Peak bagging in the heart of London
Co-presenter of the London’s Peaks podcast, Isaac Williams, reveals what walking to the high points of each of the 12 inner London boroughs taught him about history, perspective and the need for green spaces
When my friend, Rick Pearson, and I came up with the idea to walk to London’s high points, we thought of the project as a good excuse to chat to interesting people, see more of London and, crucially, consistently hit our daily 10,000 step target. What we didn’t predict, was just how much we would learn from the experience.
From Greenwich being the centre of the universe, to the quest to grant the capital national park status, London, as we discovered, is a melting pot of rich history, unique landscapes and fascinating people.
London is greener than you think
Specifically, 47% of the capital is green space. For “guerrilla geographer” Dan Raven-Ellison, though, that’s not enough. On our yomp to the summit of Wandsworth – a prominent tump on Putney Heath – Dan talked me through his campaign to turn London into the world’s first “national park city”. Drawing on the principles of Britain’s national parks – to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage – and applying them to the urban environment of London, the campaign’s aim is to improve collect wellbeing by connecting Londoners to nature. To find out more, head to www.nationalparkcity.london
The city’s history is all around
From a road once terrorised by bandits and highwaymen, to the 17th century Royal Observatory and Royal Parks designed for 19th century monarchs, London’s rich history is inescapable. One man who knows this more than most is historian Jerry White, who, en route to Islington’s lofty 100m high point on Highgate Hill, talked us through the trendy borough’s less salubrious past, with prisoner of war camps, brothels and bombing raids all contributing to its unique history.
You can visit the site of the Big Bang
“The Big Bang happened on this very spot,” claimed astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, as we strolled along a nondescript path in Greenwich Park. Perhaps sensing my bafflement, Dr Marek elaborated: “The Big Bang was everywhere at once. Wherever you stand, you are on the site of the beginning of the universe.” The hustle and bustle of London can, at times, make it seem as if the universe is yet to extend beyond the city walls, but our chat with Dr Marek gave us some welcome perspective: our very existence is a precious, against-all-odds thing that should be savoured and enjoyed.
Panoramic views are in no short supply
Many of inner London’s peaks are in fact not very peak-like at all: the respective high points of Tower Hamlets, Kensington & Chelsea, Hackney, and Hammersmith & Fulham are less than 50m above sea level. Many more, however, offer the chance to see the entire London landscape in all its glory. From Westow Hill in Lambeth, for instance, the towering cityscape – defined by buildings such as The Shard and The Gherkin – is sandwiched between the foreground of the leafy delights Brockwell Park and Clapham Common – and the distant hills of north London.
Explore Inner London’s peaks
- Camden – Spaniards Road (134m)
- City of Westminster – St John’s Wood Park (52m)
- Greenwich – Shooter’s Hill (132m
- Hackney – Seven Sisters Road (39m)
- Hammersmith and Fulham – Harrow Road (45m)
- Islington – Highgate Hill (100m)
- Kensington and Chelsea – Harrow Road (45m)
- Lambeth – Westow Hill (100m)
- Lewisham and Southwark – Both Sydenham Hill (112m)
- Tower Hamlets – Bethnal Green (16m)
- Wandsworth – Putney Heath (60m)
Main image: Greenwich park with view of the city skyline in the distant. Credit: Getty