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“Wonderfully unimpressive”: hill-climbing in London
For urban exploration with an ironic twist, go 'bag' all 32 London Borough Tops
London is an unlikely destination for hill-climbing. The local topography is mostly flat, with some soft undulations. The city’s tallest building – the Shard, at 306 m (1,000 ft) or 310 m (1,020 ft) if you include the tip – easily beats the highest natural point, Westerham Heights in the south-eastern borough of Bromley (245 m, 804 ft).
But if you’re in London anyway and you’ve seen all of the usual sights, why not seek out the highest points in each of its 32 boroughs? Yes, many are ridiculously low and obscure. Nevertheless, ‘hill bagging’ is a thing even in London, as an alternative and mildly ironic (and thus perhaps very British) form of urban exploration. Alternatively, there's the London Peaks Relay, a 240-km (150-mile) race in which a team of runners visit the highest point in every London borough within 24 hours.
Here’s an overview of the 32 tumps (1) you have to 'climb' before you can consider yourself the conqueror of London's Borough Tops. While none is a challenge individually, together they add up to 2,996 m (9,829 ft) – more than twice the height of Britain's highest mountain, the redoubtable Ben Nevis, at 1,344 m (4,409 ft).
1. Westerham Heights, Bromley: 245 m (804 ft)
The 2,141st-highest peak in England and the 13,201st-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Traffic on the A233 is lethal and the top is on a blind corner”.
- “Maybe we could petition the house owner to get a huge granite slab installed in the garden as a summit feature.”
- “Got as close as I could without upsetting people or horses!”
Westerham Heights is a separately named part of Betsom’s Hill, which peaks just across the county border in Kent. It’s both the highest point of the North Downs and of Kent. Its ranking as the 2,141st-highest peak in England (and the 13,201st-highest in the British Isles) derives from the Database of British and Irish Hills (DoBIH), as quoted by The Mountain Guide, from which the other rankings – where available – were also taken. The quotes are from climbers who have bagged the ‘hills’ in question, taken from the Hill Bagging website.
2. Sanderstead Plantation, Croydon: 175 m (574 ft)
The 3,045th-highest peak in England and the 15,722nd-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “The little hillock is clearly marked with information in a plastic wallet”.
- “Nice woods, but the brambles on the top are getting a bit long. Not one for shorts”.
- “Pleasant spot. Clearing with 2 small benches and a large tree in the middle”.
3. Bushey Heath, Harrow: 153 m (502 ft)
The 3,361st-highest peak in England and the 16,538th-highest peak in the British Isles. Also formerly the summit of Hertfordshire.
- “Nice boundary stone opposite sude of the road from the Harvester”.
- “Easy one, this: park in the Harvester car park, get a coffee and then before you drive off, hop over the road and bag yourself a county top”.
- “These sort of tump summits on totally flat urban roads are such a pointless nonsense aren't they!”
4. Clock House, Sutton: 147 m (482 ft)
The 3,437th-tallest in England and the 16,776th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Top in the corner of playing field just over the stile”.
- “Popular dog walking spot, nice high hill but no views to speak of”.
- “Glad people weren't playing football here or it could have been embarrassing”.
5. Highwood Hill, Barnet: 146 m (479 ft)
The 3,453rd-highest peak in England and the 16,811th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Access nightmare. Watch out for electric fences and angry horses”.
- “Asked to proceed to top on private land – denied”.
- “In the dark over fence from east into grassy field and up to paddock summit. Kept torch off”.
6. Potter Street Hill, Hillingdon: 134 m (440 ft)
The 3,595th-highest peak in England, and the 17,224th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Some very posh property”.
- “Short amble through Oxhey Wood from the car park”.
- “A pleasant mile uphill from Northwood Hills station. The presence of the City of London Coal Duty post near the top was an added bonus”.
7. Spaniards Road, Camden: 134 m (440 ft)
Also mentioned as Hampstead Heath. The high point is at or near where these two meet.
- “Saw several of the resident bright green parakeets”.
- “I agree on the difficulty in finding the natural top. It may be in the large building being restored next to the memorial. The gate was open, so I wandered in. Good views of London through the trees near the summit”.
- “No real top, just a bus stop and hundreds of other Sunday walkers for company”.
8. Eaglesfield Recreation Ground (part of Shooters Hill), Greenwich: 132 m (433 ft)
- “Also visited nearby Severndroog castle”.
- “Walked up from Falconwood railway station through Oxleas Wood and Oxleas Meadows - much nicer approach than most London Tumps!”
- “Nice parkland, Great views SE, interesting architecture tower”.
9. Highgate, Haringey: 129 m (423 ft)
The 3,661st-highest peak in England, and the 17,420th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Only room for one of us at a time on this tiny roundabout!”
