diamond geezer

 Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Norfolk postcard: RAF Air Defence Radar Museum
Neatishead, nr Wroxham, NR12 8YB
10am-5pm. Entrance: £7
Open: the second Saturday of the month, plus Tuesdays, Thursdays and Bank Holiday Mondays between April and October

You won't find it on the Ordnance Survey map, not if your map's of a certain age, because during the Cold War it didn't officially exist. But RAF Neatishead used to be the Control and Reporting Centre for air defences across the south of the UK, which means nuclear bombers would have been tracked and directed from this unassuming spot beside the Norfolk Broads. And before that it was a pioneering hub in early radar experiments, helping us to win World War II by anticipating when the Luftwaffe's aerial attacks would come. And now it's a museum - a highly intriguing one - which tells a dozen stories with a local connection. They've been open twenty years, on and off, but saw their greatest ever number of visitors this Bank Holiday Monday, one of whom was me.

The building doesn't look so big when you arrive, but that's deceptive because (unsuprisingly) the biggest room's underground. You'll get there on the guided tour, which kicks off every half hour or so from the briefing room opposite the cafe. Everything's run by volunteers, most of whom used to be servicemen hereabouts so are experts and brimming with appropriate anecdotes. They'll lead you off down to the first room, which is set out circa 1940 when radar was in its infancy, and explains how enemy attacks during the Battle of Britain were repulsed. By 1942, in the second room, technology had moved on somewhat, with a spinning dish up top and the familiar trace/blip on an electronic screen. You can find out far more about the dawn of radar in some of the adjacent rooms once the tour's over, including how it spread to planes, the golfballs at Fylingdales, and even the back end of the Falkland Islands.

But it's the third room on the tour that sends shivers, the bunker from which the last four minutes of life in Britain could have been conducted. Neatishead's role was to scramble all the RAF's planes into the pre-nuclear sky in the hope that they'd have somewhere safe to land sometime afterwards. We came close, apparently, and the base continued to monitor Russian planes' sorties down the North Sea in case this was ever 'the one'. Staff here stood down in 2006 and passed control to a single tracking station in Northumberland, leaving the obsolete electronics and command positions to a mere sightseeing role. You may not be reassured to hear that the large glass information screens on the main wall were filled in by staff writing backwards from behind with chinagraph pencils - on such low technology rested the fate of our nation.

the crash location, beneath the bridge, east of St John's

Once left to explore on your own, there are umpteen rooms of military malarkey to explore. Many of these are related to Neatishead, but others relate to the much larger RAF Coltishall. This closed down eight years ago after several decades of service, and all the ephemera stored in the air base's museum and archive had to go somewhere. From Spitfires to Vulcans and Lightnings to Harriers, the volunteers can tell you much more, including the lowdown on how difficult some were to maintain. But there are none outside at Neatishead today, not least because much of the exterior of the site is still run by the RAF as a Remote Radar Head and therefore remains Top Secret. Sssh, don't tell everybody.

Suffolk postcard: Ickworth House
Horringer, nr Bury St Edmunds, IP29 5QE
House opening times:
11am-5pm. Entrance price: £14

Ickworth's a most unusual building. The central portion looks like it's landed from outer space, a double decker monster with a giant rocket booster on top landed unexpectedly in the heart of the Suffolk countryside. In truth it's an Italianate rotunda built around the turn of the 18th century for the Marquesses of Bristol, a dynasty renowned for hell-raising behaviour right up to the present day. Two single storey wings curve off to each side, each deceptively thin, more for show than practical use. The family lived at the end of the east wing, and the central rotunda was usually used only for guests, especially when shooting parties descended and needed a luxurious base. Today the National Trust owns the lot, leasing the east wing as a posh hotel and much of the west wing as a conference centre, leaving visitors the glorious centre to explore.

Entry is via the servants' quarters, the entire downstairs slice, expertly dressed up with as it might have been one day in 1935. Even the scratchy toilet paper looks authentic, but it's a bit cold down there in places, even in August. Climb the staircase to enter a broad high opulent entrance hall, and a trio of grand state rooms dressed with drapes, chandeliers and accumulated works of art. The upper level houses bedrooms for guests and is on an equally lofty scale, with daylight streaming down through a void in the hollow roof. As usual the Trust's volunteers are on hand to tell you more, even more politely helpful here than usual, and there's a tasteful cafe (and second hand book stall) tucked away in the west wing.

Outside is the first Italianate Garden in Britain. It's more topiary-based than floral, with a secret "stumpery" hidden behind hedges at the rear where decades of spiky tree roots have been decoratively positioned to create a fairy tale vibe. Assuming you're up for a walk the estate stretches for miles, down past the parish church, walled garden, ornamental river and beyond. Various tracks are signposted, although the prescribed times for completing them are ludicrous as if calculated for joggers rather than genteel NT patrons. The park and gardens are open all year, with the house open most days of the week from Easter to the end of October. The full package isn't cheap, but if you're ever in the Bury St Edmunds area... yeah right.

 Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich usually throws a good exhibition. They've done Nelson, they've done astronomy, and now they're doing time. Specifically they're doing Longitude, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act in July 1714. The exhibition is called Ships, Clocks & Stars, which is the museum's attempt to make a fairly obscure theme sound slightly more exciting. I'm not convincing the title is luring people in, but a steady stream of visitors was trotting round the exhibition last week which bodes well for its six month run.

The downstairs gallery kicks off with a video of the rolling sea and also a Sponsor Statement, which is the usual pile of corporate guff, but thanks for all the money. First up we have to discover what longitude is and why it was critically important, and this is well explained within a giant globe. Britain's sea trade relied on ships knowing precisely where they were, and while north-south could be determined from the sky, east-west was impossible to determine accurately. The government put up a £20000 prize, a life-changing amount in its time, and Britons chased after it with a variety of schemes. Some were crackpot, which fills another room, while two shone through, and the remainder of the exhibition concentrates on those.

