Let's visit the locations that lie five miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square (in a post which confirms that random locations aren't necessarily intrinsically interesting). [1 mile], [2 miles], [3 miles], [4 miles], [map]
FIVE MILES NORTH: Bedford Road, N8 (close to the heart of Crouch End)
Crouch End's clocktower is precisely five miles north of Charing Cross station, but I'm not measuring from there so have ended up marginally further west. Take Crouch Hall Road to climb gently into the suburban backstreets, flat roads very much not being a thing round here. Whoever named these streets in the 1880s had a thing about the letters B and C, hence we find Birchington, Berkeley and Bryanstone, as well as Clifton, Coolhurst and Coleridge. The shortest of these is Bedford Road, the only street T-junctioned at both ends, and cramming in no more than two dozen fine Victorian villas. The houses are constructed primarily of red brick with white painted banding, prominent square bay windows and shaped gables. One leaflike decorative motif appears several times on the odd-numbered side. Four of the cast iron lamp standards are original. One of the streetsigns predates alphanumeric postcodes, stating simply Bedford Road, N.
Only from the very top end of the street do you get a sense of hillside living. Further downslope is more intimate, with well-kept hedges shielding small shrubberied gardens. Everyone has two green bins, each displaying a different evolution of Haringey council's logo. Two red-ringed roadsigns warn drivers not to exceed 20mph, not that it'd be possible to go much faster without crashing at the end of the street. Residents Parking restrictions apply only between two and four in the afternoon. A car drives off with a sulking son in the back seat. Another returns with planks on the roofrack. One family's storing a tricycle in their recessed porch, another a toboggan, and one has a plastic rack for milk bottles on their front step. Two houses are out of action behind bright orange hoardings, courtesy of Mulroy Architects and Ingenious Construction Ltd. If London still has middle class enclaves, here's one.
FIVE MILES EAST: Aspen Way, E14 (marginally north of Docklands)
This could have been really interesting - the towers at Canary Wharf are ever so close and Billingsgate Fish Market closer still. But no, the vagaries of compass direction have sent us instead to the middle of the dual carriageway that sweeps across the neck of the Isle of Dogs, a strip of bleak infrastructure which exists so that the nearby financial district can thrive. Traffic thundering out of the Limehouse Link follows Aspen Way towards the Lower Lea Crossing, or veers off here for the Blackwall roundabout. The DLR rises onto a split concrete viaduct immediately behind. Adverts for Easyjet and Santander blaze in both directions on the overpass. A speed camera waits to trap drivers over-enjoying their downhill run. What looks like a pavement on the northern side of the road leads only to a road junction you'd need a deathwish to cross, then peters out at crash barriers below Poplar station. Basically you breathe in at your peril.
Immediately to the north is the Poplar Trading Estate, or at least as much of it as hasn't been demolished for the building of luxury flats. Manhattan Plaza has been slotted in beside one of the DLR's squealiest curves, overlooking the depot, and is currently advertised as 95% sold. Book now for your exclusive appointment and the nice lady will show you the gymnasium, 21st floor showhome and roof garden. To the south we find Billingsgate's car park, also fated to be residentialised one day, and Tower Hamlets' magnificent trafficlight sculpture. This used to be located more prominently but was demoted mid-roundabout a few years ago, and sadly isn't flashing red amber and/or green at present. As for the McDonalds alongside, that's been flattened and surrounded by black hoardings, and may eventually become a pair of Infinity Towers (with a replacement drive-thru on the ground floor). There are more pleasant, better-connected places to be.
FIVE MILES SOUTH: Streatham High Road, SW16 (at the end of Leigham Avenue)
Streatham's high street lays claim to being the longest in Europe (which means we'll still be on it if I come back at a future date and report on Six Miles South). On this occasion we're at the top end, nearer Streatham Hill, slap bang in the immediate vicinity of Nando's. Diners at windowside tables can be clearly seen tucking into peri-peri, forking salad into their mouths or fiddling with their phones while they wait for chicken to arrive. Across the street is Tariq Halal Meats, its windows larger, its counter display brighter, its website more prominent and its meat offering more varied... mutton, lamb, goat, quails. For coffee and e-cigarettes, try Caffe Vape. For disco equipment, obviously Fizz DJ. On a Saturday afternoon businesses are ticking over nicely.
What's unusual is that the shopping parades meeting here both sit beneath enormous mansion blocks. Leigham Hall forms one end of Streatham Court, designed in classic late-30s style by Reginald Toms, hence the lovely coppery-green tiles arrayed along porches and roofs. Across the street is The High, built one year later with similarly Art-Deco-ish entrance doors tucked inbetween the shops at ground level. Look up, however, and the windows of The High are original and miserably peeling, whereas Leigham Hall's have been renewed and look like they might keep the heat in a bit better. I'm not sure if either stillboasts a Billiards Room or Uniformed Porters, and rents must now be well above the original £80 per annum, but how great to live at the heart of things in a building of character.
FIVE MILES WEST: Ollgar Close, W12 (where Shepherds Bush meets Acton)
Here's dull. We're on the Uxbridge Road one mile west of Westfield, at the point just before Hammersmith & Fulham morphs into Ealing. Ollgar House is a 1980s-looking development of three redbrick blocks of flats, the shorter two poking out at right angles from the longest to create square landscaped gardens. It was designed to make better use of the open space behind the shops on the main road, now demolished, and is a resolutely private affair. Gates into the estate are padlocked, signs warn interlopers away, and the only access for non-residents is the access road round the back. Fortunately for this post, and unfortunately for the reader, that's where the exact five-mile marker falls.
Ollgar Close starts between a very modern school for autistic children and a tiny cottage offering French polishing expertise, then progresses past a row of lock-ups and a fence covered with obviously fake-foliage. Before long it reaches the ugly backside of the longest block of flats, where a handful of parking bays are labelled with signs telling visitors not to park here unless they want a £100 fine. I was trying to work out how on earth residents get up to their flats, there being no stairs, when a lift door opened and the caretaker emerged with a mop and bucket. He wandered off to the plant room, a rumbling chamber of grubby machinery, and I carried on walking towards the shrubbery at the far end like I had some reason to be here. The capital's fourth fatal stabbing of 2018 occurred here when an argument on Instagram escalated and a male model was fatally wounded, his killers subsequently jailed for life. Private places always look more appealing from the front.