- “Rather inauspicious”.
- “Not recommended at rush hour”.
10. Bournwell Hill, Enfield: 119 m (390 ft)
The 3,762nd-highest peak in England, and the 17,758th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Walk down hill to the top. Near gate. nearby lamp-post proclaims highest point in Enfield”.
- “Nice leafy stroll from Cockfosters tube to the top - lunch beside cricket pitch”.
- “Unremarkable. Note to self not to return”.
11. Sydenham Hill, Southwark/Lewisham: 112 m (367 ft)
The 3,857th-highest peak in England, and the 18,024th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Following a visit to the Horniman Museum & Gardens, a pleasant walk up leafy Sydenham Hill”.
- “Nice pub nearby!”
- “Could be anywhere”.
12. Westow Hill, Lambeth: 110 m (361 ft)
The 3,885th-highest peak in England, and the 18,103rd-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Busy and dangerous road top, shame the highest point not in the nearby Crystal Palace Park”.
- “By black-painted pub at unpleasantly busy road junction”.
- “I walked around the roundabout via the crossings, then seized my chance to carefully walk across the centre during a momentary lull in traffic”.
13. Havering-atte-Bower, Havering: 105 m (344 ft)
The 3,941st-highest peak in England, and the 18,306th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Highest point appears to be churchyard near SE corner”.
- “Great village sign and unusual arch and main entrance under church tower”.
- “Nice view of east London from here”.
14. Dartmouth Park Hill, Islington: 100 m (328 ft)
(near Highgate Hill, also mentioned as the borough high point, with the same altitude)
- “The high point appears to be at the boundary stones/mile posts”.
- “Excellent selection of real ales at the nearby Duke’s Head”.
- “Alongside is Highgate Cemetery (…) Notable for being a nature reserve (lots of foxes) and for some of the people buried there such as Karl Marx (…), but also Douglas Adams who I like to think would have described Marvin plodding around bagging London Borough Tops moaning that ‘the first 32 were the worst’…”
15. Sudbury, Brent: 91 m (299 ft)
The 4,084th-highest peak in England, and the 18,805th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “A glorious sunny winter day and a good little hill to mark 71st birthday!”
- “A surprisingly pleasant hill in a pleasant neighbourhood”.
- “The views over north London were spectacular”.
16. Pole Hill, Waltham Forest: 91 m (299 ft)
The 4,085th-highest peak in England, and the 18,806th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Short walk, good view, trig point an obelisk, marking meridian line and a plaque about TE Lawrence. Proper hill unlike other London ones I have done”.
- “Easy walk from Chingford station. Nice top in woods with view to Shard”.
- “Definitely one of the better London Borough Tops”.
17. Cabin Hill, Redbridge: 90 m (295 ft)
- “Parked in the car park to the north then wandered about the flattish summit. A pleasant spot”.
- “Popular recreation area with golf course approach from Havering”.
- “Very nice spot - probably my favourite of all the borough tops”.
18. Telegraph Hill, Kingston upon Thames: 90 m (295 ft)
- “Parked at pub, then up track to clay pigeon shooting ground. Nobody blasting away & spoke to two nice guys who let me cross the ground to the reservoir compound”.
- “Did not try to climb locked gate at road due to warning signs, and tales of an impenetrable inner fenced compound and security cameras”.
- “Fenced off as described by others so settled for highest point outside the fence. Shame it can't be claimed”.
19. Horsenden Hill, Ealing: 85 m (279 ft)
The 4,149th-highest peak in England, and the 19,035th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “A proper hill with good views and paths”.
- “A conservation area of woodland and rough grass. Archaeological evidence has shown that people occupied the site for at least 7000 years. The ancient plough soil on the hill top suggests Neolithic farming. The Ballet Box Public House is so called because of its use as a polling station for canal boatmen”.
- “Not a bad top apart from the shady characters in the car park”.
20. Langdon Shaw, Bexley: 83 m (272 ft)
The 4,161st-highest peak in England, and the 19,099th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Driveway of house tucked into corner (left of the fancy, out-of-place gates) seems to be summit although there could be a back garden a few cm higher”.
- “Two days ago, I was walking in the mountains around Lake Como: the contrast (is) surreal”.
21. Putney Heath, Wandsworth: 60 m (197 ft)
- “Big lump of a hillock in the middle of the heath”.
- “Wonderfully unimpressive”.
- “I returned to the Windmill Cafe with burdock seed-heads all over my rucksack”.
22. Richmond Park, Richmond upon Thames: 56 m (184 ft)
The 4,337th-highest peak in England, and the 19,888th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Who thought London could be so lovely?”