Chief of these were John Harrison's clocks, more normally to be seen in the Royal Observatory on the hill, but moved down to the museum until the New Year. The intricately mechanical H1, H2 and H3 appear in one display case, while the much smaller H4 is more easily overlooked alongside. Indeed many visitors walked straight past the victorious pocketwatch without giving it a second glance, before discovering in the subsequent rooms quite how ground-breakingly important it was. Some interesting graphic devices and screens keep what could be a dry story fresh, although you'll probably not want to drag any smaller children round.

The other successful method of calculating longitude involved taking measurements of the phases of the moon. This wasn't easy on a ship, plus you had to be an expert mathematician to do the calculations, so the timekeeper method generally worked rather better. But this is a good excuse for the museum to get several gleaming scientific instruments out of its archive, and this fills up much of the rest of the exhibition. It's no blockbuster overall, but it's interesting enough, and it's good to explore a key historical story that challenges intellectually.

Tickets cost £8.50, which also gets you a free look around the Royal Observatory. Ditto tickets for the Royal Observatory cost £8.50 and also get you a free look round the Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition. I'd not been round the Royal Observatory since they introduced an admission charge in 2011, so it was good to visit again and see what's changed. Most of the time stuff has been temporarily removed, and the space filled with a collection of steampunk creations with a fictional narrative. It's not what you'd expect, and I doubt most of the visitors quite understood what was going on, but it's sparky and fun, if not entirely relevant.

The biggest change since the observatory started charging is in the composition of the crowd. Previously there'd be Britons in amongst the visitors, but on my visit they seemed conspicuously absent. Instead most people here are foreign visitors "doing London", and shuffling round the building taking in the heritage sights. And the most depressing difference is in the main courtyard where the meridian line cuts across the cobbles. Where this used to be an informal free-for-all, now a long queue builds up so that each and every visitor can have their minute astride the meridian. They wait for ages for the chance to pose in front of the metal sculpture... grin, snap, post to Facebook and move on. If you've been missing the chance to do the same, Ships, Clocks & Stars might inspire you to see zero degrees longitude again.

 Monday, August 25, 2014

So this appeared on my local post box this week.

At the moment the post is collected no earlier than 5.30pm each weekday and 11.30am on Saturdays. From mid-September it'll be collected no earlier than 9.00am each weekday and 7.00am on Saturdays. And this sounds plainly ludicrous. What's going on?
What changes are taking place and why?
We are improving the level of public access to postboxes in areas of under-provision, by adding around 2,000 boxes to the 115,000 we currently have. 45,000 to 50,000 low-use boxes will move to ‘collection on delivery’ with the postman or woman emptying the box on their round, rather than providing a dedicated collection by van. No postboxes will be removed from service as a result of this initiative.
Ah yes, the Royal Mail are planning to save money by not collecting mail from about half their post boxes at the end of the day. The postie in his van will only visit certain boxes, and all the rest will be collected by the delivery staff at some point during their round. Collecting could be at the end of the morning, if the delivery round is long, but it could be eight hours earlier than now if the acts of delivery and collection are combined.
Why has the collection time for my postbox been changed?
There has been a significant fall in the number of items posted in postboxes, leaving many now not covering their costs. Rather than decommission uneconomic ones, we’re improving the cost effectiveness of collections. Emptying these low-use boxes on delivery enables us to be much more efficient going forward.
We're not using postboxes so much any more, with email and other electronic communication long ago taking the place of the written word on paper. Parcels remain popular but tend to be sent via post offices, and a diet of greetings cards won't keep the Royal Mail in business. And OK, so many organisations still like to send us printed material, but they don't use postboxes, so maybe their days are numbered.
Why is the collection time from my local postbox now so early?
Because of the need to improve the efficiency of our collections and maintain collections from postboxes, your local box is now collected by our postmen and women whilst out on delivery. This means the box will be cleared earlier in the day. There will be no change to the ultimate delivery of the items you post, they will go through our system in exactly the same way. There should be a later collection from another nearby box, typically in the late afternoon.
Nothing arrives at its destination any later, sure, but you'll have to get out much earlier in the day to make sure your letter's in the box on time. And that's ridiculously earlier on a Saturday, which essentially means the weekend no longer has a collection service at all. What's disappearing here is the ability to turn round correspondence in one day. I remember when my letters arrived at breakfast time, and then I had the entire day to get my response into the box. Now I'm lucky if my mail's arrived by lunch, and by then the only collection of the day will most likely have gone.

