diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 21, 2014

Today I bring you three southwest London Borough Tops, of similar heights but subtly different characters.

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Richmond: Richmond Hill

56 metres (23rd out of 33) [map] [map]


Unsurprisingly, and pleasingly, the highest point in the London borough of Richmond is Richmond Hill. That's not the hill about which the old song The Lass Of Richmond Hill was written, that's in Yorkshire, but it is the only hill in Britain with a view protected by Parliament. The Richmond, Petersham and Ham Open Spaces Act was passed in 1902 and preserves the meadows on the famous picturesque and much-painted bend in the Thames. That lies beneath the slope that rises gently from the shops, past grand houses and the occasional hotel to the gates of Richmond Park. And it's on the western edge of this great open space that the land peaks, on the ridgetop just to the north of Pembroke Lodge. The Ordnance Survey have set up their trig point between the road and the footpath, where the cyclists and the joggers speed by. But a higher artificial peak is the prehistoric mound close by, moulded several times over the centuries into a royal hunter's vantage point and a landscaped Arcadian feature. It's King Henry's Mound, and it's a London Borough Top jackpot. [4 photos]

Two exceptional things happened on my visit to KHM last weekend. Firstly there was nobody else there, which never happens, and secondly I saw St Paul's Cathedral. The dome of Wren's masterpiece is supposed to be visible from the summit, but on every previous visit visibility has been too poor. A protected line of sight exists to the northeast, with a narrow gap cut through Sidmouth Wood in the precise direction of St Paul's. And this invisible beam from Richmond exerts considerable influence on planning policy in the City ten miles distant. Buildings along the viewing corridor must not interfere with this view of the cathedral, so there are no tall office blocks or skyscrapers either in front or behind within a margin of two dome widths. Richmond's protected vista is the precise reason why the Cheesegrater retreats to a triangular point, and why Liverpool Street station is as yet undefiled by highrise development. It's also how I managed to see Wren's dome against a clear blue background, admittedly faintly, but achievement unlocked.



A telescope is set up on the top of the mound in memory of local residents Bill and Ella Evans, should you want to peer through the holly hedge at greater magnification. Or you can spin it round the other way and enjoy the broad view over Hounslow, Surrey and Berks - less spectacular in close-up, but a more impressive panorama. The Thames doesn't really feature here, but Strawberry Hill, Windsor Castle and planes flying into Heathrow should all be seen. One reason that Richmond Hill impresses is the sharp drop down to the river at Petersham, hence this may only be the 23rd highest borough top in London, but the difference in elevation feels considerably greater. And I could have stayed much longer in contented contemplation, but the imminent arrival of a typically overexcited family group eventually tugged me away.
by tube/train: Richmond   by bus: 65, 371

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Wandsworth: Putney Heath

60 metres (22nd out of 33) [map] [map]


The next area of high ground to the east of Richmond Park is Wimbledon Common. Two London boroughs have their highest point here, the first of these more specifically on Putney Heath. This is the northern chunk of the common, with more acidic soil, running close to the A3 on Kingston Road. It's a popular walking spot for residents and their dogs, and I had to step out of the way at one point to avoid an inter-canine fracas between Gizmo and "Stop Doing That!" Sky. I'd never explored the area north of the windmill before, so I was surprised to discover, shielded by trees, an unexpectedly hummocky hill. It rises a dozen or so metres above the surround heathland, to two separate (and roughly equal) peaks, and looks like it might once have been excavated material dumped from elsewhere. I nipped up promptly, watched by a couple of picnic parties sprawled out in the adjacent clearing, and once again had the entire summit entirely to myself. [3 photos]

This is Jerry's Hill, which sounds endearing until you realise the man in question was Jeremiah Abershawe, an 18th century highwayman whose dead body was hung in chains from a gibbet here as a warning to others. There's no such unpleasantness these days, just a sandy track that passes from one peak to the next and then more steeply down the far side. This is a thistly, teaselly, heathery, gorsey kind of a place, with a thick cloud of thistledown blowing across the peak throughout my visit. You'd need to be a bit of a masochist to step off the path, but jogging up and over the double bump looks like it'd add a bit of challenge to a circuit of the Common. Aerial distraction is provided by Boeings and Airbuses destined for Heathrow, a little to the north, but the remainder of London is almost perfectly screened by trees. Hence this overgrown heathland knoll really doesn't feel like Wandsworth at all, nor indeed anywhere in particular, and is all the better for it.
by tube: Southfields   by bus: 85, 265

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Merton: Wimbledon Common

55 metres (24th out of 33) [map] [map]


To reach Merton's highest point from Wandsworth's, walk a mile across Wimbledon Common. That's a pleasant task in itself, and relatively flat too with barely a change in height from one end to the other. Merton's summit is at the far southern end of the common where the residential streets kick in, approximately at the top of Lauriston Road. This is Wimbledon Village, the more prestigious end of the town, established on this raised ground long before the railway arrived and dragged New Wimbledon firmly downhill. The houses directly facing the common have a premium site, and a size and value to match, some with turrets and many with gated driveways. Residents can't see much of the common thanks to an avenue of tall mature trees, except presumably in the winter, but one suspects accessible exclusion is the way they like it. [3 photos]

The main natural feature hereabouts is Rushmere Pond, a broad shallow pool dating back to medieval times, now allegedly supporting a shoal of koi carp. Close by I disturbed a flock of housemartins, swooping low across the grass, which made for a moment of small delight. But the most unusual presence was a row of tall plastic figures featuring a knight in armour, a native American squaw, a construction worker and a firewoman. I'd stumbled upon the Playmobil 40th anniversary tour, a summertime safari aimed at encouraging promotional photosharing. For a couple of hours the giant figures and their minders lurked on Wimbledon Common, awaiting Facebook-enabled families to pop along and attempt to take a prize-winning snap. I suspect my photo will be seen by more people than any of theirs, but my composition is all wrong, and I never wanted a limited edition compact set anyway.
by tube: Wimbledon   by bus: 93, 200, 493

» 75 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N; Inner NW; Outer N; Outer W

 Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If you were planning to go to the Post Office in Bromley-by-Bow today, you can't. The branch in Stroudley Walk closed yesterday, and won't ever be reopening. It was, to be fair, possibly the most horrible Post Office anywhere in London. The building was part of the postwar redevelopment project of Bromley High Street - some architect's idea of 1970s chic, a dysfunctional symphony in brown. In their benevolence Stroudley Walk was gifted a grim brick parade with flats on top, and an arched colonnade which inconveniently blocked sight of all the shops behind. It's no retail nirvana, indeed far from it.

The Post Office was situated nextdoor to a fish and chip shop of dubious origin, presenting a windowless façade to the windswept precinct outside. Entering for stamps, or more likely the cashing of some benefit payment, meant stepping back in time to austerity decor untroubled by refurbishment in several decades. A queue wiggled up the threadbare carpet and back, overwhelmed somewhat by the space, to a window behind which staff scuttled around in semi-darkness. More than one language was spoken, not always mine, and waiting for service was always somewhat purgatorial. The thought that I will never again have to queue in Stygian gloom has cheered me no end.

