Compass points (an occasional feature where I visit London's geographical extremities) SOUTHEAST London - Joeland's Wood, Hogtrough Hill, Cudham
It is quite frankly ridiculous how far southeast London goes. It spreads for miles beyond the edge of the built-up area, past Orpington, past Biggin Hill, into deeply rural GreenBelt which by any stretch of administrative imagination should rightly be in Kent. That it's not is down to the whole of Orpington Urban District being incorporated into the new London borough of Bromley in 1965, despite most of its hinterland being entirely rural. The village of Knockholt rebelled, or rather took up its prerogative to petition the GLC for removal, and was duly returned to the county of Kent in 1969. All of which created an unexpected dent in the southeastern boundary of Greater London, and it's to this far-flung extremity on the North Downs that today's journey leads.
Knockholt is an extremely long village, spread out for at least two miles along its main road, innovatively named Main Road. The majority of residents live up the eastern end at Knockholt Pound, along with two pubs, the community centre and the Ox-in-Flames garage. They were the southeasternmost residents of London once, but wandering round the cottages on the village green it's easy to see why they felt they had more in common with the county across the border. But it's the other end of the village we're interested in, or at least the fields beyond, much nearer the Tally Ho than the Three Horseshoes. Unbelievably there is a bus out here, indeed technically two, and Oyster-friendly at that. The R5 and R10 are TfL's least frequent services, the former running clockwise and the latter anti-clockwise at 2½ hour intervals. It's an amazingly remote ride for London, especially down Cudham Lane, at the end of which is Scott's Lodge where all intrepid Southeastern Questors should alight.
Unfortunately there are no buses in the neighbourhood on a Sunday, and I came on a Sunday, so I had to walk. At least this was no hardship, because the best thing about the southeasternmost point in London is that it's on the North Downs Way. This National Trail is a rambling classic, here tracing the top of the chalk ridge while the Pilgrims Way plies below. Many of the best views are screened by woodland, which gets a trifle annoying, given how steeply the fields tumble down towards rolling Wealden scenery. There is one point when a vista of central London opens up, sequentially from the Gherkin past Docklands all the way to what looks like Tilbury, which doesn't feel like it should be possible. But eventually the trees break to the south across golden fields, and the High Weald beyond, with the M25 almost-ignorable in the dip inbetween, and suddenly the hike has been worth the effort.
1969's bend-in-the-border comes at Brasted Hill, mid-farm, where three narrow hedge-edged lanes meet. It ought to be quiet, but on Sunday a slew of cyclists sped by, attracted by the challenging contours of the upward climb. The pair who'd tackled Hogtrough Hill had ascended 100m in half a mile, and were barely glistening, whereas the trio on the Brasted spur looked fully whacked. This road junction is very very nearly the farthest southeast the capital goes, but a patch of nearby woodland just edges it by degrees. To reach it, London's boundary bends away from the T-junction to cross a mundane looking field - not so much grazing land as dumped earth - while the North Downs Way hugs the hedgerow. At the end of the field the path turns sharp right to rise up towards woodland on the brow, and it's precisely here, once you've stepped through the first line of trees, that Southeast London occurs. [Google Streetview]
A junction of three paths marks the spot, on the edge of Joeland's Wood, which is otherwise fenced off and inaccessible beyond. Two signs have been placed here to direct walkers on the North Downs Way, one a small yellow disc, but the other a classic concrete 'tombstone' marker with the indentation of an acorn above a convict-style arrow. Follow the third path to reach a wholly unexpected residential street, a linear enclave of gabled houses and bungalows called Viewlands Avenue, not that there is a view thanks to the treeline. But this affluent cul-de-sac is just outdone in the 'southeast' stakes by Stoneridge, a single isolated house at the end of Silversted Lane. Its large garden brushes up against the peripheral footpath where the owner has felt the need to install three adjacent wire fences bristling with warning signs (CCTV, loose dogs, etc), which in such a quiet location is either fear of crime or paranoia.
This shady woodside strip feels very much cut off and is - the nearest station (at Dunton Green) is well over three miles away. Indeed there is a point close by that's over four miles from any station, the least commutable spot in London, on a rat run lane near Cudham Grange. Painting 'SLOW' repeatedly on the road doesn't seem to have helped, so the convertibles still rush through, plus at weekends a considerable number of cyclists who've worked out what a fine playground this undulating area is. But I'd still say ramblers have it best, the North Downs Way eventually opening out onto the crest of the ridge with a sharply tumbling panorama towards Westerham and beyond. Ahead is the highest point in London, that's Westerham Heights, and fractionally beyond that the highest point in Kent at Betsom'sHill. This is very much a landscape of extremes, but best stick with 'extremely pretty' and you'll not go too far wrong.