Except it's not quite that bad yet.
Why's my box being cleared earlier and not the one down the road?
Not all postbox collection times are changing, the majority will keep a 4pm or later collection time. We’ve carefully considered the distribution of all our postboxes and their accessibility. Our plan is balanced, based on usage and the need for later collections in the area and we believe provides the best mix of earlier and later boxes for all our customers in the area. Your box receives fewer than 50 items a day and is within half a mile of another box which is keeping its later collection time.
Post box times will only be getting earlier in urban and suburban areas where the density of boxes is relatively high. There'll always be a box within half a mile with an end-of-the-afternoon collection time, so all you have to do is go to that instead. The Royal Mail saves tons of money on a pointless collection service, and you'll merely be mildly inconvenienced every time you post a letter. It sounds fine, except that's a round trip of up to a mile, which adds up over a year, and you might be old or disabled making the extra journey really quite impractical.
How do I find out where the nearest box with a later collection time is?
Call our dedicated Customer Service Team on 03456 011399 and they will be pleased to help you find your nearest box with a later collection time.
I tried ringing the number, and got an automated message urging me to check the Royal Mail website for more details about the changes. I'd already tried that, but all that's available is general advice and absolutely nothing geographically specific. You'd think a postcode query database cold be available online, but no, the only way to find specific details is to ring up, which is hardly a money-saving option. And when I tried on Friday the office was closed, as presumably it will be until tomorrow.
Isn't this just a cost-cutting excercise typical of a newly privatised business?
Every business needs to examine its costs and Royal Mail is no different. In order to protect the long term future of postbox collections, we need to improve our efficiency and become as cost-effective as possible. Moving these low-usage boxes to a ‘collection on delivery’ footing enables us to realise these savings and maintain service to customers.
We live in an age where efficiency has become more important than service. The modern mantra of "we simply can't afford it" means we're all enduring cutbacks these days, because cutting back is the default austerity option. A lot of decisions are being made in many public services to scale back, and services lost may never be recovered. And of course the Royal Mail is now a private company so can make decisions without public redress, and if that means a less good customer experience, so be it.
Has any consultation been entered into before deciding to do this?
We have communicated our plans to Ofcom, Citizen’s Advice, Citizen’s Advice Scotland and Consumer Council Northern Ireland. Research shows that postal users are positive about the idea of moving collections, particularly from low-use boxes, to link with delivery. 91% of users did not choose their box based on collection time. Users understand this approach is more efficient and fitted with their desire for a more efficient postal service. We will put a notice on every affected postbox four weeks ahead of the change to collection times. There will also be clear sign-posting for customers on the relevant postboxes as to where their nearest late posting box is.
This looks like bad research being twisted to fit a management narrative. Of course 91% of users don't choose their box based on collection time, and that's because collection times always been at teatime or later. But people will mind a lot more when they have the choice to post a birthday card either one day earlier or half a mile down the road. Plus I still have no idea where my nearest late posting box will be. No "clear sign-posting" has yet appeared, only existing guidance that a box a mile and a half away gets a collection after half past six, and no way am I walking that far.

Erosion of service begins on September 15th. It's not the end of the world, it may not even inconvenience you at all, but it is another small round in the death of a national service by a hundred cuts.

 Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Overground in northeast London is good at not interchanging with other lines. It misses the Central line, misses the Piccadilly line twice, misses the Northern line twice too. But the Victoria line it hits twice, because the Victoria line was built with interchange in mind. And now it hits again, with the long-awaited opening of a pedestrian link in Walthamstow, specifically between Walthamstow Queens Road and Walthamstow Central. The connection's been a very long time coming, and has been almost complete for a year or two but never quite opened up for public use. But this month the barriers have come down, some directional signs have gone up, and you can now exit Walthamstow Queens Road on the quick side.

This is a very rampy station, and the new connection adds yet more ramps to that number. Stairs are available to bypass most, but the newest exit requires a zigzag climb because there isn't any room to install steps. Rampiness is an issue at a number of Overground stations, in particular Hackney Wick where the ascent is so unavoidably convoluted that many passengers miss their train. Here at Walthamstow Queens Road the diversion's only brief, but step-free access is the priority and so stepped access is unavailable.

It has always been possible to walk from WQR to WC, but via an indirect route along a trio of Victorian terraced streets. That particular deviation took seven minutes for the walk between stations, whereas the new link cuts the time to only four minutes. The new eastern exit brings you up into Edison Close, formerly a quiet residential cul-de-sac, now a residential cul-de-sac with interchanging passengers walking through. Unlike the previous route there are as yet no official directional signs, so the Barking - Gospel Oak Rail User Group have stepped in and installed laminated signs on most of the lampposts to guide passengers to their destination. We thank them.

And it's not a lovely walk. The cul-de-sacs are a bit bland, unlike the Victorian terraces where each house had its own name chiselled into a plaque on the front. The new path takes you into a parking area and past a bin store, in an "are you sure this is the right route?" sort of way. In this short stretch it's been called Ray Dudley Way, named after a member of the BGO Rail User Group, which is a nice personal touch. And then it tracks up the edge of a large car park, fenced off with barriers for passenger safety, before passing a number of apartment blocks and commercial units currently under construction. It's not a lovely walk at all, but it is a short-cut that lops 40% off the time it takes to walk from one station to the other, so practicality wins.

You might not realise that a southern entrance to Walthamstow Central exists, but it does, on the side opposite to the busy shopping centre and bus station. Workmen are currently giving this south side a spruce-up, resurfacing the piazza outside and adding what looks like a sundial out front. There's even a poem etched into one of the flagstones near the station entrance, if you look down, a short verse by Graham Clifford. It's called Crushed, and it compares the TfL roundel to a clock "bisected with hope". The eight lines were a bit too nebulous for me, but the idea of etching stanzas into the pavement might just catch on.

So anyway, you're unlikely to want to change between Overground and Victoria lines here in Walthamstow because there's a much better interchange at the next station, Blackhorse Road. But you might well want to change between the Overground and the rail line to Chingford, because that serves Walthamstow Central too creating a much more useful connection. And next year the Chingford line will itself be absorbed into the Overground, which means the new link that's just opened will connect the Overground (old) to the Overground (new). Expect to see this connection highlighted as an interchange on 2015's tube map, and smile because this more direct connection just saved you three minutes off your walk.

 Saturday, August 23, 2014

Another connection into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened this week, this time linking E3 to E20. It's a new footbridge across the Lea, or rather it's an existing footbridge that was built shortly before the Olympics but which has only now been linked to an elevated bank on the opposite side. It crosses to the south of White Post Lane and to the north of Old Ford Lock, beside the Omega Works, not far from the end of the Hertford Union Canal. More specifically it links Fish Island to Sweetwater, if you can cope with those as names of places rather than twee hydrological terms. And it's about time. [no. 16 on this map]

Fish Island's been in need of a connection into the Olympic Park for a while. There is a new path beside the old Big Breakfast House leading into the back end of the park, but it's not exactly direct and doesn't yet touch down anywhere especially useful. The new footbridge whams in at the end of Monier Road, alongside one of the hipster cafes this corner of Fish Island is renowned for. The entry point is marked by a tall red brick chimney with the name MK Carlton painted on the side. The name refers to the MK Carlton Shoe Company who used to have their factory here, but the chimney was originally built for the Gas Light and Coke Company in 1893. Bits of the remainder of the building and the front wall survived until fairly recently, but they've now been demolished to provide access to the bridge and only the refreshed chimney remains.