The official closing time was 5.30pm yesterday, but when I turned up at five the lights were already off and the brown doors were locked shut. No other potential customers seemed inconvenienced. "This Post Office Is Now Close!!!" read the message hastily marker-penned and blutacked to the glass panel, above the poster announcing the official Local Public Consultation Decision. That consultation took place last summer, when Branch 050002's demise had been pencilled in for November, but here we are now a full nine months later. And what this means is that if you want to post a parcel or pay your vehicle tax in Bromley-by-Bow today you can't, you'll have to travel a mile or more to one of the East End's other branches.

But tomorrow, woohoo, Bow's brand new Post Office opens. It's not in a new building, and it's not on Stroudley Walk, it's at the back of the existing Nisa supermarket on Bow Road. You'll know it if you're local as the shop with the Co-op beehive motif on the front, circa 1919, but it's been in the hands of more minor grocery chains for some time now. This is one of the Post Office's new-style modernisations, now rolling out across the country, the idea being to achieve symbiosis with an existing business rather that waste money on solo premises. Customers get longer opening hours and a nicer environment, and the Post Office gets a lot of old premises to flog off.

There are benefits too for Nisa's existing customers. All Post Offices must be fully accessible so money's been spent doubling up the access ramp at the front so it runs both ways. The front door is now electronic and swishes automatically, rather than us having to remember whether it pushes or pulls, and daily newspapers have been moved to a new rack so that wheelchairs don't immediately crash into the old one on entering. One particular aisle has been designated the official route to the rear and has red and white arrowed signs hung aloft. And right at the back of the store is the new Post Office area, just past the Häagen-Dazs and frozen food, allegedly an extension but more likely a converted bit of storeroom.

The new facilities aren't yet uncovered, but we're promised "one position screened counter and two open plan serving positions", in an environment surely more pleasant than before. There's also a further serving point located at the front of the shops by the till, the idea being that the majority of Post Office services will be available whenever the shop is open, so that's a win all round. The new postmistress is the supermarket manager's wife, who looks like she's raring to get the whole thing started. She's been doing the job over in Stroudley Walk for a while, and has a no-nonsense strength of character which would suit a primary school headteacher or a plum role in EastEnders.

But nobody's yet moved the Post Office's Royal Mail post box. That still sits in Stroudley Walk like it always has, which is now 650 metres (and two pedestrian crossings) from the new counter service. Another box exists outside the old Town Hall on Bow Road, but this isn't exactly conveniently located either if you're exiting the supermarket with a birthday card to post. I wonder if that's an oversight, or simply because the two halves of the GPO no longer need to talk to one another nor support each other's work.

Anyway, Bow's new Post Office opens for business at 1pm tomorrow, should this be of any interest to any of you. The new place will no doubt be bland and functional, but at least it won't the desolate cavern we locals have had to use for years. And that'll be another nail in the coffin for Stroudley Walk, never the retail hub its planners hoped, and now devoid of the one public service that brought additional commercial custom. And I can't see any business wanting to buy the old Post Office up, but then the neighbouring Rose and Crown pub has recently metamorphosed into a peri-peri espresso bar, so stranger things have happened.

 Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More lists gleaned from TfL FOI requests [data]

London bus stop statistics [data]
Total number of TfL bus stops in London: 17866
Number of request stops: 8504 (48%)
The five boroughs with the most bus stops: Bromley (1053), Croydon (978), Barnet (867), Hillingdon (766), Ealing (715)
The five boroughs with the fewest bus stops: City of London (138), Kensington & Chelsea (267), Hammersmith & Fulham (289), Islington (353), Sutton (364)
The letter most likely to appear on top of a bus stop: D (509 times)
(other single letters of the alphabet follow in the order BACEHKLJFMPGNSRTUQWVXYZOI)

TfL bus stops including the name of a supermarket [data]
1) Sainsbury's (45) (e.g. Brentwood Sainsbury's)
2) Tesco (39) (e.g. Perivale Tesco)
3) Asda (9) (e.g. Roehampton Vale Asda)
4) Morrisons (7) (e.g. Queensbury Morrisons)
5) Marks and Spencer (2) (i.e. Banstead Marks&Spencer)
(meanwhile 9 bus stops include Selfridges and 4 include Harrods)

Buses whose destination includes the name of a supermarket [data]
1) Sainsbury's (19 destinations): 79, 187, 194, 245, 262, 295, 321, 325, 352, 371, 385, 391, 397, 403, 450, 498, P13, U7, W5
2) Tesco (17 destinations): 168, 273, 275, 321, 324, 332, 341, 349, 377, 488, 499, C3, E5, E6, H20, H28, H28
3) Asda (10 destinations): 135, 145, 219, 292, 303, D3, D6, D8, K3, W14
4) Morrisons (3 destinations): 27, 288, 393
5) Marks&Spencer (2 destinations): 166, S1
6=) Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, Waitrose, etc (0 destinations)
Large out of town supermarkets are of course excellent places to terminate buses because there's plenty of room for a bus stand, but this does mean the grocery chains get several miles-worth of free advertising on bus destination blinds.
The 321 runs from a Tesco to a Sainsbury's.
The H28 runs from a Tesco to a Tesco.


The three shortest London bus routes [data]
1) 389 Underhill → The Spires (0.9 miles)
2) 327 Waltham Cross → Cocker Road (1.7 miles)
3) R9 Orpington → Tintagel Road (1.8 miles)
The R9's route is twice as long in the 'opposite' direction.

The three longest London bus routes [data]
1) X26 Heathrow → Croydon (24.1 miles)
2) N89 Erith → Charing Cross (23.3 miles)
3) N9 Heathrow T5 → Aldwych (20.9 miles)
Ten other nightbuses beat everything in the next list.

The five longest non-lettered London bus routes [data]
1) 465 Dorking → Kingston (16.8 miles)
2) 166 Epsom Hospital → West Croydon (16.6 miles)
3) 358 Orpington → Crystal Palace (16.0 miles)
4) 111 Heathrow → Kingston (15.9 miles)
5) 246 Chartwell → Bromley North (15.6 miles)
(coincidentally, I caught four of those over the weekend)

The five busiest DLR stations (passengers per year, 2013) [data]
1) Bank (12.8 million)
2) Canning Town (9.3 million)
3) Canary Wharf (8.3 million)
4) Stratford (6.7 million)
5) Woolwich Arsenal (4.6 million)
...then Lewisham (4.6m), Limehouse (3.6m), Shadwell (3.5m), Heron Quays (3.3m), Cutty Sark (3.0m)

The five least busy DLR stations (passengers per year, 2013) [data]
1) Beckton Park (183000)
2) Pudding Mill Lane (345000)
3) Stratford High Street (442000)
4) Pontoon Dock (483000)
5) Gallions Reach (485000)
...then Star Lane (492000), Abbey Road (503000), Stratford International (610000), West Silvertown (666000), Royal Albert (682000)

The five least busy Tramlink stops (2013) [data]
1) Avenue Road (186000)
2) Coombe Lane (314000)
3) Birkbeck (384000)
4) Beddington Lane (418000)
5) Harrington Road (436000)
The five busiest are East Croydon (7.8m), Wimbledon (4.6m), George Street (3.0m), West Croydon (2.7m) and Sandilands (2.0m)

The five least busy tube stations (2013) [data]
Come on, we did all that last month.

