Compass points (an occasional feature where I visit London's geographical extremities) SOUTH London - Chaldon
When you think of South London you probably don't think of rolling cornfields and verdant hedgerows. But that's exactly what the southernmost tip of London is like, 15 miles due south of Charing Cross, down on the border between Croydon and Surrey. See the tree marked in my photograph with a green circle? That's as far south as Ken Livingstone's influence extends. It's the spot in London closest to the equator, where the sun rises highest in the sky during the summer, and where daylight is longest in midwinter. Of all the locations south of the river, it's the ultimate place that black cab drivers will never take you. [map]
The border between London and not-London sweeps in across this cornfield via woodland on the outskirts of Caterham. Then it turns right, at the aforementioned tree, and follows a leafy country lane north towards Farthing Downs. Ditches Lane is a picturesque rat-run, much loved by motorists "out for a drive", but it's only a single track road with passing places and therefore a potential accident blackspot. Locate the passing place closest to the border, and the tarmac alongside reveals clear evidence of the precise spot where south London terminates. Council operatives from the London borough of Croydon have painted a white line down each side of the lane, whereas their Surrey counterparts have not. Where the fading line disappears, that's outer London. [photo]
I arrived on foot, down the hillside from the country park at Happy Valley. The footpath descended across an idyllic hayfield, between newly-mown stalks of harvested corn. The field was flanked on either side by thick green woodland, within which the occasional gunshot could be heard as some local landowner revelled in murderous sport. The sky was abuzz, not just with disturbed birdlife but also with helicopters, gliders and the occasional biplane. To the west, beyond the shrouded lane, another golden field rose up to a low tree-topped ridge [photo]. And a few steps ahead, invisible except to cartographers, the dashed line marking the fringe of Surrey.
Further ahead, at the foot of the freshcut slope, lay the northern edge of the village of Chaldon. A few nondescript cottages could be seen, but the village's pride and joy - the historic parish churchof St Peter and St Paul[photos] - was shielded behind a screen of trees. I'd been hoping to look inside to view the church's 12th century mural, reputedly the earliest known English wall painting , but alas I was thwarted by a badly-timed wedding. Damn you, oh happy couple and your be-hatted congregation. Instead I was forced to turn round and head back up the lane, and back into the cornfield, and back across the border into the capital. Maybe I'll get inside the church next time... assuming there is a next time. I can't ever imagine returning to this remote corner of South London by accident.
NORTH London: On the clockwise hard shoulder of the M25 between junctions 24 and 25, just north of Crews Hill station [map](I visited in 2004)
WEST London: At the exit for Poyle on the roundabout above junction 14 of the M25, close to Heathrow Terminal 5 [map]
EAST London: Just off Fen Lane between North Ockendon and Bulphan, east of Mar Dyke but west of the Dunnings Lane crossroads [map]
» see all four geographical extremities on a Google map