diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bromley: Westerham Heights

245 metres (1st out of 33) [map] [map] [map]

The highest point in my final borough is also the highest point in London. It's on the southeastern edge of the capital, slap bang on the border with Kent. It's not in a field or up a track, it's on the main road south of Biggin Hill. It's Westerham Heights, and at 245 metres (804 feet) above sea level it's really quite surprisingly high.

Let's put this in perspective. It's higher than One Canada Square (235m), the Crystal Palace transmitter (219m), the Gherkin (180m) and the BT Tower (177m). It's over 100 metres higher than the London Eye (135m), the crest of Wembley's arch (133m) and the tallest skyscraper in Stratford (133m). I know it's not entirely kosher to judge a building from ground to top against a height above sea level, but if we pretend it is, then Westerham Heights is taller than every single building in London except the Shard.

It's also higher than every point in Hertfordshire (244m), Bedfordshire (243m) and the Isle of Wight (241m). It's convincingly higher than everywhere in Northamptonshire (225m), Nottinghamshire (225m) and - not surprisingly - Norfolk (105m). It's only three metres lower than the highest point in East Sussex (248m), and only six metres lower than the highest point in Kent (251m), which is nearby. And all of this is thanks to the North Downs, a ridge of chalk hills that runs to the south of London, in this case just to the north of the M25. Parts of Bromley are really quite scenically lumpy, if you've ever been that out far to take a look. You can even take the bus.

The highest bus stop in London is a request stop at Hawleys Corner, a fiveways junction on the border with Kent. The 246 will drop you here near the end of a long run out to Westerham, not that many get out because there are only a handful of houses hereabouts. London's highest house is a cottage well-screened by hedges, and with a very convenient post box immediately outside the front gate. There's also an incredibly convenient Indian restaurant just across the road, the flagship of the Shampan chain, a 350-seater opened three years ago. Previously the building was a pub, The Spinning Wheel, and out front is a tiny thatched cottage which, if you go back far enough, used to be a tearoom. Our dining-out preferences have changed somewhat over the years, but on my visit to the area I have to say I'd much have preferred a cuppa. [4 photos]

A sign on the road leading north from the junction welcomes you to Bromley, and a sign leading south welcomes you to Kent. It's true that the road passes from one authority to the other at this point, but the boundary runs another 400m south along the left-hand hedge. The highest field in London is very hard to see, being almost entirely screened by trees and with no public right of way passing through. It looked a bit overgrown through the gate on Grays Road, but aerial shots suggest it gets a bit meadowier further in. The garden centre on the right of the main road used to be in London too until 1994, at which point it was transferred to Sevenoaks council, hence the composts, new season roses and discount fireworks are now sold outside the capital.

Hawleys Corner is nine metres lower than London's highest point, which is located 400m up the road. To start with there's a verge, but then pedestrians are forced off into the path of oncoming traffic because this isn't really somewhere people walk. Near the top of Westerham Hill is a small electricity substation and then a large livery stables, each of these still on the Kent side and so of no interest. But the hedge opposite rises and rises until the road starts to dip down, and it's precisely here that London ultimately tops out. It's a shame that you can't actually stand 245m above sea level in London, only 236, but you can stand at 245m two steps into Kent, and that'll do for me.

A track leads off from a locked gate at the crucial location, giving pedestrians the opportunity to step off the road and stand by an outcrop of nettles. They're Kentish nettles, but the tree spreading above is a London oak. Not that you'll be looking in that direction. The open vista across the next field will have grabbed your eye, with the land falling away to reveal the wooded High Weald in the distance. It is typical, I guess, that the view only becomes distantly impressive the second you step fractionally outside the capital.

There's a better view from the next gate down, currently across golden stalks, in the last field before the land drops away. The M25 is hidden in the valley, only a mile away but 120 metres lower down. I considered walking to the bottom of Westerham Hill but thought better of it, given the speed of the cars up the 10% gradient and the lack of a verge between the hedges. Instead I found a gap and stared across to the other side of the road where the land rises to the highest point in Kent, Betsom's Hill. A couple of horses grazed on the summit, or near enough, and somewhere in an indentation lay a hidden car repair business. That'll be the Graham Hall Coachworks, which is also the name of the highest bus stop in Kent. This unassuming brow holds several elevation records, and only Londoners on the Shard's top viewing platform stand taller.
by bus: 246

» 100 photos of London Borough Tops (three from each, and one extra today)
» 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; Inner SE; Outer SE

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