 Monday, August 18, 2014

100 slightly strange London bus stop names

Albert Square
Amen Corner
Angel Corner
Animal Reception Centre
Badgers Mount/Badgers Rise        
Bald Faced Stag
Blackness Lane
Blood Transfusion Centre
Bounces Road
Butter Hill
Casino Avenue
C E M E
Chargeable Lane
Clamp Hill
Chelsea Worlds End
Cockabourne Bridge
Copt Gilders
Crabtree Manorway North
Crooked Usage
Crook Log
Cummings Hall Lane
Dongola Road
East View Kennels
Electric House
Faggs Road
Fakruddin Street
Farwig Lane
Fish Island
Force Green
Ford Gate 3
Gibbon Walk
Golf Ride
Goose Green
Graham Hall Coachworks
Great Benty
Gubbins Lane
Guy, Earl of Warwick
Ha Ha Road
Halt Robin Lane
Ham Parade
Hasluck Gardens
Heathrow Close
Highgate Group Practice
Holiday Inn
Horse Leaze
Icity
Ickenham Pump
Jutsums Lane
Kodak Sports Ground
Lady Dock Path
Lings Coppice
Little Britain
Lunar House
Malden Rushett/Shy Horse
Maypole/Bo Peep
Medical Research Institute
Naafi Messing Store
National Physical Laboratory
Neasden Underpass
Nonsuch Park
North Pole Road
Nutter Lane
Old School Close
Pools on the Park
Popes Grotto
Pratts Bottom
Pricklers Hill
Quorn Road
Reapers Way
Roundel Close
Safari Bridge
Savage Gardens
Scotland Green
Secombe Centre
Seething Wells
Shaa Road
Shirley Clinic
Snakes Lane East
St Mary Axe
Stoats Nest Village
Susan Wood
The Cauliflower
The Chinese Garage
The Cottage Loaf
The Hop Exchange
The Pavement
The Rabbits
The Squirrels
The Thames Riviera
Tiepigs Lane
Times Square
Uneeda Drive
Velopark
Vulcan Way
Waltheof Avenue
Wavelengths
Wibbandune Sports Club
William Barefoot Drive
Zangwill Road
Zig Zag Road

» Full list of London bus stops
» Search for a bus stop


7 more slightly strange London bus stop names (thanks!)
Brian Close
Charles I I Street
Clitterhouse Road South
Oval Square
Tibbetts Ride/Green Man
The Jolly Farmers Open Space
University of Cumbria in London

 Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's a surprisingly hard task, this Visiting All The Highest Points In Each London Borough stuff. There are 33 locations to trek round, scattered fairly haphazardly across the capital, and it's taking up a lot of time. I do try to optimise my route by linking together peaks in a fairly efficient order, and some are even conveniently clustered together which helps. But, good though London's transport network is, it isn't really set up for making random point-to-point journeys across town. That's particularly true in the suburbs, which is where most of these summits are, often in relatively inaccessible places of low population density. In particular railways in London tend to be radial rather than orbital, so they're not usually much help in getting from Stanmore to Barnet, or Hounslow to Richmond, or wherever. Railways also tend to stick to lowlands rather than high ground, for engineering reasons, so few are heading where I really need to go. And so I've been spending a lot of my time on buses, often two of them in succession, to try to make each journey from one highest point to the next. London's bus network is brilliant at covering every corner of the capital, but linking together two buses can be very slow, especially when you just miss a connecting service and have to wait up to 30 minutes for the next. On average it's taking me an hour to tick off each London Borough Top, which makes for long days of travelling, and the whole safari's going to take me at least four full days in the field. And then there's writing the whole lot up, which is a separate challenge in itself, especially when a summit isn't intrinsically interesting or when there's lots to research. Still, that's all of North London's highest points now visited and chronicled, leaving only the delights of South London's hilltops to go. Bet you can't wait...

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Hounslow: The Vale

35 metres (30th out of 33) [map] [map]


In 1988 Hounslow council decided to give a gravel pit in the southwest corner of the borough a makeover. They moved 2 million cubic metres of soil to create a new landscape of mounds and water, seeded the whole lot with wildflower mix and called it Bedfont Lakes Country Park. In the process they created a new hill called Monolith Hill, an artificial summit 29m high, topped off with a big stone and a metal disc to show some of the visible landmarks. These included Windsor Castle, Wembley's arch, all the usual, because there wasn't much else in the neighbourhood to block any sightlines. And the grand design was to create the highest point in the borough, which for one of London's flatter administrative districts is a inspired topographical idea. It says as much on the council website...
"...much of the soil and landfill was used to form the hills running through the middle of North Side, creating the highest point in the borough at 95 ft above sea level."
All of which would have been well and good were it not for one slight technicality, which is that the borough of Hounslow tops 100 feet along its northern edge. A patch of land around the M4, including the whole of Heston Services, lies very clearly within a 30m contour. The Airlinks Golf Course, the North Hyde estate, even the 24 hour Tesco Extra At Bulls Bridge, all of these are higher above sea level that Bedfont's intended peak. And some very careful study of the Ordnance map reveals a single tiny 35m contour looped around a spot in Heston itself, and this is the true unforced borough summit. So I didn't get to go to the Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in Bedfont, with its 350 types of plant and 155 bird species, because that would have been much too interesting. Instead I went to a road junction on a suburban estate near a motorway. Your loss.

The Vale is a bog standard, nice enough kind of residential street. The houses are big semis with pointed porches and paved-over front gardens. The odd one has a floral gnome out front but most are perfectly normal, which is a shame because I was hoping there'd be something interesting to write about. The high point comes two roads along, at the junction with the tweely-named Meadow Waye, although you'd be hard pushed to notice from the lie of the land. One of the houses on the corner has a single giant hollyhock opposite the front door, another has a skip in, and someone's got a snack van parked on their drive, but that's about it for individuality. [4 photos]

It's a very quiet street because the eastern end was sealed off by a locked gate a decade ago. There's even a sign on North Hyde Lane which reads "Advance Warning - No access into The Vale from 29th June 2004", which can only suggest that Hounslow council's roads department is gobsmackingly forgetful and/or lazy. The road surface is intriguing too, seemingly laid in segments with tarred black lines as divides, with a particularly random pattern at the borough high point to avoid a couple of manhole covers. And every 90 seconds or so the street reverberates with the sound of aircraft noise as yet another plane comes in to land on Heathrow's northern runway, which is less than two miles away. Thankfully the flight path runs a little to the south so it's not deafening, but it is relentless, and were a third runway ever built over Harmondsworth then residents of the The Vale would be in direct line of fire.
by tube: Hounslow West   by bus: 111, 482, H32

» 66 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N, Inner NW, N, NW

 Saturday, August 16, 2014

Today, the tale of two northwest London hilltops with very different fates.

