diamond geezer

 Monday, May 18, 2009

compass pointsCompass points
(an occasional feature where I visit London's geographical extremities)
WEST London - M25 Junction 14

Two of London's geographical extremities are delightful rural backwaters, and two are on the M25. Sorry, this is one of the latter. Just to the west of Heathrow terminal 5, where the A3113 meets London's orbital, is the westernmost spot in the capital. You might even have been there. Don't worry, it wouldn't surprise me if you didn't remember. [map] [aerial shot]

West LondonThe M25 to the west of London is one scary motorway. Upgraded due to excess traffic flow, no fewer than twelve carriageways thunder their way through the middle of Junction 14's roundabout [photo]. Four each way for the motorway proper, then two each side for the Terminal 5 slipway, which coils and swerves to the north on its way to London's least favourite airport. Heathrow's southern runway is aligned nearly perfectly with this particular roundabout, so the roar of traffic is supplemented every 90 seconds or so by the whining drone of jet engines thundering almost overhead. You wouldn't live here, but unbelievably there's a Travelodge right beside the roundabout where people pay good money to do just that.

An act of Parliament in 1993 tweaked the Greater London boundary to encircle the roundabout, marking this point as the farthest outpost of the borough of Hillingdon. This used to be part of Surrey, and most of the outside of the roundabout still is. Meanwhile the Travelodge is a few yards into Berkshire, or rather it's in the less exciting unitary Borough of Slough (which in this case sounds rather more appropriate). And the whole area was once a liminal swathe of Middlesex, before any of this boundary swapping took place. It's very borderline, this place, and that's why we're here.

It's not the done thing to go jaywalking on motorways, so it's fortunate for boundary-searching pedestrians that the Colne Valley Way weaves its way through the middle of this very roundabout. I made my approach from the village of Stanwell Moor, an isolated Surrey outpost hemmed in by giant reservoirs and persistently blighted by low-flying 747s [photo]. A well hidden footpath tracked across the wooded River Colne (lovely) before emerging beside a travellers' caravan site (less so), then continued round a leafy bridleway to a concrete underpass (ditto). Under the roadway I expected to see the M25 burrowing through, but instead discovered that two sides of the roundabout were packed with trees. A crescent to the east, a crescent to the west, and a footbridge curving across the motorway to link the two.

West LondonThe second slice of woodland is the westernmost green space in the capital. It's supposed to be unreachable, but the gate off from the bridleway was unlocked so I stepped through for a look. Here was deep bushy thicket, where the dog-rose bloomed and weeds flourished, with a litter-strewn grassy path through the centre. One spot had partly subsided, and a yellow gas signlet warned against deeper excavation. At the bottom of the slope there was a thin gap between the trees, wide open to the screaming traffic, above which oncoming jets approached perfectly framed. Best back away now, I thought.

West LondonStepping up from the bridleway onto the roundabouts's inner bank, between the teasels, I looked out past the nearest set of traffic lights towards the reservoir beyond. A few yards ahead of me was the westernmost spot in London [photo], over there on the verge along the outer rim of the roundabout. It was unmarked by stone or obelisk, but there was a large green roadsign in almost exactly the right position. Get in lane now, it advised, and keep left for Poyle and Datchet. Alternatively lanes 2, 3 and 4 steered vehicles safely into the capital, which for many was likely to be a wiser choice.

Unbelievably this precise spot used to be the site of a railway station, or rather an insignificant halt, on the Staines and West Drayton Railway. This single-platform station opened as Stanwell Moor & Poyle in 1927, but was later given the more appropriate name Poyle Halt. Local demand was never great, so passenger services ceased post-Beeching in 1965. The line was then used solely for freight, until in 1981 the M25-builders came along and severed the tracks. Now rail has been consumed by road, and Poyle Halt lies buried beneath the western side of the roundabout.

West LondonJunction 14 was more characterful than I was expecting, though admittedly that wasn't much. But it's a plane-spotter and lorry-spotter's heaven, because the bridleway provides an excellent vantage point for close-up views of both. Next time you're passing through, or above, you can bore any travelling companions by telling them you're at London's westernmost point. But really, I only stopped off here so that you don't have to.

See also
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)
SOUTH London: On a bend in Ditches Lane, just north of St Peter and St Paul Church in the village of Chaldon [map] (I visited in 2007)
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

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