The bridge's designers have got around the problem of step-free access by providing a zigzag path up the side of the main staircase. I guess if you have a wheelchair or pram then you're used to taking the long way round, but cyclists may not be impressed by having to change direction five times on the way up. Once at bridge level there's a fine view across to the Olympic Stadium, now undergoing transformation into the YourBrandHere Stadium when West Ham finally move in. The Park's Energy Centre is also highly visible in the opposite direction, and probably several hipster souls sat at tables beside the Lea sipping coffees. But on the immediate QEOP side, apart from some building works, bugger all.

What's coming here, starting later in 2014, is the Canal Park. This is planned as an "active waterfront", five to twenty metres wide, along the whole of the eastern bank of the Lea from Old Ford to the A12. A varied set of landscapes and plants is promised, including woodlands, meadows, coppices, reed beds and green walls, plus a lot of benches for sitting on and some play areas for good measure. There is a reason for all this riverside planting, rather than the more usual legacy response of sticking up huge blocks of flats, and that's what's under the ground. Two 42-inch Thames Water mains run the length of the Canal Park and create a significant no build zone above them, even restricting the types of tree that can be planted. Here by the Monier Road Bridge black poplars, wildflower slopes and daisy lawns are planned, and it should all look jolly pretty. It just doesn't yet.

The footbridge lands above the cobbled towpath with a linking ramp down, if that's the way you want to go. But straight ahead is one of the most bland expanses of tarmac imaginable, because not all of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is very nice. The tarmac spreads out far wider than seems necessary at the riverward end, then slowly narrows with lime-yellow barriers along each side, with a run of streetlamps (21st century style) down the middle. One of the History Trees that guards each main entrance to the park stands waiting, but other than that, this is pretty miserable stuff. What's more it doesn't get any better on reaching the existing heart of QEOP, namely Mandeville Place. They've given it a nice name, but the reality is yet more tarmac sloping down from the park's central spine, making for a desolate mostly-wasted space.

And the reason the new link runs between fenced-off zones of nothingness is that these areas are scheduled to become the E20 district of Sweetwater. Around 600 new homes are planned, most of these in the sky, plus a new school, library and health centre. An all-through Free School is planned, not because Tower Hamlets council wants one but because here in QEOP the Mayoralty has sway. Development of Sweetwater has been brought forward by a number of years in return for a reduction in the proportion of affordable housing, which sounds like a woefully bad deal to me unless you happen to be one of the construction companies. Building work'll probably kick off in earnest next year, before which all we've got is a convenient cut-through from Fish Island to Westfield via the new footbridge, and only E3 locals are likely to notice.

 Friday, August 22, 2014

Kingston: Telegraph Hill

90 metres (19th out of 33) [map] [map]

I shake my fists at the gods of Administrative Topography. The next borough high point on my list isn't just somewhere wilfully inaccessible, it's in the most far-flung corner of London from where I live. The borough of Kingston sticks a thin tongue down into Surrey, stretching two miles down from Surbiton and out past Chessington World of Adventures. To get further requires a ride on an elusive bus, the 465 to Dorking, which for reasons best known to TfL serves communities up to six miles beyond the Greater London border. The village at the tip of Kingston's tongue is Malden Rushett, a remote outpost on the Leatherhead road of whose existence I'd not previously been aware. A cluster of houses, a Mitsubishi showroom, a hi-tech business park - it's that kind of place. I'm sure its few hundred residents enjoy the semi-rural setting, and the convenience of having an M&S Simply Food at the local garage. [4 photos]

But I needed to go even further than that, so alighted at the delightfully named Shy Horse and walked on past the last lonely cottages to a pair of farm entrances. One of these farms caters for all your Horse, Pet and Poultry supplies, if you're interested, while the other has its own 500m-long airstrip. The main road climbed a low hill beyond, this leading to my ultimate target, although a strip of woodland along each side rendered the summit entirely invisible. On I trudged past a relentless stream of traffic, until I eventually reached a locked gate blocking access to a short upward track. Somewhere up there was Telegraph Hill, so named because it used to be part of the signalling chain between London and Portsmouth. But Thames Water didn't want me to get any closer to their covered reservoir, the location of Kingston's elusive 90m contour. Damn, I thought, I've come all this way, but is this going to be the first borough top it's impossible even to photograph?

With more time I could have continued downhill to the first pub in Surrey, the Star, and then taken a forest walk through the Crown Estate at Prince's Coverts. But I didn't have time enough on this occasion (note to self, looks nice, come back), so decided instead to try to peer through the roadside woodland scrub. No way was the traffic stopping to allow a deluded pedestrian to cross, so I took my life in my hands and attempted to nip quickly through. Once over I had to step through nettles and brambles to a small clearing, negotiate a dumped fridge and gas canister, and finally peer over a hedge to view the grassy bump beyond. No telegraph passes this way today, only a minor string of power lines, but a dish-topped mobile mast continued the communications motif in more modern style. And somewhere beyond the hedge at the top of the rise was that elusive covered reservoir, not really worth the danger and effort, but I left with my completist tendencies satisfied.
by train: Chessington South   by bus: 465

Sutton: Clock House

147 metres (4th out of 33) [map] [map]