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Ealing: Horsenden Hill

85 metres (20th out of 33) [map] [map]


Ealing has a proper peak. Horsenden Hill rises up steeply on all sides, the way a child would draw it, while an Ordnance Survey map displays a bullseye of concentric contours. Whichever side you arrive it's a good 100 foot climb to the top, and there are several possible ascents, which makes this a good place for an urban hike. The Capital Ring passes over the summit, and members of Horsenden Hill Golf Club climb a fair way every time they make a round. I took the golf club route - badly signposted, but nobody was out on the course so my random wander didn't get in anyone's way. [3 photos]

The hilltop's relatively flat, easily large enough for a ballgame, even if the grass isn't cut to make that entirely practical. But only if you spot the access panels would you necessarily spot the slight artificialness that conceals yet another of London's covered reservoirs beneath Horsenden's mown façade. The land round the central trig point is more real, it's where an iron Age hillfort sat, and here the long grass is alive with unseen buzzy creatures. A single oak stands where the main footpaths meet, but there are considerably more trees around the southern rim blocking any hope of seeing through. Instead panoramas to north and west are what you get, which you can interpret from the information boards Ealing Council have helpfully plonked in the corner. Peer through the dead flies and grime to confirm that yes, those are the Chilterns, and that's Stanmore, and that big flat-roofed white building is the Royal Mail Distribution Centre in Perivale. Various charred piles suggest that bonfires and barbecues are popular up here, perhaps as the ideal chill-out at dusk for those that live in the avenues beneath. Thankfully Shirley Ann's wooden memorial bench hasn't gone up yet, but one fears it can only be a matter of time.

I had the plateau much to myself initially, until joined by a selfie-snapping mum who'd lugged a pushchair up the hill. Some young children wandered by like this was their summer playground, because how great would that be, and a barrage of unrelated ramblers followed. I was surprised how few of those climbing to the top stopped and lingered, especially after climbing the steeper paths from the canal - a quick pause and they were straight back down again. And then a bloke arrived with a picnic table, closely followed by three small boys carrying sports gear - the advance guard for an extended family invasion. Up they panted from the car park, barely 100 metres away direct, but far enough below to spread out the group into mountaineers and stragglers. Before long the space beneath the oak tree had become a social encampment decked out with blankets and sunshades, with Jack Daniels being poured and a variety of supermarket picnic food on display. I left them to their rounders, or whatever, and headed back down rejoicing that the house builders left Horsenden alone.
by tube: Sudbury Town   by bus: 204, 487, H17

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Brent: Wakemans Hill

92 metres (16th out of 33) [map] [map]


But the housebuilders got this one. A hilltop higher than Horsenden rises up from the Edgware Road in the general vicinity of Kingsbury. It's harder to see on the map, there being streets and houses everywhere, but this too is a proper hill with bullseye contours, if rather shallower on the flanks. The borough peak is on Wakemans Hill Avenue, a typically broad suburban street built when space in outer London wasn't at a premium. It's lined by white-fronted semi-detached houses topped with tiled gabled roofs, each with either a well tended front garden or more likely hardstanding for two cars. The cul-de-sacs to either side have names like Summit Close and Hillview Gardens, as a hint to what lies beneath, and there are indeed some fairly bracing views towards Colindale and Finchley as the main avenue drops away. On the brow of the hill I passed a man delivering leaflets door to door, I think for dial-up pizza, while another man out tending to his hedge almost reversed into me with a power saw. And if you're thinking it all sounds very Metroland, you'd be right, indeed this very hilltop featured in Betjeman's famous documentary. [5 photos]

It's not a long segment, slotted in between longer trips to Wembley and Harrow, but Sir John appears briefly on what looks like the battlements of a castle, only for the camera to pull back to reveal a most peculiar house. He'd come to Kingsbury to revel in the work of Ernest Trobridge, a quirky architect from the 1920s with a taste for timber-framed construction. Some of Trobridge's more cottagey homes remain in the area, for example just round the corner in Buck Lane, but his style didn't prove popular at the time and the more traditional semi-detacheds smothered the area. Betjeman picked Highfort Court for the programme, an amazing corner-site apartment block with crenellations, turret and arrowslits, accessed up a rather narrow central staircase. Across the street is a slightly lesser beast, this time with twin white towers, now partially obscured behind a lofty conifer. Even closer to the summit is Whitecastle Mansions, the name perhaps more impressive than the reality, but those who live in Trobridge's maisonettes today no doubt revel in their oddity. And OK, so Horsenden Hill has done so much better in surviving untainted, but at least the smothering of Wakemens Hill was done in style.
by tube: Kingsbury   by bus: 32, 83, 142, 183, 204, 302, 324



» 63 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N, Inner NW, North

 Friday, August 15, 2014

The highest points in London's four northernmost boroughs run along the border with Hertfordshire. And they're proper high, all four of them.

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Hillingdon: Potter Street Hill

134 metres (7th out of 33) [map] [map]


A lot of Hillingdon is fairly flat - it's why Heathrow Airport and RAF Northolt were built here. But head to north of the borough and the land bubbles up to heights the equal of Hampstead Heath. The station to go to... and this is obvious once you've thought about it... is Northwood Hills. The name's a Metroland invention, but the situation's about right, with suburban avenues beyond the Pinner Road rising inexorably higher and higher. One proper summit is the Hogs Back Open Space below Hillside Crescent, still farmland until the 1950s, now surrounded by a Bungalow Conservation Area. But that's nothing compared to Potter Street Hill, a surprisingly leafy lane that tracks the border between Hillingdon and Harrow. The best view comes a short way up before the trees intrude, back down across gabled rooftops towards Ruislip and the Colne Valley. But up here the houses are far more exclusive, great detached hideaways set inside secluded acres of garden, with names like Antolido and The Sloes. The lane is half a mile long and bordered by barely a dozen properties, because it's in shady corners like this that London's richer residents buy seclusion and delight. [3 photos]

The top of the hill is a triple-H intersection, where Hillingdon meets Harrow meets Hertfordshire. You can tell it's the right spot because there's a cast-iron coal post plonked on the verge, marked with the City of London's insignia, and in remarkably good nick. The road from London up to Herts is very narrow and blocked by bollards, one of which looks like it might be retractable if ever the emergency services had to rush through. The houses are even grander on the Oxhey side, plus there's another of those covered reservoirs I keep finding on highest points, this tucked into some rather lovely woods. On the Harrow side a warren of private roads extends beyond a smart entrance lodge, which you're only supposed to drive past if you live here or are heading to Pinner Hill Golf Club. I ventured past and set off an automated "you are being recorded by security cameras" message, so made sure I strode around a bit more just for show. And on the Hillingdon side, nothing so grand, just a National Grid portakabin fenced securely in the top corner of a school playing field. An intriguing spot to visit, this secluded cul-de-sac summit, with more to see than my map had suggested, but I can't imagine ever needing to come back.
by tube: Northwood Hills   by bus: H13