- “A deer stepped out of the margins of the wood quite close to me in the twilight. Admired the view from King Henry's mound and toured the potential high points. Either the grassy road verge or the ground by a tree 50 yards North West of the trig, near the fence, for my money”.
- “I'm glad I live in Scotland. These English hills are just so difficult. Finding the exact top is like being blindfolded and trying to stick the tail on a donkey in a spin dryer”.
23. Lauriston Road, Merton: 55 m (180 ft)
The 4,343rd-highest peak in England, and the 19,925th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Wandered over from an afternoon drinking in the Crooked Billet - fine pub, dull hill”.
- “A blue plaque at the road end marks a house where the WWI war poet Robert Graves lived”.
- “Very flat area, posh but not scenic for a top. Highest lump on road marked, maybe appropriately, with a pile of horse dung today”.
24. Boundary Road, Westminster: 52 m (170 ft)
Also mentioned as St John's Wood Park Road. The high point is at or near the junction of these two roads.
- “Reckon the actual top is the base of the Plane tree or perhaps even the junction of Boundary Rd and The Marlowes. Took in the Abbey Rd zebra crossing for good measure”.
- “Seems to be at end of the block paved drive to me. It's all debatable as both pavement and block-paved drive are man-made”.
- “I had the impression that I was walking downhill from Swiss Cottage for this one”.
25. College Park, Hammersmith and Fulham: 45 m (148 ft)
The 4,397th-highest peak in England, and the 20,191st-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “The high point is by Travis Perkins it would appear. I liked the house just down the road called 'Belle Vue'. Maybe once upon a time!”
- “Combined with the adjacent Harrow Road top outside the intriguing Kensal Green Cemetery which is well worth exploring for its history and wide range of different grave styles from different faiths”.
- “A short walk from Kensal Green station. Seems to be the Portuguese/Brazilian quarter around here”.
26. Harrow Road, Kensington and Chelsea: 45 m (148 ft)
The 4,398th-highest peak in England, and the 20,192nd-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “An engraved stone on the wall of 691C appears to show a boundary line. Otherwise, the topographical excitement around here is limited”.
- “Really not worth the time and effort in getting here”.
- “Bagged on way back from board meeting. Rubbish but slightly better than the one up the road”.
27. Marks Gate, Barking and Dagenham: 43 m (141 ft)
- “Easy approach as downhill from Havering Atte Bower church”.
- “Easy parking in nearby Billet Road, which about the only good thing I can say about this top. A boring and busy main road. The nearby McDonalds is named after the top - is London Borough Top bagging really getting that popular?!”
- “Highest spot in the new part of the cemetery or across road in quarry site”.
28. Seven Sisters Road, Hackney: 39 m (128 ft)
The 4,429th-highest peak in England, and the 20,358th-highest peak in the British Isles.
- “Yippee, yet another road junction! At least it was only a short stroll from the tube”.
- “Rather dull”.
- “Pleasant park nearby”.
29. The Vale, Hounslow: 35 m (115 ft)
- “The high point appears to be in an industrial estate at 34 metres, although it's all flat there too so near impossible to pick the highest point”.
- “Every day at Heathrow 1,400 flights take off and land – one every 45 seconds which is nearly half a million per year and all of them fly low over here as the end of the runway is only 2 miles away and points this way”.
- “I think this need to be validated - Hard to believe this is a top of anything”.
30. Beckton Alps, Newham: 35 m (115 ft)
- “From Beckton DLR station via zig zag path and gap in fence. Great views over London!”
- “Popular spot judging by the amount of litter on top, which is not surprising given the fantastic 360-degree views”.
- “A wonderful sense of dereliction”.
31. Swanfield Street, Tower Hamlets: 18 m (59 ft)
- “Highest point is the bandstand in the small circular park”.
- “Beaten to be first to log this hill by my daughter and then only by 10 minutes”.
- “A quick detour on a sunny evening, bound for City airport”.
London has 32 boroughs, but the map (and this list) has only 31 tops. That’s because Sydenham Hill, on the border between Southwark and Lewisham, is the highest point in both boroughs. Not mentioned on the map is the highest point in the City of London, which is a separate and independent entity, not part of Greater London as such.
Chancery Lane/Holborn, City of London: 22 m (72 ft)
- “Cheating really. I was on a 25 bus”.
- “Climbed up the steps in Holborn Station from the lowest platform just to get a sense of altitude gain. Oxygen tanks and crampons not needed”.
- “I'd walked across this pavement summit several times whilst working in London, without realising it was a high point. How strange to revisit it now in a stolen moment of a day trip from Scotland to London for work”.
Strange Maps #906
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
(1) In England, a hillock, mound, barrow or tumulus. May be related to the Welsh twmp.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
To understand ourselves and our place in the universe, "we should have humility but also self-respect," Frank Wilczek writes in a new book.