Regular readers will know that I once judged Sutton to be London's least interesting borough, so I was really hoping its highest point would help reverse that opinion. Alas, not so. Despite being one of the top five highest Borough Tops in London, the reality was far more mundane - the corner of a playing field on the edge of a housing estate. I took the bus to Clockhouse, a postwar suburb of Coulsdon named after the farm it replaced. Three sticky-coiffed teenage boys sat behind me bantering all the way, and then chose to press the Hail and Ride exit button at the precise street corner I needed. They disappeared off towards some avenue of semis, and I walked a few yards up The Mount towards the local rec. On the no-through-road signpost I spotted a small sticker from an Italian cycling company directing two-wheeled visitors straight ahead. They offer an 8-day Greenway Cycling Tour from Paris to London, which for some reason heads through the obscure end of Sutton, which must be a bit of a letdown after Impressionist Normandy. [3 photos]

The only people on the recreation ground were a man walking his dog and four lads playing football using a traffic cone and the dog mess bin for goalposts. With the playing field as flat and featureless as playing fields are, their kickabout was the only thing of interest so I decided to take a picture. "That bloke's taking photos," said one before playing on, so I felt the need to head for the far side of the grass and skulk out of sight. Thankfully this corner was the precise highest point in Sutton, although it would have been hard to tell without the Ordnance Survey's reassurance. Surrey started immediately across the hedge, on a scrappy patch of heathland, and also immediately across a stile, littered with blowaway plastic bags at its foot. I could have walked steeply down through Prospect Plantation to Woodmansterne station, but instead chose the Italian cyclists' path to Woodmansterne village. Its parish church and village green are also about 147 metres above sea level, and much more interesting than where I'd just been, but alas not in London, so sorry, Sutton loses out again.
by train: Woodmansterne   by bus: 463

Croydon: Sanderstead Plantation

175 metres (2nd out of 33) [map] [map]

Croydon is a very hilly borough, at least in its southern half, with impressive rises around Farthing Downs and the Addington Hills. But the highest point is in Sanderstead, to the south of Croydon town centre, on an escarpment surrounded by suburbia. The most obvious landmark is the 13th century parish church at the top of Sanderstead Hill, its spire roofed with wooden shingles, and rightly Grade I listed. Close by used to be Sanderstead Manor, a large Tudor country house which eventually became a hotel, destroyed by fire during WW2 and demolished soon after. The Lords of the Manor were teetotallers and hence the entire suburb is dry, even 500 years after their covenant first prevented the opening of taverns and hostelries. That's something to remember if you're ever tempted to move here by the generously-sized houses and rolling landscape - it's a long way to the pubs in Warlingham. [3 photos]

Where the land tumbles northward most steeply, a timber plantation was established to provide shelter for the manor house. That wood is now all that survives, covering Sanderstead's hilltop with eight acres of beech, oak, cherry and sweet chestnut. It's managed as a public open space, criss-crossed with paths, just large enough to wander and get lost within. It's also surprisingly muddy underfoot, even in the summer, so I expect the wooden posts laid flat in the footpath for support are entirely overwhelmed for much of the year. The highest point lies off the main track, so you'll not reach it without stepping off through the groundcover and negotiating branches and brambles on the way. A tree bursts forth from the summit, though the surrounding woodland means there's nothing to see in any direction but leaves so don't bother coming up for the view. The City panorama from the top deck of a passing bus is rather better, if only briefly over the rooftops. And OK so I'd hoped for more from the second highest Borough Top in London, but at least it's a proper hill, and I loved the compact solitude of the surrounding plantation.
by train: Sanderstead   by bus: 412

» 84 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

 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

 Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If you were planning to go to the Post Office in Bromley-by-Bow today, you can't. The branch in Stroudley Walk closed yesterday, and won't ever be reopening. It was, to be fair, possibly the most horrible Post Office anywhere in London. The building was part of the postwar redevelopment project of Bromley High Street - some architect's idea of 1970s chic, a dysfunctional symphony in brown. In their benevolence Stroudley Walk was gifted a grim brick parade with flats on top, and an arched colonnade which inconveniently blocked sight of all the shops behind. It's no retail nirvana, indeed far from it.

The Post Office was situated nextdoor to a fish and chip shop of dubious origin, presenting a windowless façade to the windswept precinct outside. Entering for stamps, or more likely the cashing of some benefit payment, meant stepping back in time to austerity decor untroubled by refurbishment in several decades. A queue wiggled up the threadbare carpet and back, overwhelmed somewhat by the space, to a window behind which staff scuttled around in semi-darkness. More than one language was spoken, not always mine, and waiting for service was always somewhat purgatorial. The thought that I will never again have to queue in Stygian gloom has cheered me no end.

The official closing time was 5.30pm yesterday, but when I turned up at five the lights were already off and the brown doors were locked shut. No other potential customers seemed inconvenienced. "This Post Office Is Now Close!!!" read the message hastily marker-penned and blutacked to the glass panel, above the poster announcing the official Local Public Consultation Decision. That consultation took place last summer, when Branch 050002's demise had been pencilled in for November, but here we are now a full nine months later. And what this means is that if you want to post a parcel or pay your vehicle tax in Bromley-by-Bow today you can't, you'll have to travel a mile or more to one of the East End's other branches.

But tomorrow, woohoo, Bow's brand new Post Office opens. It's not in a new building, and it's not on Stroudley Walk, it's at the back of the existing Nisa supermarket on Bow Road. You'll know it if you're local as the shop with the Co-op beehive motif on the front, circa 1919, but it's been in the hands of more minor grocery chains for some time now. This is one of the Post Office's new-style modernisations, now rolling out across the country, the idea being to achieve symbiosis with an existing business rather that waste money on solo premises. Customers get longer opening hours and a nicer environment, and the Post Office gets a lot of old premises to flog off.