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Harrow: Bushey Heath

153 metres (3rd out of 33) [map] [map]


You probably wouldn't have guessed that Harrow holds bronze medal position in the league table of highest London boroughs. But there's quite a scarp above Stanmore, at the point where the Jubilee line halts and the Green Belt begins. One flank is Brockley Hill, up which Watling Street ascends, reaching a pretty-high point by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. But Stanmore Hill rises even higher, to a sort-of plateau around Bushey Heath, and what turns out to be the highest point in North London. It was also the highest point in Middlesex, back when that was a county, and is higher above sea level than the top pod on the London Eye and the chimneys of Battersea Power Station. It's just a shame that it's not a very interesting spot, not quite. [3 photos]

It almost is, but the Hertfordshire border fractionally lops off the top of the hill. The land on the non-London side rises two metres further, and it's here that three more covered reservoirs have been built to take full gravitational advantage. The housebuilders of Bushey Heath grabbed the remainder of the upland for suburban development, one of Watford's more aspirational outposts, and would have been more so if they'd ever got their tube station. North London's peak is on Magpie Hall Road, a cut-through from Harrow Weald to the M1, close to a fairly generic crossroads. Here a single avenue of fairly ordinary houses is tucked into a grassy corner dominated by a run of pine trees and conifers - that's Alpine Walk. Across the road is an Italian restaurant called The Alpine, a little dressy from the look of the family I saw stumbling out into the car park, but also well-stuffed and inebriated.

Just down the hill, definitely in Harrow this time, is the entrance to a very famous wartime hideaway. This is Bentley Priory, from whose stately rooms RAF Fighter Command won the battle in the skies, and still an RAF building in 2008. Part is now a brand new museum, but the remainder is becoming luxury housing, not just the Georgian centrepiece but more modern mansion homes for the seriously rich laid out along exclusive crescents in private parkland. Even the enormous marketing suite at the top of the drive has been built with a classical portico in a show of wealth, or I'd say vulgar ostentatiousness. Mere mortals should instead explore Stanmore Common, whose splendid woody acres feed the Aldenham Reservoir, and so nearly the top spot in the borough, but not quite.
by tube: Stanmore   by bus: 142, 258

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Barnet: Arkley

147 metres (5th out of 33) [map] [map]


The London borough of Barnet is pretty much nothing but hills, in complete contrast to much of East London which isn't. Hampstead Garden Suburb tops 100 metres, Mill Hill reaches 119m, and the village of Totteridge 126m. But the toppermost spot is in the village of Arkley, on a ridge between High Barnet and Borehamwood. Best of all it's a proper summit, not an gradient on an administrative boundary, although the precise peak is hard to pin down. I arrived on the number 107 bus, quite late in the day, and gave myself the 20 minutes before the next service to cram my visit in. The best view was actually from the top of the bus, as the land drops rapidly down to the Dollis Brook, occasionally opening up a vista towards the City through the trees. I could see the Shard more clearly than Arkley windmill, one of very few surviving mills in London, but stashed away up a private road behind another leafy screen. [3 photos]

My destination was Rowley Lane, off the main drag, past a whopping great house with security camera and floodlights poking up above the hedge. Of more interest was the view through the hedge opposite, which shielded yet another covered reservoir, this time at the highest point precisely. It's like the Water Board nipped round London reserving all the hilltops for water storage before any house builders realised they could have got maximum value from these summit sites instead. And blimey, what an architectural find, assuming you're the sort of person who likes concrete on stilts. Arkley Water Tower is an amazing snowflake-like structure, constructed from six hexagonal chambers suspended above the ground on a series of tapering columns. It's like some alien craft landed here in the 1970s and is biding its time in obscurity before rising up and firing a death ray from the hilltop, or maybe that's just my imagination. I wonder what folk leaving the golf club opposite thought as I snapped repeatedly from imperceptibly different angles through the fence, but I suspect I could have got a much better photo in the winter, with the chlorophyll shield removed.
by bus: 107

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Enfield: Camlet Way

115 metres (10th out of 33) [map] [map]


All four of today's Borough Tops are in London's Top Ten, although Enfield only scrapes in. Its peak is located in the westernmost corner of the borough close to Monken Hadley Common, which is a gorgeous spot to the north of New Barnet, and the last surviving fragment of the ancient woodland of Enfield Chase. I had to walk because the 399 bus is one of London's least frequent, and gives up running after 3pm. But that meant an enticing stroll from High Barnet, past the pond and the almshouses and the parish church, and onto the common where the last overs of a cricket match were playing out. One fielder stood right beside the road on the boundary, his additional role presumably to prevent the ball from accidentally smashing through a passing car's side window. Two gentlemen wandered over from the clubhouse clutching jugs of orange squash to share with the scorer, as the game thwacked on towards the inevitable tie. And that would all have been perfect, except the common is full square in Barnet, while Enfield begins quarter of a mile down the hill. [3 photos]

Monken Hadley Common ends fifteen metres lower than the cricket pitch, at a white gate on Camlet Way. The gate is mostly ornamental, to indicate where the byelaws begins, and marks a sudden transition between woodland and residential. Enfield council have erected a bland sign to welcome drivers to the borough, its lettering part-peeled, but still much better than Barnet council who haven't bothered putting up any sign at all. The suburb beyond the gate is Hadley Wood, a right-angled bite of affluence on the East Coast mainline. There are no small houses in Hadley Wood, indeed Camlet Way is lined by desirable detached mansions all the way down to the Cockfosters Road. Most are gated, and seemingly all are protected by the Legion Group whose 24 hour security hotline is advertised on every gatepost. Hadley Wood's an extreme example, but it's amazing how many of London's highpoints have been colonised by the wealthy.
by train: Hadley Wood   by bus: 399

» 57 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N, Inner NW

 Thursday, August 14, 2014

If it's excitement you want, then the inaugural Mile End and Bow Festival should be right up your street. This special celebration of community, food and the arts takes place across the E3 postcode over the forthcoming weekend, and the organisers promise there'll be fun enough for everyone.

I'm delighted to have been selected as media partner for the Mile End and Bow Festival, so I'll be bringing you tempting previews of the events taking place, plus highlights of the best experiences as the festival progresses. There really is so much to enjoy - just like a normal weekend in the East End, only better!

Everything kicks off at 7pm on the Friday evening with a celebratory procession along the Mile End Road. The theme this year is Fire and Light, so everyone should bring along a candle, torch or lantern to illuminate the way. The procession will be led by the Pearly King of Tower Hamlets, while children at the St George's Academy Summer School will be showing off their carnival costumes at the finale on the Green Bridge. Tickets for the grandstand seating can be reserved in advance on the official festival site.

