diamond geezer

 Friday, August 22, 2014

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Kingston: Telegraph Hill

90 metres (19th out of 33) [map] [map]


I shake my fists at the gods of Administrative Topography. The next borough high point on my list isn't just somewhere wilfully inaccessible, it's in the most far-flung corner of London from where I live. The borough of Kingston sticks a thin tongue down into Surrey, stretching two miles down from Surbiton and out past Chessington World of Adventures. To get further requires a ride on an elusive bus, the 465 to Dorking, which for reasons best known to TfL serves communities up to six miles beyond the Greater London border. The village at the tip of Kingston's tongue is Malden Rushett, a remote outpost on the Leatherhead road of whose existence I'd not previously been aware. A cluster of houses, a Mitsubishi showroom, a hi-tech business park - it's that kind of place. I'm sure its few hundred residents enjoy the semi-rural setting, and the convenience of having an M&S Simply Food at the local garage. [4 photos]

But I needed to go even further than that, so alighted at the delightfully named Shy Horse and walked on past the last lonely cottages to a pair of farm entrances. One of these farms caters for all your Horse, Pet and Poultry supplies, if you're interested, while the other has its own 500m-long airstrip. The main road climbed a low hill beyond, this leading to my ultimate target, although a strip of woodland along each side rendered the summit entirely invisible. On I trudged past a relentless stream of traffic, until I eventually reached a locked gate blocking access to a short upward track. Somewhere up there was Telegraph Hill, so named because it used to be part of the signalling chain between London and Portsmouth. But Thames Water didn't want me to get any closer to their covered reservoir, the location of Kingston's elusive 90m contour. Damn, I thought, I've come all this way, but is this going to be the first borough top it's impossible even to photograph?

With more time I could have continued downhill to the first pub in Surrey, the Star, and then taken a forest walk through the Crown Estate at Prince's Coverts. But I didn't have time enough on this occasion (note to self, looks nice, come back), so decided instead to try to peer through the roadside woodland scrub. No way was the traffic stopping to allow a deluded pedestrian to cross, so I took my life in my hands and attempted to nip quickly through. Once over I had to step through nettles and brambles to a small clearing, negotiate a dumped fridge and gas canister, and finally peer over a hedge to view the grassy bump beyond. No telegraph passes this way today, only a minor string of power lines, but a dish-topped mobile mast continued the communications motif in more modern style. And somewhere beyond the hedge at the top of the rise was that elusive covered reservoir, not really worth the danger and effort, but I left with my completist tendencies satisfied.
by train: Chessington South   by bus: 465

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Sutton: Clock House

147 metres (4th out of 33) [map] [map]


Regular readers will know that I once judged Sutton to be London's least interesting borough, so I was really hoping its highest point would help reverse that opinion. Alas, not so. Despite being one of the top five highest Borough Tops in London, the reality was far more mundane - the corner of a playing field on the edge of a housing estate. I took the bus to Clockhouse, a postwar suburb of Coulsdon named after the farm it replaced. Three sticky-coiffed teenage boys sat behind me bantering all the way, and then chose to press the Hail and Ride exit button at the precise street corner I needed. They disappeared off towards some avenue of semis, and I walked a few yards up The Mount towards the local rec. On the no-through-road signpost I spotted a small sticker from an Italian cycling company directing two-wheeled visitors straight ahead. They offer an 8-day Greenway Cycling Tour from Paris to London, which for some reason heads through the obscure end of Sutton, which must be a bit of a letdown after Impressionist Normandy. [3 photos]

The only people on the recreation ground were a man walking his dog and four lads playing football using a traffic cone and the dog mess bin for goalposts. With the playing field as flat and featureless as playing fields are, their kickabout was the only thing of interest so I decided to take a picture. "That bloke's taking photos," said one before playing on, so I felt the need to head for the far side of the grass and skulk out of sight. Thankfully this corner was the precise highest point in Sutton, although it would have been hard to tell without the Ordnance Survey's reassurance. Surrey started immediately across the hedge, on a scrappy patch of heathland, and also immediately across a stile, littered with blowaway plastic bags at its foot. I could have walked steeply down through Prospect Plantation to Woodmansterne station, but instead chose the Italian cyclists' path to Woodmansterne village. Its parish church and village green are also about 147 metres above sea level, and much more interesting than where I'd just been, but alas not in London, so sorry, Sutton loses out again.
by train: Woodmansterne   by bus: 463

LONDON BOROUGH TOPS
Croydon: Sanderstead Plantation

175 metres (2nd out of 33) [map] [map]


Croydon is a very hilly borough, at least in its southern half, with impressive rises around Farthing Downs and the Addington Hills. But the highest point is in Sanderstead, to the south of Croydon town centre, on an escarpment surrounded by suburbia. The most obvious landmark is the 13th century parish church at the top of Sanderstead Hill, its spire roofed with wooden shingles, and rightly Grade I listed. Close by used to be Sanderstead Manor, a large Tudor country house which eventually became a hotel, destroyed by fire during WW2 and demolished soon after. The Lords of the Manor were teetotallers and hence the entire suburb is dry, even 500 years after their covenant first prevented the opening of taverns and hostelries. That's something to remember if you're ever tempted to move here by the generously-sized houses and rolling landscape - it's a long way to the pubs in Warlingham. [3 photos]

Where the land tumbles northward most steeply, a timber plantation was established to provide shelter for the manor house. That wood is now all that survives, covering Sanderstead's hilltop with eight acres of beech, oak, cherry and sweet chestnut. It's managed as a public open space, criss-crossed with paths, just large enough to wander and get lost within. It's also surprisingly muddy underfoot, even in the summer, so I expect the wooden posts laid flat in the footpath for support are entirely overwhelmed for much of the year. The highest point lies off the main track, so you'll not reach it without stepping off through the groundcover and negotiating branches and brambles on the way. A tree bursts forth from the summit, though the surrounding woodland means there's nothing to see in any direction but leaves so don't bother coming up for the view. The City panorama from the top deck of a passing bus is rather better, if only briefly over the rooftops. And OK so I'd hoped for more from the second highest Borough Top in London, but at least it's a proper hill, and I loved the compact solitude of the surrounding plantation.
by train: Sanderstead   by bus: 412

» 84 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 NW; Outer N; Outer W; Inner SW


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