diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 28, 2014

I'm nearly done with London Borough Tops, but there are a few stonking southeastern heights still to go...

Lewisham: Sydenham Hill
Southwark: Sydenham Hill

112 metres (11th and 12th out of 33) [map] [map]

For the avid London Borough Top bagger, inner southeast London makes it easy. Five boroughs meet on the Crystal Palace plateau, and two of these precisely share their highest point. The boundary between Lewisham and Southwark follows the ridge of Sydenham Hill, so find the peak contour along the way and you can cross off two boroughs simultaneously. Where precisely that is remains debatable, or at least I've been unable to to find definitive proof on the internet to persuade me that one point definitely beats another. But that's OK, I'm here for two boroughs-worth of ascent, so I can write a bit about both. [3 photos]

I think the proper summit of Sydenham Hill is on the bend in the ridge and the end of Wells Head Road. A capacious crossroads covers the high point, fairly tediously, with a lone traffic island in the centre. The only building of note is the Dulwich Wood House, an attractive looking gastropub with a trellis-topped tower, but because their website currently loads with a "Plan your Christmas now" pop-up, I'm loath to write anything else complimentary about them. Opposite the pub is a gated walk up from Sydenham Hill station, and a relentlessly long slog it is too, at least 50 metres up from platform to summit. Thankfully it's also rather pretty, more private drive than public footpath, passing as it does through the heart of Dulwich Wood. A little further round, at the foot of an equally steep hillside, are the delights of Sydenham Hill Wood. Formerly railway land, now wildlife haven, a blocked-up tunnel can still be seen where tracks led under the hill to Upper Sydenham station.

Back up at the summit a lot of the surrounding housing is, surprisingly, flats. Those on the Lewisham side are fairly mundane, but those on the Southwark side get the tumbling-away contours and so have more prestige. The crescent along the ridge is called Woodsyre, and is as pretentious as it sounds, with mere plebs discouraged from walking anywhere near what would otherwise be very ordinary flats. Big green signs scream Unauthorised Entry To Houses and Grounds Prohibited, and announce that this is part of the Dulwich Estate, hence the perceived need to keep away. At Rock Hill the steep descent even has Private Road painted in large unfriendly letters on the tarmac, and a street sign describing this as a Private Cul-de-Sac in case you haven't got the hint.

In this short distance the ridge top road has dipped and risen again, to reach a secondary peak which Ollie thinks may be loftier than the other. An OS spot height declares 111m rather than 112, so maybe he's wrong, but standing here it'd be impossible to bet money on which end of the dip is actually the higher. The next ugly brown block of flats on the Southwark side is called Blyton House after one of the borough's more famous residents, but much more exciting is the blue plaque on the neighbouring house dedicated to Sir Francis Pettit Smith, Pioneer Of The Screw Propeller. His is one of several grand Victorian townhouses and cottages along the final stretch of hilltop road, originally built on land leased from Dulwich College, now just fantastically prestigious places to live. Note the lack of TV aerials on any of the roofs, this because the Crystal Palace transmitter is at the end of the road, almost but not quite as high as this exclusive residential ridge.
by train: Sydenham Hill   by bus: 202, 356, 363

Lambeth: Westow Hill

110 metres (13th out of 33) [map] [map]

At the other end of Crystal Palace Parade, Southwark meets Bromley meets Croydon meets Lambeth. It always feels strange to me that Lambeth stretches this far out, poking out past Norwood and rising to a tapering point. The boutiquey parade from Cafe Paradou to Doris Florist is somehow in Lambeth, as is the quirky Westow House pub on the big crossroads. It's around here that the borough's highest point is reached, although judgement by eye suggests it's fractionally further west along the main shopping street, Westow Hill. The first estate agents' boasts a blue plaque to beat them all, announcing that impressionist painter Camille Pissaro stayed here for a few months in 1870-1871. He emigrated briefly from France to avoid the Franco-Prussian War, leaving a legacy of a dozen local paintings of what was then London's rural fringe. He'd have more trouble finding spots to set up his easel nowadays, but there is a fantastic view from the hilltop a little further along. [3 photos]

Try peering through the lattice at the bin store round the back of number 63a, and there's the Shard and City cluster perfectly framed beyond the guttering. But move on to the junction of Woodland Road and the vista opens wider for some woo, yes, I like that. Four-storey terraced townhouses stagger steeply down the street, dropping so sharply that the basement of number 3 is higher than the roof of number 35. And hanging beyond above the treetops there's the City again, more detailed than expected, with the Barbican's three towers clearly separate from the main Shard/Gherkin groupings. It was chucking it down with rain when I visited so I suspect I didn't see the view at its best, plus various items of street furniture and scaffolding lowered the tone. But for a combination of panorama, retail options and accessibility, the top of Lambeth's probably one of London's best.
by train: Crystal Palace   by bus: 249, 322, 417, 432, 450

» 90 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N; Inner NW; Outer NW; Outer N; Outer W; Inner SW; Outer S

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