There's so much to choose from on the Saturday that you may want to sit down and plan your day right now. The morning begins with a special Storytime Hour at the Mile End Idea Store, where local author Katherine Hennessey will be reading from, and selling copies of, her latest book. Meanwhile senior citizens can start their day with a free cooked breakfast at the Bengal Cafe on Grove Road, served 'wartime style' with eggs over easy, and guaranteed as tasty as usual.

Don't forget to drop in at the Bow Wharf Community Centre for tea and biscuits and their Retro Bring and Buy, where this month's chosen decades are the Forties and the Seventies. Or why not join CAMRA's Gerry Vincent on his walking tour of The Ghost Pubs of Bromley-by-Bow, starting at the Seven Stars and ending up with a beer on the site of the Moulder's Arms. All places are first come first served, or you can pay on the day.

In the afternoon the focus switches to Victoria Park. A series of local bands are taking time out of their busy schedules to play for us, introduced by this year's Tower Hamlets Young Councillor of the Year Yasmin Kaur. As well as Brown's Victorian Steam Fair, a range of pop-up food stalls will be present, selling everything from pulled pork burgers to chilli ice cream. Wristbands should be purchased in advance, and can be obtained at a 10% discount online using the voucher code DGsentme.

The only way to end the day is on a Hertford Canal Cruise, enjoying a full three course meal as you drift serenely along the edge of Victoria Park. Or if that's not your cup of tea, how about spending the evening sampling spirits at the Rose of Denmark? A selection of micro-distilled gins will be available, hand-curated by our friends at Hogarth Blends, and each paired with a fine international cheese to really bring your palate to life.

And Sunday promises to be even better! If the weather's fine an open air service will be held on Tredegar Green, bringing together all sides of the community in a pan-faith celebration. This is also the starting point for the E3 Clubcard Fun Run, a charity challenge attempting to visit each of the postcode's Tesco Expresses to raise money for diabetes.

Roman Road will be a sea of stalls on Sunday afternoon during the area's first Artisan Countryside Market. Various locally-sourced meats and cakes will be on sale at organic prices, while the usual clothing traders will be displaced for one day only by sellers of hand-threaded trinkets and bespoke handbags. Meanwhile bookings are being taken up front for a behind the scenes tour at Coborn Road station, including the rare public opening of platform 3 where the Fish Island Narrow Gauge Society will be demonstrating their model railway layout.

Don't think we've forgotten the children. With the summer holidays in full swing, Doctor Mahatma's Fun Palace takes over Mile End Park with free face-painting and the exciting opportunity to make your own Pearly Crown out of sticky paper. Come dressed as your favourite Disney character and you might just walk off with the top prize of a family ticket to a 3D screening of That Squirrel Movie, showing this weekend at the Stepney Picturehouse.

The festival comes to a climactic close with a community concert in Bow Common Park, sponsored by local estate agents Kennedy Brown. Choirs from Holy Cross Mosque and the Malmesbury Road Animal Hospital will serenade us into the evening, and the winner of the Mile End and Bow Bake Off 2014 will be announced. Entrance is guaranteed to all those with a Gold Festival Lanyard, available now for pre-collection from the Bow Roundabout ticket office. This promises to be the most Cockneytastic of weekends, so why not save money and reserve your place now?

Diamond Geezer is proud media partner to the Mile End and Bow Festival, which takes place this weekend. Find out what's on here, and for updates follow Mile End and Bow on Facebook and @MEndBF #E3Wow on Twitter.

 Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I've always been a fast reader.

I started early, long before nursery school, to the bemusement (and I'd hope delight) of my parents. I'm not sure my first teacher was quite so pleased, however, when I got to the end of her reading scheme much earlier than she'd hoped. Somewhere around the age of 12 I remember reading all three volumes of The Lord of The Rings in a week, because there were no competing social media demands in children's lives in those days. And I still make sure I take several novels on holiday, not just one, because I don't want to run out of material partway through Day Two. Reading just came naturally to me, perhaps too naturally, and I have to remember sometimes that not everyone's eyeball to brain connection works so well.

I don't know how you read books (I genuinely don't, it's not something people generally discuss), but I'm a scanner. When I first turn the page to read the next part of a chapter, my eye's all over the page taking it all in. I start at the top, obviously, but I'm always scanning ahead to get the gist of what the next bit says. Not for me the painstaking line-by-line routine, I just sort of see the text and absorb its meaning wholesale, and move on. Or at least I think that's how it works. It's quite hard to analyse instinctive behaviour like this because the minute you deliberately concentrate you start doing things differently. But I think "skipping" is the best word I can think of to describe my reading style, alighting on the key words and phrases on the way through the page, gleaning 90% of the meaning if not the full hundred. I worry sometimes I'm not picking everything up, that I'm missing some linguistic nuance the author spent hours crafting. But I get most of it, even grin at turns of phrase, plus I rattle through far quicker than most.

When I'm jammed on the tube with only a neighbour's newspaper for entertainment, it often annoys me quite how slowly other people read. I've finished scanning the whole of Metro page 6 in seconds, and they're still slogging through a two paragraph filler about Kim Kardashian's latest tweet. "Come on!" I think, when they haven't turned the page a couple of stations later, surely nobody's quite that slow. It happens with ebooks too, when the lady jammed in beside me has the same fifty words open for what seems like an eternity before brushing to the next electronic page. And yes I know that English might not be these commuters' first language, which means they're battling bravely with a string of tortuous foreign characters. But it is precisely at times like these, staring back around the carriage for lack of anything new to skim, that I suspect my reading speed is at the gifted end of the spectrum.

I like newspapers, proper printed newspapers, precisely because they're perfect for scanning. I revel in the spread of articles and images all over the page, so I can whizz around taking in what's of interest and merely noting the rest for future reference. Sure, if I have the time and inclination I can take much longer and digest stories one by one in detail. But generally I'm reading to become better informed about a wider range of current affairs, devouring the paper for nuggets of information, and the broadsheet format helps optimise my search.

And that's why I'm hesitant, even hostile, regarding news's gradual evolution from page to screen. Sure it means much more up-to-date stories, but it also means a considerable shrinkage of the area visible to read at any one time. You try reading the same article on a laptop as in print and see how much less you get - just the first paragraph and a half and a photo, sorry, and to see any more you'll have to scroll. This spatial limitation isn't too much of a problem if you read slowly, nor I suspect if you read at average pace. But for those of us who read quickly, only being able to scan a fraction of an online article before scrolling down is surprisingly restrictive.

And the move to mobile is much worse. You're lucky to get 50 words on a screen these days, maybe 100 at a push, which is nothing compared to other means of presentation. It's like reading a newspaper through a small rectangular hole, or cutting up an article into a dozen individual sections and being forced to read one at a time. This time surely even people who read at an average pace must notice the difference, must feel somewhat held back, but still the minimisation bandwagon rolls on.

