diamond geezer

 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.

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

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

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

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

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