Betsom's Hill, Greater London and Kent
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Location: Hawley's Corner, Greater London/Kent
Nearest town: Westerham, Kent
Peak(s): 245 metres above sea level (Greater London), 251 metres above sea level (Kent)
Rank(s): 34/48 (Greater London), 31/48 (Kent)
Difficulty: ★ (Greater London side), ★★ (Kent side)
Date climbed: 18 July 2020
There are a handful of county high points that lie on the boundary between two counties. In most of these circumstances, the hill is shared by both counties, but the summit marks the highest point for only one of them. In these cases, the other county has a higher peak located further afield.
Greater London and Kent are the only two counties whose highest points fall on the same hill: Betsom's Hill. Located just inside the south-easterly corner of the M25, Betom's Hill marks the western end of the Kent Downs, an area of 'outstanding natural beauty' and forms part of the North Downs. The highest point on the whole of the North Downs is just 3km to the west at Botley Hill - but, being a corner of the South East where several counties meet, that lies in Surrey.
It may surprise many residents of the capital city that neither Hampstead Heath nor Crystal Palace are Greater London's highest points, but let's face it, that's probably because they rarely venture beyond Zone 3. The fact this lovely woodland area on the county's edge takes the crown is really due to fact that the Borough of Bromley stretches all the way down to the M25, unlike most outer boroughs, which are cut short by the home counties. All we could see of London proper was a glimpse of the Crystal Palace transmitter towers, 15km away as the bird flies.
As the high point sits on the North Downs' escarpment, we had a choice: a flatter walk starting in the London Borough of Bromley, or a decent climb up the hill from the beautiful Kentish town of Westerham. We chose the latter. We met up with Kieran's mum on a residential road - Hartley Road - just south of the M25 and crossed a road bridge over the motorway to start the ascent from Force Green Lane.
We crossed Pilgrim's Way - the ancient route taken by pilgrims from Winchester in Hampshire to the shrine of Thomas Beckett at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. Avoiding the clay-lined terrain both above and below the escarpment, this route runs parallel with the North Downs from Farnham to Rochester before turning south. For the 21st Century wanderer, the North Downs Way National Trail follows much of the ancient way. However, in pursuit of the most scenic route possible the designated trail follows a path slightly higher up the escarpment. We joined the North Downs Way having ascended 100 metres through crop fields and picturesque woodland.
The panoramic views back over the north Kent countryside from this hill are spectacular (this was the first time Laura had stood atop the North Downs and taken in the vista; this was the hundredth for Kieran, who grew up in nearby West Wickham). High above, the skies were scattered with buzzards and other birds of prey.
We picked a good day - the sun was shining and there were blue skies overhead. In one particular field, we found a quiet spot under the shade of a tree to have lunch tucked away from unwanted visitors. But we were not hidden from prying eyes: a Roe Deer poked her head out of the undergrowth and watched us while we ate our sandwiches. Curious, but wary, she quickly dashed away. Soon after, we became the wary ones - a herd of cows crossed the field all heading for the water trough near where we sat. They all walked in a single file line - adults, infants and grumpy teenage cows trailing behind!
We turned north off the North Downs Way and followed a country lane that took us to Hawley's Corner and the A233, which splits Betsom's Hill and forms part of the boundary between the two counties: Greater London to the east and Kent to the west.
Unglamorous 'welcome to Kent/Greater London' signs on the roadside were about all that marked our summit - the actual summits of both county high points are inaccessible to the public as they fall in someone's back garden (we actually saw a sheep lying under a trampoline on what may have been the very tip of Kent). However, you can skirt around them on a leafy, millionaire-mansion-lined road and cast your eyes in their general direction, which is a lovely walk.
While there are no designated car parks, there is plenty of residential parking on both the Kent and Greater London sides. In terms of toilets, there is a garden centre / nursery right next to Kent's high point that appeared to have facilities - there is also a small car park here that would avoid the actual climb up the hill.
The towns of Westerham and Biggin Hill are close by and both have a selection of pubs and eateries. Hawley's Corner has a fine dining Indian restaurant called Shampan at the Spinning Wheel (which has great TripAdvisor reviews).
Biggin Hill has an airport serving private chartered flights that can be seen from the road, should private jet be your preferred mode of transport...