Because mobile format is becoming the default for more and more of what we read online. "Mobile first" is the developers' motto, which just seems to mean templates with more white space and larger font. Sure this makes it readable in your pocket, and accessible across a range of formats, but it also means the rest of us on bigger screens have to make do with less. And it doesn't help that photographs are now being flaunted more widely beneath news paragraphs, often taking up almost a whole screen in themselves, to ensure that even Android users can see the detail and because it looks prettier on a tablet.

We're entering a world in which information is presented in bite-sized chunks and in lowest common denominator sizes. A world in which you can no longer see everything in one go, and where swiping is enforced even when it's not strictly necessary. And if the younger generation grows up more capable of multi-tasking and makes better contact with the world around them as a result, then great. But I wonder if my generation is the last with a talent for scanning large areas of text, as what it means to be a fast reader evolves to mean scrolling rather than skimming.

 Tuesday, August 12, 2014

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Westminster: St John's Wood

52 metres (25th out of 33) [map] [map]


Westminster isn't simply the tourist mecca in the south of the borough, it spreads a lot further north than that. Beyond Baker Street, beyond Regent's Park, almost as far as the giddy heights of Swiss Cottage. And it's on the northernmost edge of the borough that we find the borough's highest point which, like that of Islington, is merely a staging point on the steady ascent to Hampstead/Highgate. This time we're on a 200 year-old turnpike, also known as the A41, better known as the Finchley Road. We are not, whatever the official list says, on parallel St John's Wood Park. That residential road might look convincingly summit-like on a map but is blatantly incorrect when visited in the flesh, a good few metres down from the saddleback on the trunk road. Here traffic swooshes past in waves, fed by traffic lights that allow acceleration only so far as the next red, which here may be a little further away than usual. Finchley Road's especially popular with long-distance coaches heading for the M1 and beyond, or returning to London from All Points North before limping slowly into Victoria. And for today's purposes the key location is the minor crossroads with the street that marks the boundary between Westminster and Camden, which appropriately enough is called Boundary Road. [3 photos]

It's rather residential round here. To the east of the crossroads rise two tall-ish apartment blocks, with white balconies, one called Blair Court, the other Buttermere Court. Despite being in different boroughs both are ostensibly identical, but Blair's surroundings are more plain, while Buttermere rises on stilts above a heavily-trimmed subtropical jungle. To the west is the Hilgrove Estate, not Camden's finest, plus a long white box the occasional blue shutter that can only be a freshly-funded academy. This is Quintin Kynaston, a school that sounds like it was named by someone who wanted its pupils to be mercilessly ribbed, and which moves wholesale into this state of the art building in the New Year. The most striking features of this borough highpoint, however, are the cyclists. They ride in up Boundary Road following some local bikeway, and pause cautiously to cross the stream of arterial traffic through a special tiny gap in the central reservation. I watched several cyclists thread through, including an angsty Dad intent on urging his small daughter across the box junction before the lights changed. Next time you're on the National Express to Manchester, keep an eye out.
by train: South Hampstead   by bus: 13, 46, 82, 113, 187

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Hammersmith and Fulham: Harrow Road

46 metres (26th out of 33) [map] [map]
Kensington and Chelsea: Kensal Green Cemetery
45 metres (27th out of 33) [map] [map]


It had to happen eventually, two boroughs with a highpoint in the same place. Or in this case nearly the same place, which is on the northern edge of Kensal Green Cemetery along the Harrow Road. This old road marks the former boundary between London and Middlesex, now the southern edge of Brent, and also the edge of the drainage basin of one of West London's lost rivers. Counter's Creek ran down from approximately here to Chelsea Creek, its line now approximately the divide between H&F and K&C, which sort-of explains the slopes that spill south through the gravestones and across the railway.

I'll take the Kensington and Chelsea 'peak' first, because it's prettier. Kensal Green is a splendid post-Georgian pre-Victorian cemetery, the first of the 'Magnificent Seven' garden-style public burial grounds in London. More people are buried here than currently live in Kensington and Chelsea, which is saying something, amid the chapels and avenues and landscaped humps. The highest point is near the West Gate, where North Avenue runs up behind the The Masons Arms and the hostel block on the Harrow Road. Such is the demand for places that the very latest burials are being interred along what were once grassy pathways, with a chain of wooden crosses awaiting a more permanent headstone. Everybody's here - the famous chess champion, the much loved mum, beloved Dorcas Frimpong, 'Sledge' the Rasta grandpa - watched over by the steward in her information hut by the entrance. In truth the highest point is at the West Gate, up the driveway, where the temporary florists sit in their makeshift tent waiting to disperse bouquets to visiting mourners. They do a brisk trade too, this elderly husband and wife team, with pot plants and floral crosses a speciality. Mind the cars driving in and out, people don't walk to their relatives' plots if they can avoid it, and two signs are required to warn potential purchasers not to park up and block the way in. [3 photos]

Accessed via the same entrance is St Mary's Cemetery, the Roman Catholic enclave above the crematorium, this very firmly in Hammersmith and Fulham. Just one road beside the West Gate makes it into the borough proper, a runty dogleg dead end that serves the rear of a residential terrace. But this short terrace is possibly unique in London as having once been in three separate administrative districts. The first three houses were in Kensington Parish, the next two in Hammersmith and the last two in Willesden, each boundary delineated by a pair of chiselled stones embedded in the brickwork (K.P/H.P 1865) (H.P/W.P 1865). The road here is raised slightly to allow the West Coast mainline to tunnel beneath, which might mean the modern borough's highest point is here beneath the Aldi billboard, or maybe it's further along the Harrow Road. A few galleries and distressed furniture stores raise the tone near the cemetery gates, but the retail offering then descends somewhat to the usual veg-in-a-bowl and kebab merchants beyond. A few backstreets off the main drag form the residential enclave of College Park, another candidate for the summit of Hammersmith and Fulham, although I'd like to hope the triple-parish-terrace takes the crown. [5 photos]
by train: Kensal Green   by bus: 18



» 45 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N

 Monday, August 11, 2014

Returning to my series visiting the highest point in each London borough, here's a run of four across the northern edge of Zone 2.