There are benefits too for Nisa's existing customers. All Post Offices must be fully accessible so money's been spent doubling up the access ramp at the front so it runs both ways. The front door is now electronic and swishes automatically, rather than us having to remember whether it pushes or pulls, and daily newspapers have been moved to a new rack so that wheelchairs don't immediately crash into the old one on entering. One particular aisle has been designated the official route to the rear and has red and white arrowed signs hung aloft. And right at the back of the store is the new Post Office area, just past the Häagen-Dazs and frozen food, allegedly an extension but more likely a converted bit of storeroom.

The new facilities aren't yet uncovered, but we're promised "one position screened counter and two open plan serving positions", in an environment surely more pleasant than before. There's also a further serving point located at the front of the shops by the till, the idea being that the majority of Post Office services will be available whenever the shop is open, so that's a win all round. The new postmistress is the supermarket manager's wife, who looks like she's raring to get the whole thing started. She's been doing the job over in Stroudley Walk for a while, and has a no-nonsense strength of character which would suit a primary school headteacher or a plum role in EastEnders.

But nobody's yet moved the Post Office's Royal Mail post box. That still sits in Stroudley Walk like it always has, which is now 650 metres (and two pedestrian crossings) from the new counter service. Another box exists outside the old Town Hall on Bow Road, but this isn't exactly conveniently located either if you're exiting the supermarket with a birthday card to post. I wonder if that's an oversight, or simply because the two halves of the GPO no longer need to talk to one another nor support each other's work.

Anyway, Bow's new Post Office opens for business at 1pm tomorrow, should this be of any interest to any of you. The new place will no doubt be bland and functional, but at least it won't the desolate cavern we locals have had to use for years. And that'll be another nail in the coffin for Stroudley Walk, never the retail hub its planners hoped, and now devoid of the one public service that brought additional commercial custom. And I can't see any business wanting to buy the old Post Office up, but then the neighbouring Rose and Crown pub has recently metamorphosed into a peri-peri espresso bar, so stranger things have happened.

 Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More lists gleaned from TfL FOI requests [data]

London bus stop statistics [data]
Total number of TfL bus stops in London: 17866
Number of request stops: 8504 (48%)
The five boroughs with the most bus stops: Bromley (1053), Croydon (978), Barnet (867), Hillingdon (766), Ealing (715)
The five boroughs with the fewest bus stops: City of London (138), Kensington & Chelsea (267), Hammersmith & Fulham (289), Islington (353), Sutton (364)
The letter most likely to appear on top of a bus stop: D (509 times)
(other single letters of the alphabet follow in the order BACEHKLJFMPGNSRTUQWVXYZOI)

TfL bus stops including the name of a supermarket [data]
1) Sainsbury's (45) (e.g. Brentwood Sainsbury's)
2) Tesco (39) (e.g. Perivale Tesco)
3) Asda (9) (e.g. Roehampton Vale Asda)
4) Morrisons (7) (e.g. Queensbury Morrisons)
5) Marks and Spencer (2) (i.e. Banstead Marks&Spencer)
(meanwhile 9 bus stops include Selfridges and 4 include Harrods)

Buses whose destination includes the name of a supermarket [data]
1) Sainsbury's (19 destinations): 79, 187, 194, 245, 262, 295, 321, 325, 352, 371, 385, 391, 397, 403, 450, 498, P13, U7, W5
2) Tesco (17 destinations): 168, 273, 275, 321, 324, 332, 341, 349, 377, 488, 499, C3, E5, E6, H20, H28, H28
3) Asda (10 destinations): 135, 145, 219, 292, 303, D3, D6, D8, K3, W14
4) Morrisons (3 destinations): 27, 288, 393
5) Marks&Spencer (2 destinations): 166, S1
6=) Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, Waitrose, etc (0 destinations)
Large out of town supermarkets are of course excellent places to terminate buses because there's plenty of room for a bus stand, but this does mean the grocery chains get several miles-worth of free advertising on bus destination blinds.
The 321 runs from a Tesco to a Sainsbury's.
The H28 runs from a Tesco to a Tesco.

The three shortest London bus routes [data]
1) 389 Underhill → The Spires (0.9 miles)
2) 327 Waltham Cross → Cocker Road (1.7 miles)
3) R9 Orpington → Tintagel Road (1.8 miles)
The R9's route is twice as long in the 'opposite' direction.

The three longest London bus routes [data]
1) X26 Heathrow → Croydon (24.1 miles)
2) N89 Erith → Charing Cross (23.3 miles)
3) N9 Heathrow T5 → Aldwych (20.9 miles)
Ten other nightbuses beat everything in the next list.

The five longest non-lettered London bus routes [data]
1) 465 Dorking → Kingston (16.8 miles)
2) 166 Epsom Hospital → West Croydon (16.6 miles)
3) 358 Orpington → Crystal Palace (16.0 miles)
4) 111 Heathrow → Kingston (15.9 miles)
5) 246 Chartwell → Bromley North (15.6 miles)
(coincidentally, I caught four of those over the weekend)

The five busiest DLR stations (passengers per year, 2013) [data]
1) Bank (12.8 million)
2) Canning Town (9.3 million)
3) Canary Wharf (8.3 million)
4) Stratford (6.7 million)
5) Woolwich Arsenal (4.6 million)
...then Lewisham (4.6m), Limehouse (3.6m), Shadwell (3.5m), Heron Quays (3.3m), Cutty Sark (3.0m)

The five least busy DLR stations (passengers per year, 2013) [data]
1) Beckton Park (183000)
2) Pudding Mill Lane (345000)
3) Stratford High Street (442000)
4) Pontoon Dock (483000)
5) Gallions Reach (485000)
...then Star Lane (492000), Abbey Road (503000), Stratford International (610000), West Silvertown (666000), Royal Albert (682000)

The five least busy Tramlink stops (2013) [data]
1) Avenue Road (186000)
2) Coombe Lane (314000)
3) Birkbeck (384000)
4) Beddington Lane (418000)
5) Harrington Road (436000)
The five busiest are East Croydon (7.8m), Wimbledon (4.6m), George Street (3.0m), West Croydon (2.7m) and Sandilands (2.0m)

The five least busy tube stations (2013) [data]
Come on, we did all that last month.

