vale towards Queen's Wood.

In the wood, take the widest of the paths on offer, going half left uphill. After a while it becomes partly surfaced with worn-out tarmac; soon, a little short of the brow of the hill, look for a path on the left which also has tarmac traces.

This leads to Queenswood Road, where you turn right. Near the top the road becomes Wood Lane and leads to the signposted path to the Tube station.

Distance: 4 miles

Time: 2 hours

Public transport: Highgate (Northern Line); buses 43, 134, 263

Parking: Station car park (pay and display) or in Queenswood Rd.

(Photograph omitted)

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