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 stoneand 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...
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