 Monday, August 18, 2014

100 slightly strange London bus stop names

Albert Square
Amen Corner
Angel Corner
Animal Reception Centre
Badgers Mount/Badgers Rise        
Bald Faced Stag
Blackness Lane
Blood Transfusion Centre
Bounces Road
Butter Hill
Casino Avenue
Chargeable Lane
Clamp Hill
Chelsea Worlds End
Cockabourne Bridge
Copt Gilders
Crabtree Manorway North
Crooked Usage
Crook Log
Cummings Hall Lane
Dongola Road
East View Kennels
Electric House
Faggs Road
Fakruddin Street
Farwig Lane
Fish Island
Force Green
Ford Gate 3
Gibbon Walk
Golf Ride
Goose Green
Graham Hall Coachworks
Great Benty
Gubbins Lane
Guy, Earl of Warwick
Ha Ha Road
Halt Robin Lane
Ham Parade
Hasluck Gardens
Heathrow Close
Highgate Group Practice
Holiday Inn
Horse Leaze
Ickenham Pump
Jutsums Lane
Kodak Sports Ground
Lady Dock Path
Lings Coppice
Little Britain
Lunar House
Malden Rushett/Shy Horse
Maypole/Bo Peep
Medical Research Institute
Naafi Messing Store
National Physical Laboratory
Neasden Underpass
Nonsuch Park
North Pole Road
Nutter Lane
Old School Close
Pools on the Park
Popes Grotto
Pratts Bottom
Pricklers Hill
Quorn Road
Reapers Way
Roundel Close
Safari Bridge
Savage Gardens
Scotland Green
Secombe Centre
Seething Wells
Shaa Road
Shirley Clinic
Snakes Lane East
St Mary Axe
Stoats Nest Village
Susan Wood
The Cauliflower
The Chinese Garage
The Cottage Loaf
The Hop Exchange
The Pavement
The Rabbits
The Squirrels
The Thames Riviera
Tiepigs Lane
Times Square
Uneeda Drive
Vulcan Way
Waltheof Avenue
Wibbandune Sports Club
William Barefoot Drive
Zangwill Road
Zig Zag Road

» Full list of London bus stops
» Search for a bus stop

8 more slightly strange London bus stop names (thanks!)
Balls Pond Road
Brian Close
Charles I I Street
Clitterhouse Road South
Oval Square
Tibbetts Ride/Green Man
The Jolly Farmers Open Space
University of Cumbria in London

 Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's a surprisingly hard task, this Visiting All The Highest Points In Each London Borough stuff. There are 33 locations to trek round, scattered fairly haphazardly across the capital, and it's taking up a lot of time. I do try to optimise my route by linking together peaks in a fairly efficient order, and some are even conveniently clustered together which helps. But, good though London's transport network is, it isn't really set up for making random point-to-point journeys across town. That's particularly true in the suburbs, which is where most of these summits are, often in relatively inaccessible places of low population density. In particular railways in London tend to be radial rather than orbital, so they're not usually much help in getting from Stanmore to Barnet, or Hounslow to Richmond, or wherever. Railways also tend to stick to lowlands rather than high ground, for engineering reasons, so few are heading where I really need to go. And so I've been spending a lot of my time on buses, often two of them in succession, to try to make each journey from one highest point to the next. London's bus network is brilliant at covering every corner of the capital, but linking together two buses can be very slow, especially when you just miss a connecting service and have to wait up to 30 minutes for the next. On average it's taking me an hour to tick off each London Borough Top, which makes for long days of travelling, and the whole safari's going to take me at least four full days in the field. And then there's writing the whole lot up, which is a separate challenge in itself, especially when a summit isn't intrinsically interesting or when there's lots to research. Still, that's all of North London's highest points now visited and chronicled, leaving only the delights of South London's hilltops to go. Bet you can't wait...

Hounslow: The Vale

35 metres (30th out of 33) [map] [map]

In 1988 Hounslow council decided to give a gravel pit in the southwest corner of the borough a makeover. They moved 2 million cubic metres of soil to create a new landscape of mounds and water, seeded the whole lot with wildflower mix and called it Bedfont Lakes Country Park. In the process they created a new hill called Monolith Hill, an artificial summit 29m high, topped off with a big stone and a metal disc to show some of the visible landmarks. These included Windsor Castle, Wembley's arch, all the usual, because there wasn't much else in the neighbourhood to block any sightlines. And the grand design was to create the highest point in the borough, which for one of London's flatter administrative districts is a inspired topographical idea. It says as much on the council website...
"...much of the soil and landfill was used to form the hills running through the middle of North Side, creating the highest point in the borough at 95 ft above sea level."
All of which would have been well and good were it not for one slight technicality, which is that the borough of Hounslow tops 100 feet along its northern edge. A patch of land around the M4, including the whole of Heston Services, lies very clearly within a 30m contour. The Airlinks Golf Course, the North Hyde estate, even the 24 hour Tesco Extra At Bulls Bridge, all of these are higher above sea level that Bedfont's intended peak. And some very careful study of the Ordnance map reveals a single tiny 35m contour looped around a spot in Heston itself, and this is the true unforced borough summit. So I didn't get to go to the Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in Bedfont, with its 350 types of plant and 155 bird species, because that would have been much too interesting. Instead I went to a road junction on a suburban estate near a motorway. Your loss.

