August on diamond geezer is traditionally Local History Month. I sometimes interpret the title somewhat broadly, but generally the idea is to come up with an all-consuming safari, researched in slightly excessive detail, and then impose this on you as the month progresses. Here's what LHM has involved thus far...
My apologies, but some of these features don't fit on one page any more, that's ever since the bastards at Blogger truncated my archives in 2010 in order to 'speed up loading times'. But you can always click back using the "Older posts" link at the bottom of the page, indeed you can always do this, not just for these special features.
My favourite Local History Months have been the waterside walks, that's the Fleet, the Lea and the New River. Tracing the Fleet was particularly fascinating, because it's no longer visible, and my in-depth tracking has probably generated more long-term interest than anything else I've ever written. The other two rivers involved considerably longer walks, but still the same discipline in coming home and writing about each stretch in semi-forensic detail. London2012 dominates the rest of the list somewhat, because you don't get much more locally historic than an Olympics at the bottom of the road (with High Street 2012 an attempt to record my local neighbourhood before the legacy vortex struck). And as for retracing John Betjeman's Metro-land, nobody did local history stuff better than he, so it was inspirational to follow in his documentary footsteps four decades on.
For 2014 I considered doing something WW1-related, given that today's the centenary of Britain entering the Great War. But that didn't throw up any obvious London-related travelogue, plus it feels like the media's been commemorating nothing else for months. I mulled over other ideas for a Local History Month, some more local and historical than others, but nothing suitable emerged. So in the absence of inspiration I resigned myself to "doing a 2011", and opting out.
But then on Friday, over lunch with a colleague, ker-ching. They're an inveterate Munro-bagger, so were updating me (as is their habitual wont) on how their collective mountainous ascent is progressing. Very well, as it turns out. Of all the 282 Scottish peaks higher than 3000 feet (i.e. the Munros) they've now climbed more than 250, so they're nearly done. And as they rambled on with details of plans for future conquests I thought, I could do that, but in London.
Outside Scotland, where contours are less spectacular, other peak-bagging categories exist. There are Marilyns (hills with a relative height of at least 150 metres), Nuttalls (hills at least 2000 feet high with a relative height of at least 15 metres) and Hewitts (hills at least 2000 feet high with a relative height of at least 30 metres). Another sought-after category, for ramblers rather than mountaineers, are the County Tops. These are the highest points above sea level in each administrative county or unitary authority, for example Scafell Pike in Cumbria or Ditchling Beacon in East Sussex, and some people go round trying to tick all those off. Not me.
I've decided to climb the London Borough Tops, or in other words the highest points in each of the 33 London boroughs. I haven't had to do any original research because this is an actual thing, and onlinelists and even bits of books exist. Someone's dutifully scoured the contours on Ordnance Survey maps to determine the highest spot height within each borough's boundary, or attempted to because the cartographical interpretation isn't always necessarily 100% accurate. So I already know where I've got to go to in Harrow, Hounslow, Havering et al - now all I need to do is get there.
But before I go exploring, here are a few words about the geography. London isn't especially hilly, it's essentially a river valley, with the Thames carving a dent in the landscape across the middle. The fact that rivers flow downhill from source to estuary means that London tends to be higher in the west and lower in the east. And London's U-shaped valley profile means that the land tends to be higher to the north and south and much lower through the centre. It's no coincidence that the highest points in northern boroughs tend to be towards their northern border, and the highest points in southern boroughs tend to be towards their southern border.
You'll also notice that a lot of the highest points are actually on the border of a borough rather than somewhere within. That's because the land is rising to a higher point beyond, but the border is as far as the administrative district goes. This is bad news for anyone expecting me to be climbing a lot of hills, because in a lot of cases I'm merely going to a random spot on a borough border that's not an all-round viewpoint at all. Enfield, Newham and Sutton are cases in point, whereas Greenwich, Ealing and Waltham Forest deliver mid-borough heights. Have patience, you'll discover more as I ramble round.
Getting round all 33 London Borough Tops is going to take some time, because they're well spread out and some are in rather awkward places. Rob and Darren tried it by car last year, for example, and even they couldn't manage them all in a day. I'm going by public transport (with a bit of hiking), obviously, so it'll take me considerably longer. I've divided up the 'peaks' into five blocks I think I can manage in one go, of which thus far I've completed one, at a cost of eight hours of my life and eleven miles of shoe leather.
I think I've taken on something suitably challenging for a Local History Month. Now all I need to do is keep you reading as I report back in batches from the middle of nowhere. Or else come back in September, I might be done by then.