Saturday 7th January 2012
8 miles or so
Toilets: Rickmansworth Station; cafes in Watford High Street; Cassiobury Park; Watford Station (Metropolitan Line).
Firstly, the Ebury Way provides a 3.5 mile walk along a former railway line, the Watford and Rickmansworth Railway, which opened in 1862. Passenger services stopped in 1952, and most of the branch was finally closed in 1960. The route was eventually converted into a pedestrian and cycle way; horses are also allowed. Disused railway walks tend to be quite flat and easy-going, so the Ebury Way also advertises itself as suitable for wheelchairs and buggies.
Secondly, there used to be a branch line running from Watford High Street to Croxley Green. It closed in the mid-1990s. To be more precise, in the early 1990s they reduced the service to one train a day, keeping the line officially open, in order to avoid the bureaucracy and cost of closing it. From 1996 onwards, the trains no longer ran, and if you wanted to go that way, the train company would pay for you to get a taxi. It wasn’t until 2002 that the line officially closed. The line has been going through steady decay and has been overtaken by nature over the years, being documented by many people including the Abandoned Stations website in 2001-02, Hywel’s Underground History site in 2005, Simon in 2009, and Diamond Geezer in 2011.
I thought it was important to continue documenting the decline, because the area is about to undergo some major changes. In December 2011, after many years of discussion, approvals finally went ahead for the building of the Croxley Rail Link, which will extend the Metropolitan Line to Watford Junction. The route will look like this:
According to the website, construction work will start in Spring 2014 and be finished by 2016.
Once these works have been finished, the current Metropolitan Line station at Watford will become disused, providing everyone with yet another thing to take photos of before it disappears.
Our walk started out from the tube station at Rickmansworth, where we walked along its village-like high street, before passing the picturesque St Mary’s Church.
Shortly after joining the Ebury Way, we passed a small section of the Grand Union Canal.
The route then got going properly. It was a little bit muddy underfoot, but not too bad. It was definitely worth wearing walking boots, though.
There isn’t much to say about the route, since it’s a very obvious pathway. Apart from a couple of information boards, we didn’t notice any major evidence of there having been a railway there in years gone by. I did like this bridge over the canal though, near a lock.
The route went under the Metropolitan Line, and then under a main road.
All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. It wasn’t necessarily the greatest walk in the whole world, but it was nice enough. It crossed three rivers (Chess, Gade and Colne) and the Grand Union Canal. It was a sunny day, and it wasn’t strenuous. Plenty of local people use the route.
Near the end, the route left the cutting and skirted around a park and along the River Colne for a bit, before arriving at Watford High Street. We stopped at a cafe for lunch.
Croxley Green branch
From Watford High Street it was a short walk down to Wiggenhall Road, where we could already see the rusty, overgrown tracks below the bridge. We walked all the way down Cardiff Road, and along a little footpath at the end. It was match day in Watford, so we passed lots of football fans going in the opposite direction. I’m glad they were there, otherwise the whole area would’ve been more or less devoid of people and I would’ve felt uneasy.
We reached the bridge where the tracks went over the footpath. Everywhere we went along the route, there were signs up to inform people of the forthcoming building works.
I’d read a few blog posts where people had said they’d found a convenient gap in the fence to allow them to get up to the tracks. I’d been hoping to find a little something, but I certainly hadn’t been expecting to find it this easy.
The banks were slightly steep, but the majority of reasonably healthy people with sturdy shoes could get up here quite easily. I was surprised at how easy it was, and we were soon standing on the actual railway.
When I was at primary school, we were taught to stay away from railway lines. I remember a man coming in to our school to deliver a very important talk about it, and we all made posters that were put up in the corridor. Needless to say, the tracks here are not live and no trains have passed through since 1996. Even if one wanted to, it would be impossible due to the vegetation growth (most of it is much denser than in the photo above) and the fact that the rails are completely rusty in places. I did feel slightly sick, though – for some reason, I was half expecting one to coming hurtling around the corner anyway. And in a few years’ time, when the works are complete, this will indeed happen. So if you’re interested in exploring this derelict little corner of the world, do it now before it’s too late, and go in the winter otherwise there’ll be even more greenery in the way.
We went down the same way as we’d gone up. On the other side of the bridge was the entrance to Watford Stadium Halt. It was fenced off, but someone had ripped out a few of the sections so we just stepped inside, just like that. There was a slope going up to the platform level.
There was a gate at the top that appeared to be closed when viewed from afar, but it turned out to be open.
We were now standing on the platform itself. The “Way Out” sign remained, along with a few lampposts and a little shelter. The tracks were so overgrown that we could barely see them.
Continuing on our journey, we could see the platform from the bridge at Vicarage Road.
The next stop was Watford West Station, on Tolpits Lane. There was still a sign outside that nobody ever bothered to take down.
The entrance to the station was very definitely fenced off, and there was no way anyone could get through here. I put my hand through the railings to take this photo.
A few metres away on the eastern side of the bridge, however, there was a very obvious gap in the fence next to a huge advertising board. We went through, and were faced with a steep drop where it was theoretically possible to get down to the platform level. I have no doubt that many people have done so, but it looked so steep (and slippery, due to recent rain) that we didn’t want to risk it, in case we weren’t able to get back up again.
The next point of interest was Ascot Road, a relatively new road that made it necessary to remove some of the railway during the building process. We could just about see the remains of the embankment.
Nearby we could see the remains of a building owned by Sun Printers, formerly one of the world’s largest printing companies.
A bit further on, the route used to be carried by this decorative bridge over the Grand Union Canal. There are trees growing on the line. It won’t be part of the new route when it’s built; I wonder if they’ll just leave it there anyway.
…and the last stop on the line was Croxley Green.
A very overgrown flight of stairs still remained.
A squashed-down section of fence showed us that we were far from the only people to have visited this site. It was possible to get up the stairs, with care. There was a piece of collapsed wooden fence higher up, making it a bit tricky.
The platform disappeared a few years ago, but the track remained. There were no buffers at the end of the line; it just came to a complete, uneventful stop. You can just about see a lamppost at the top right of the photo.
That was it. A bit of an anti-climax, really. Watford Stadium Halt was the most interesting bit, so it might’ve been better to start at Croxley Green and move eastwards.
We walked north along the Grand Union Canal for about a mile, before crossing a bridge that led us into Cassiobury Park. We had a go on the miniature railway, which cost £1 a go, and were lucky to catch the last one of the day.
We concluded our walk at Watford Tube Station, which will go out of use once the works are complete. Catch it while you can.