The Vale is a bog standard, nice enough kind of residential street. The houses are big semis with pointed porches and paved-over front gardens. The odd one has a floral gnome out front but most are perfectly normal, which is a shame because I was hoping there'd be something interesting to write about. The high point comes two roads along, at the junction with the tweely-named Meadow Waye, although you'd be hard pushed to notice from the lie of the land. One of the houses on the corner has a single giant hollyhock opposite the front door, another has a skip in, and someone's got a snack van parked on their drive, but that's about it for individuality. [4 photos]

It's a very quiet street because the eastern end was sealed off by a locked gate a decade ago. There's even a sign on North Hyde Lane which reads "Advance Warning - No access into The Vale from 29th June 2004", which can only suggest that Hounslow council's roads department is gobsmackingly forgetful and/or lazy. The road surface is intriguing too, seemingly laid in segments with tarred black lines as divides, with a particularly random pattern at the borough high point to avoid a couple of manhole covers. And every 90 seconds or so the street reverberates with the sound of aircraft noise as yet another plane comes in to land on Heathrow's northern runway, which is less than two miles away. Thankfully the flight path runs a little to the south so it's not deafening, but it is relentless, and were a third runway ever built over Harmondsworth then residents of the The Vale would be in direct line of fire.
by tube: Hounslow West   by bus: 111, 482, H32

» 66 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N, Inner NW, N, NW

 Saturday, August 16, 2014

Today, the tale of two northwest London hilltops with very different fates.

Ealing: Horsenden Hill

85 metres (20th out of 33) [map] [map]

Ealing has a proper peak. Horsenden Hill rises up steeply on all sides, the way a child would draw it, while an Ordnance Survey map displays a bullseye of concentric contours. Whichever side you arrive it's a good 100 foot climb to the top, and there are several possible ascents, which makes this a good place for an urban hike. The Capital Ring passes over the summit, and members of Horsenden Hill Golf Club climb a fair way every time they make a round. I took the golf club route - badly signposted, but nobody was out on the course so my random wander didn't get in anyone's way. [3 photos]

The hilltop's relatively flat, easily large enough for a ballgame, even if the grass isn't cut to make that entirely practical. But only if you spot the access panels would you necessarily spot the slight artificialness that conceals yet another of London's covered reservoirs beneath Horsenden's mown façade. The land round the central trig point is more real, it's where an iron Age hillfort sat, and here the long grass is alive with unseen buzzy creatures. A single oak stands where the main footpaths meet, but there are considerably more trees around the southern rim blocking any hope of seeing through. Instead panoramas to north and west are what you get, which you can interpret from the information boards Ealing Council have helpfully plonked in the corner. Peer through the dead flies and grime to confirm that yes, those are the Chilterns, and that's Stanmore, and that big flat-roofed white building is the Royal Mail Distribution Centre in Perivale. Various charred piles suggest that bonfires and barbecues are popular up here, perhaps as the ideal chill-out at dusk for those that live in the avenues beneath. Thankfully Shirley Ann's wooden memorial bench hasn't gone up yet, but one fears it can only be a matter of time.

I had the plateau much to myself initially, until joined by a selfie-snapping mum who'd lugged a pushchair up the hill. Some young children wandered by like this was their summer playground, because how great would that be, and a barrage of unrelated ramblers followed. I was surprised how few of those climbing to the top stopped and lingered, especially after climbing the steeper paths from the canal - a quick pause and they were straight back down again. And then a bloke arrived with a picnic table, closely followed by three small boys carrying sports gear - the advance guard for an extended family invasion. Up they panted from the car park, barely 100 metres away direct, but far enough below to spread out the group into mountaineers and stragglers. Before long the space beneath the oak tree had become a social encampment decked out with blankets and sunshades, with Jack Daniels being poured and a variety of supermarket picnic food on display. I left them to their rounders, or whatever, and headed back down rejoicing that the house builders left Horsenden alone.
by tube: Sudbury Town   by bus: 204, 487, H17

Brent: Wakemans Hill

92 metres (16th out of 33) [map] [map]

But the housebuilders got this one. A hilltop higher than Horsenden rises up from the Edgware Road in the general vicinity of Kingsbury. It's harder to see on the map, there being streets and houses everywhere, but this too is a proper hill with bullseye contours, if rather shallower on the flanks. The borough peak is on Wakemans Hill Avenue, a typically broad suburban street built when space in outer London wasn't at a premium. It's lined by white-fronted semi-detached houses topped with tiled gabled roofs, each with either a well tended front garden or more likely hardstanding for two cars. The cul-de-sacs to either side have names like Summit Close and Hillview Gardens, as a hint to what lies beneath, and there are indeed some fairly bracing views towards Colindale and Finchley as the main avenue drops away. On the brow of the hill I passed a man delivering leaflets door to door, I think for dial-up pizza, while another man out tending to his hedge almost reversed into me with a power saw. And if you're thinking it all sounds very Metroland, you'd be right, indeed this very hilltop featured in Betjeman's famous documentary. [5 photos]

It's not a long segment, slotted in between longer trips to Wembley and Harrow, but Sir John appears briefly on what looks like the battlements of a castle, only for the camera to pull back to reveal a most peculiar house. He'd come to Kingsbury to revel in the work of Ernest Trobridge, a quirky architect from the 1920s with a taste for timber-framed construction. Some of Trobridge's more cottagey homes remain in the area, for example just round the corner in Buck Lane, but his style didn't prove popular at the time and the more traditional semi-detacheds smothered the area. Betjeman picked Highfort Court for the programme, an amazing corner-site apartment block with crenellations, turret and arrowslits, accessed up a rather narrow central staircase. Across the street is a slightly lesser beast, this time with twin white towers, now partially obscured behind a lofty conifer. Even closer to the summit is Whitecastle Mansions, the name perhaps more impressive than the reality, but those who live in Trobridge's maisonettes today no doubt revel in their oddity. And OK, so Horsenden Hill has done so much better in surviving untainted, but at least the smothering of Wakemens Hill was done in style.
by tube: Kingsbury   by bus: 32, 83, 142, 183, 204, 302, 324

» 63 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, North

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards