diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 03, 2023

There are six points around the Greater London boundary where three counties meet.

Let's visit a few.

Specifically: Biggin Hill/Westerham/Tatsfield
Location: Rag Hill

This is the most rural of the six triple points and the only one not related to a river or motorway. It's also marked by a rather splendid boundary stone.

To get here take a walk along the quiet twisty country lane that wends between Tatsfield Green and the six-way junction at Hawley's Corner. There's no pavement and only occasional room to overtake but don't worry, when I visited at the weekend it was so quiet that cyclists outnumbered cars by a factor of three. Tatsfield Lane is also the boundary between Kent and London, so what we're looking out for is the point where the lane suddenly flips into Surrey. On the Kent side there are only fields and one gated private road leading off to a cluster of isolated residential palaces. On the London side are many more fields and a fiercely barricaded farm comprised mostly of horses and sheds. This entire area is equine-dominated, awash with paddocks, livery stables and more paddocks, these very occasionally glimpsed behind fences and high hedges.

The triple point occurs at the top of Rag Hill immediately outside a lonely-looking chunky white cottage. Its crazy paved parking area spans two counties whereas in the lane outside the precise dividing line is depicted by differential standards in road maintenance. Kent has put in noticeably more surfacing effort than Surrey. According to the boundary stone this is where Godstone meets Sevenoaks, a combination of districts which dates it no later than 1974, but probably much earlier before Bromley muscled in and muddied the waters. Greater London officially starts on the other side of the hedge but the only way to reach it at this point is to poke your arm through the foliage.

Rag Hill is a proper descent - something to tax passing cyclists for half a minute or so - and is duly blessed with a Surrey County Council grit bin at its foot. Here a private cul-de-sac bears off into the woods, its residents presumably peeved that their hideaway doubles up as a public footpath. On one side a Shetland pony quietly grazes while on the other side a sign warns that their dog has big teeth and can run faster than you. The only inhabitants along the opposite track appear to be horses, some free to trot up to the London boundary on the wooded ridgetop, others corralled closer to an amateur dressage ring. Keep walking and you'll soon end up in the village of Tatsfield, a Surrey salient I should blog about separately at another time, but for now at least you know where the triple point is.

Specifically: Heathrow/Stanwell Moor/Poyle
Location: M25 J14

This grim outpost on the edge of the roundabout above M25 junction 14 is simultaneously the westernmost point in London and the northernmost point in Surrey, near enough. Before the motorway was built there was no triple point here, but never underestimate the power of an orbital motorway to shift administrative boundaries. Also between 1965 and 1995 the triple point involved Bucks rather than Berks because Slough hadn't yet reached out and gobbled up Poyle. I've not been here recently because it's not very welcoming on foot, so my photo is from 2009 when I wrote a proper post about 'West London'.

Specifically: West Drayton/Colnbrook/Thorney
Location: M25 J15

This one's also a 1995 construct created when Berkshire nudged out to touch Greater London for the first time. Alas it's in a location impossible to reach on foot, amid the sprawling four-level stack interchange where the M25 crosses the M4, and not even in the centre of that junction but nudged out along the M4's eastbound carriageway. The Hillingdon boundary still wiggles up the Colne Valley along the line of the former Bigley Ditch, a minor waterway since by shifted by civil engineering on a grand scale. I managed to get within a quarter of a kilometre yesterday by traipsing to the remotest side of Harmondsworth Moor.

These former gravel workings were converted to a public park in 2000 by British Airways no less, their HQ being close by. The landscape undulates considerably across 300 acres and might be idyllic during wildflower season were it not for the roar of constant traffic and periodic jet engines. The motorway junction is raised up on wooded ramparts, forever out of reach. One moorland path takes you close to the shifted Bigley Ditch but for onward progress you instead need to follow the Wraysbury River along a path that abruptly reaches a wall of graffitied concrete. The first subway ducks under the M4's off-ramp, the longest burrows beneath the main motorway through a jagged grey vault and the third negotiates the on-ramp before escaping into an industrial estate.

If Heathrow's third runway is ever built the M25 is due to be remodelled and the southern half of Harmondsworth Moor will be sacrificed to tarmac, but the junction with the triple point is due to escape the bulldozers. More realistically, in the absence of a government keen to commit to any kind of major transport infrastructure project, expect this extraordinary liminal nomansland to linger on.

Specifically: Harefield/Denham/West Hyde
Location: Broadwater Lake

This triple point is on the River Colne below Harefield, not far from Black Jacks Cottage, at the southernmost tip of Hertfordshire. It sits adrift amid a chain of lakes which used to be gravel workings on a strip of nature reserve surrounding Broadwater Lake, which might be idyllic except that HS2 has sealed it all off. This is almost precisely where the uncancelled section of the megarailway crosses a London lake on a ridiculously long bridge before diving into a tunnel amid an enormous scar on a Home Counties hillside, and having to deal with three different planning authorities can't have helped.

Specifically: Enfield Lock/Waltham Cross/Waltham Abbey
Location: Rammey Marsh

The M25 is back but this time it's between junctions, namely J25 for the A10 and J26 for Epping Forest. The precise spot is where the motorway crosses the River Lea, technically the Lee Navigation, which because of its towpath makes it easy to access. As you pass under this noisy viaduct Greater London suddenly bifurcates into Herts on one bank and Essex on the other, and I think a boundary post exists in the undergrowth just to the north of the hard shoulder. By chance the triple point was in almost precisely the same spot before the motorway arrived, but a few metres further north and on the opposite side of the river.

Specifically: Erith/Purfleet/Dartford
Location: River Thames

And finally, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a triple point in the middle of the River Thames. The estuary is half a mile wide at this point, bang opposite the mouth of the River Darent, so you'll only get to the right spot if you're in a boat. The first and last sections of the London Loop get close, but this is the least satisfying triple point of London's half dozen. Best not try collecting the full set.

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