diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 26, 2004

The best view in London?

Last month I asked you to tell me from where is the best view in London? You came up with lots of answers, including up the top of the Eye, Hampstead Heath, the top deck of a Routemaster, and Alexandra Palace. But two particular spots came out on top - Blackheath Point and Richmond Hill. So I went along to see what all the fuss was about.

Click on the picture above to see the full view from 'the Point' - an outcrop on the edge of Blackheath, overlooking the centre of London. Immediately below lie the streets of Greenwich, clinging to the side of this unlikely hill, a stack of neat terraces and bland council flats. And in the distance... well, ok, my camera isn't very good at picking out the detail, but there's a wheel and a gherkin and all the other London sights you might expect. The Point itself is a small strip of parkland, half grass and half mud, well off the tourist trail, used by well off locals for exercising their dogs. I'd have enjoyed the view more if there hadn't been two labradors frisking in the excrement behind me, but the view in front of me was unexpectedly impressive. Thanks for pointing it out.

Across the other side of South London lies Richmond Park, a huge expanse of green untroubled by public transport. In one corner of the park is Richmond Hill, from the top of which can be seen two celebrated views. The most well-known of these is to the west across cow-strewn meadows towards the meandering Thames. It's rather pretty, and the local population clearly enjoy hobbling along the terraces atop the hill to see it, but I've seen better.

Less well-known, but more interesting, is the view to the east. Central London may be a long way away, and the skyscrapers may look more like distant matchsticks, but the astonishing thing is that the City is visible at all. My photo here was taken from the top of King Henry's Mound, a prehistoric burial mound set on the highest point of Richmond Hill. There's a framed gap in the bushes here, looking out directly down an avenue cut through the nearby woods. You won't be able see it in the photo, and it's not easy with the human eye either, but perfectly aligned at the end of that avenue lies St Paul's Cathedral. Precisely 10 miles away.

This is one of London's three designated linear views, protected by planning regulations. You can't build a tall building anywhere on the line of sight between Richmond Hill and St Paul's, it's the law. The other two protected views, by the way, are from Westminster Pier to St Paul's, and from the Mall to Buckingham Palace (though I'm not quite sure what anyone would build on that last one).

There are also six protected London panoramas, one of which is the view from Blackheath Point. Similar planning rules apply. The other five include Alexandra Palace and Hampstead Heath (which shows what good taste you all had), plus Primrose Hill, Kenwood and Greenwich Park. All covered by the London Designated View Framework, which you can find in Mayor Ken's latest umpteen-page London Plan (check page 37 of this enormous pdf for a great map showing all the protected lines of sight). Good to know that you, and your ancestors, will still be able to enjoy these views for years to come.

Me, I still love the view from my desk at work. Alas, that view isn't protected.

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