diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 21, 2014

Today I bring you three southwest London Borough Tops, of similar heights but subtly different characters.

Richmond: Richmond Hill

56 metres (23rd out of 33) [map] [map]

Unsurprisingly, and pleasingly, the highest point in the London borough of Richmond is Richmond Hill. That's not the hill about which the old song The Lass Of Richmond Hill was written, that's in Yorkshire, but it is the only hill in Britain with a view protected by Parliament. The Richmond, Petersham and Ham Open Spaces Act was passed in 1902 and preserves the meadows on the famous picturesque and much-painted bend in the Thames. That lies beneath the slope that rises gently from the shops, past grand houses and the occasional hotel to the gates of Richmond Park. And it's on the western edge of this great open space that the land peaks, on the ridgetop just to the north of Pembroke Lodge. The Ordnance Survey have set up their trig point between the road and the footpath, where the cyclists and the joggers speed by. But a higher artificial peak is the prehistoric mound close by, moulded several times over the centuries into a royal hunter's vantage point and a landscaped Arcadian feature. It's King Henry's Mound, and it's a London Borough Top jackpot. [4 photos]

Two exceptional things happened on my visit to KHM last weekend. Firstly there was nobody else there, which never happens, and secondly I saw St Paul's Cathedral. The dome of Wren's masterpiece is supposed to be visible from the summit, but on every previous visit visibility has been too poor. A protected line of sight exists to the northeast, with a narrow gap cut through Sidmouth Wood in the precise direction of St Paul's. And this invisible beam from Richmond exerts considerable influence on planning policy in the City ten miles distant. Buildings along the viewing corridor must not interfere with this view of the cathedral, so there are no tall office blocks or skyscrapers either in front or behind within a margin of two dome widths. Richmond's protected vista is the precise reason why Liverpool Street station is as yet undefiled by highrise development, and help explain why the Cheesegrater retreats to a triangular point. It's also how I managed to see Wren's dome against a clear blue background, admittedly faintly, but achievement unlocked.

A telescope is set up on the top of the mound in memory of local residents Bill and Ella Evans, should you want to peer through the holly hedge at greater magnification. Or you can spin it round the other way and enjoy the broad view over Hounslow, Surrey and Berks - less spectacular in close-up, but a more impressive panorama. The Thames doesn't really feature here, but Strawberry Hill, Windsor Castle and planes flying into Heathrow should all be seen. One reason that Richmond Hill impresses is the sharp drop down to the river at Petersham, hence this may only be the 23rd highest borough top in London, but the difference in elevation feels considerably greater. And I could have stayed much longer in contented contemplation, but the imminent arrival of a typically overexcited family group eventually tugged me away.
by tube/train: Richmond   by bus: 65, 371

Wandsworth: Putney Heath

60 metres (22nd out of 33) [map] [map]

The next area of high ground to the east of Richmond Park is Wimbledon Common. Two London boroughs have their highest point here, the first of these more specifically on Putney Heath. This is the northern chunk of the common, with more acidic soil, running close to the A3 on Kingston Road. It's a popular walking spot for residents and their dogs, and I had to step out of the way at one point to avoid an inter-canine fracas between Gizmo and "Stop Doing That!" Sky. I'd never explored the area north of the windmill before, so I was surprised to discover, shielded by trees, an unexpectedly hummocky hill. It rises a dozen or so metres above the surround heathland, to two separate (and roughly equal) peaks, and looks like it might once have been excavated material dumped from elsewhere. I nipped up promptly, watched by a couple of picnic parties sprawled out in the adjacent clearing, and once again had the entire summit entirely to myself. [3 photos]

This is Jerry's Hill, which sounds endearing until you realise the man in question was Jeremiah Abershawe, an 18th century highwayman whose dead body was hung in chains from a gibbet here as a warning to others. There's no such unpleasantness these days, just a sandy track that passes from one peak to the next and then more steeply down the far side. This is a thistly, teaselly, heathery, gorsey kind of a place, with a thick cloud of thistledown blowing across the peak throughout my visit. You'd need to be a bit of a masochist to step off the path, but jogging up and over the double bump looks like it'd add a bit of challenge to a circuit of the Common. Aerial distraction is provided by Boeings and Airbuses destined for Heathrow, a little to the north, but the remainder of London is almost perfectly screened by trees. Hence this overgrown heathland knoll really doesn't feel like Wandsworth at all, nor indeed anywhere in particular, and is all the better for it.
by tube: Southfields   by bus: 85, 265

Merton: Wimbledon Common

55 metres (24th out of 33) [map] [map]

To reach Merton's highest point from Wandsworth's, walk a mile across Wimbledon Common. That's a pleasant task in itself, and relatively flat too with barely a change in height from one end to the other. Merton's summit is at the far southern end of the common where the residential streets kick in, approximately at the top of Lauriston Road. This is Wimbledon Village, the more prestigious end of the town, established on this raised ground long before the railway arrived and dragged New Wimbledon firmly downhill. The houses directly facing the common have a premium site, and a size and value to match, some with turrets and many with gated driveways. Residents can't see much of the common thanks to an avenue of tall mature trees, except presumably in the winter, but one suspects accessible exclusion is the way they like it. [3 photos]

The main natural feature hereabouts is Rushmere Pond, a broad shallow pool dating back to medieval times, now allegedly supporting a shoal of koi carp. Close by I disturbed a flock of housemartins, swooping low across the grass, which made for a moment of small delight. But the most unusual presence was a row of tall plastic figures featuring a knight in armour, a native American squaw, a construction worker and a firewoman. I'd stumbled upon the Playmobil 40th anniversary tour, a summertime safari aimed at encouraging promotional photosharing. For a couple of hours the giant figures and their minders lurked on Wimbledon Common, awaiting Facebook-enabled families to pop along and attempt to take a prize-winning snap. I suspect my photo will be seen by more people than any of theirs, but my composition is all wrong, and I never wanted a limited edition compact set anyway.
by tube: Wimbledon   by bus: 93, 200, 493

» 75 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

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