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Hackney: Manor House

39 metres (29th out of 33) [map] [map]


Another east London borough, another lowly summit. Not that Hackney's exactly flat. Its northeastern edge rises fairly sharply from the Lea, and then there's Stamford Hill, of course. But the highest point in the borough is in the northwest corner, on the slopes of a peak that's actually in Haringey nextdoor, specifically within Finsbury Park. You can see Hackney's summit very clearly if you take the Piccadilly line to Manor House and emerge onto the broad street corner outside. Two arms of this crossroads head resolutely downhill, one south to Clissold Park, the other east towards Woodberry Down. But the other two, along the perimeter of the park, rise fractionally before starting their descent, and one of these minor bumps is the highest point in Hackney. The official list of London Borough Tops reckons it's the bump on the Seven Sisters Road, close to the Caribbean Community Centre and the lacklustre-looking Kent Hall Hotel. There are a fair few hotels in the vicinity, the large townhouses hereabouts seem to lend themselves, but in most cases the grand-sounding name looks more attractive than the reality. [3 photos]

My money, however, is on the highest point being a few yards along Green Lanes, roughly in line with the bus stop outside the tube station. The short row of shops on the Hackney side of the road consists of an off-licence, a taxi company, a betting shop and two kebab outlets, which is as near to stereotypical as any N4 parade gets. The big white house alongside looks like it used to be a hotel, the ornamental arched entrance out front has an Eastbourne seafront vibe, although the interior is now an awful lot of flats. Or you can have a pint at The Finsbury, the highest live music venue/pub in Hackney, although that's not necessarily a recommendation. There's more fun to be had beyond the iron railings in Haringey, under whose control the whole of Finsbury Park lies, with its flowerbeds and grassy spaces and avenues and tentative hilltop. The Park View Cafe in the Manor House corner looks somewhat twee from the front, with a fibreglass chef on sentry duty and three toadstools masquerading as table and chairs, although it's rather more inviting from the rear when the back wall comes down in decent weather. But that's just inside Haringey again, whereas Hackney's Borough Top's probably not somewhere you'd hang around for long.
by tube: Manor House   by bus: 29, 141, 253, 254, 259, 279, 341

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Islington: Highgate Hill

100 metres (15th out of 33) [map] [map]


My journey to the top of Islington involved a bus ride up the Holloway Road to Archway, and thence up Highgate Hill. It's a relentless ascent, with barely a dip on the way, following the Great North Road on its escape from the centre of town. At Archway the A1 veers off to follow a 200 year-old cutting through the hillside, while the old route climbs past the Whittingtons (Hospital and Stone). On and on it climbs, eventually more than triple the elevation of Hackney's summit. But for Islington's purposes the climb runs out on the 100 metre contour, at the steeply-slanted junction with Hornsey Lane, where Camden and Haringey take over the remainder of the ascent. The divide is marked by three fine-roofed landmarks, one with a tower, one with a spire and the other with domes. The tower marks Linden Mansions, a part-whimsical turn of the century apartment block, the spire tops the Old Crown pub, long a place for travellers to rest, while the twin domes belong to St Joseph's RC Church, a listed Romanesque/Byzantine hybrid. [4 photos]

This yellow box junction is the official Borough Top, but I was tempted to walk east along Hornsey Lane towards another famous landmark. The road beyond the Georgian townhouses definitely dipped, but then rose again, and from the pavement outside the nursing home it was impossible to be certain which end was higher. If the latter, then St Aloysius' College may be the highest building in Islington, its "Founded 1879" looking somewhat incongruous on the front of a bland 21st century façade. On the opposite side of the road is a flat-topped reservoir, often a sign of a municipal highest point, but that's in Haringey again. The famous landmark is just round the bend, maybe a metre lower, the Hornsey Lane Bridge. Formerly an arched bridge after which the neighbourhood is named, the cast iron replacement is one of the most notorious suicide spots in London. Its barbed metal rails wouldn't prevent a determined descent, although the view down the dual carriageway just might. From the Cheesegrater to the Shard, with the Gherkin and the Barbican between, the City's skyscrapers line up almost one by one. Best turn again, and walk away.
by tube: Archway   by bus: 143, 210, 271, W5

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Haringey: Highgate Village

116 metres (9th out of 33) [map] [map]


Highgate Hill continues to rise for half a kilometre beyond the Islington border. It climbs past lovely Waterlow Park, past the big phone mast on Bisham Gardens, up to the heart of chichi Highgate Village. Here stationers and old school butchers nudge up to jewellers and chocolatiers, an almost precise antithesis to Hackney's Manor House parade. The shop that sells lottery tickets also does organic groceries, and the cupcakes in the pantry window have a few more sparkles than elsewhere. It's all really rather pleasant, if residentially unattainable. At the mini-roundabout where the turnpike once bent north is a tiny little florists, its potted blooms dwarfed by The Gatehouse, a well-disguised Wetherspoons in Tudorbethan style. More to Highgate's taste is the Red Lion and Sun on North Road, more gastro than boozer, alongside a very retro Total garage with a row of three pumps lined up outside. [3 photos]

Thanks to a topographical quirk, Haringey's the only north London borough whose highest point is on its southern border. So what's on the summit? That's long been requisitioned by Highgate School, or as it's more properly known Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate. Sir Roger established his charitable bequest in 1565, initially for the poor boys of the parish under a single teacher, but also offering up the chapel of ease to local residents. Considerable expansion took place later, and the enlarged brick chapel and most of the Big School buildings are a Victorian addition. It's the chapel that resides on Haringey's highest point, this and the surrounding graveyard with its weathered stones and the occasional obelisk. School's currently out for the summer, which helped when I wanted to take photos through the railings, but passing shoppers probably gave me enough funny looks anyway. To follow in my footsteps look out for the retro London Borough of Haringey sign at the top of Highgate Hill, complete with original 1965 'Eight Rays' logo before some branding team remoulded it.
by tube: Highgate   by bus: 143, 210, 214, 271

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Camden: Hampstead Heath

134 metres (6th out of 33) [map] [map]


Camden boasts some of the best hills in the capital, which is pretty impressive for a Inner London borough. Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill fall within its bounds, but they're only 60- and 90-something metres high respectively, which for this project's purposes is insufficient. Instead maximum elevation is reached atop Hampstead Heath on the crown of the Hampstead and Highgate massif, wherever precisely that might be. There is some debate. I'd have expected the peak to be around Whitestone Pond, a triangular water feature located above the headwaters of the Fleet and Westbourne rivers. Originally a dew pond used by thirsty horses, it was later enlarged to become a shallow decorative feature, and very recently done over with wetland plants and white granite edging. I'd say it's an improvement, even if the council did insist on relocating the bus stop 100 metres further away purely for aesthetic reasons. [4 photos]

Close by is another covered reservoir, below which residential Hampstead tumbles down the hillside, and whose raised lid is probably the highest surface hereabouts. But the official Borough Top is a little further away, in a less thrilling location, along the sandy ridge that leads from here to Highgate. That the road from Jack Straw's Castle to The Spaniards Inn is arrow straight should be a hint that it's entirely artificial, as is also evidenced by the slight drop from the embankment on either side. But the needs of traffic have won through, with a tree-lined single carriageway bordered by a segregated cycle path and joggers' pavement. Nearly halfway along is a bus stop where the 210 rarely picks up passengers, adjacent to a path down into the woods and the end of a private drive leading to someone's phenomenally expensive house. It's here (on a slight hump) that the Ordnance Survey have marked their spot height of 134 metres, not just the highest point in Camden but the highest point in Inner London. You can rest awhile to celebrate in the bus shelter, or on one of the neighbouring weatherbeaten green benches. But I wouldn't linger long - this is no scenic spot, and there are far better views to be had both on and from the Heath nearby.
by tube: Hampstead   by bus: 210, 268

» 36 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Inner East; Outer Northeast


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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
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the real eastenders
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lea valley walk
olympics 2005
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ten of my favourite posts
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my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
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