10 London Hills You've Probably Never Heard Of

10 London Hills You've Probably Never Heard Of

The Peak District for hillwalking, yes. The Brecon Beacons — or even Bannau Brycheiniog, as we're now invited to call them — of course. But London? In a new guidebook, Caroline Buckland shows London as a city bursting with hills, ripe for climbing (apart from those that have vanished). Here, she picks 10 you might not have heard of.

1. Whitechapel Mount

An old etching of the hill with horses and carriages driving below it

In this case, as in that of the next, you probably haven't heard of this hill, because it doesn't exist any more. Now, Whitechapel Mount is only remembered in a street name — Mount Terrace, E1 — but back in the 18th century it was a prominent tourist attraction. But what was it, and why was it there? Theories vary: a Civil War fort? piled-up debris from the Fire of London? Maybe both? In any case, in 1801 it was levelled to make way for what is now the Royal London Hospital.

2. Guinness Hills

Black and white photo of a small mound with a road running past it

Built in 1962 from the 20,000 tons of subsoil excavated from the building of the Hangar Lane underpass, these two elegant artificial hills were designed by the eminent landscape designer Geoffrey Jellicoe and located between Park Royal tube station and the now-demolished Guinness brewery. But they're not there anymore, and when they vanished exactly remains an urban mystery. Further west, Northala Fields, built out of the rubble of the old Wembley Stadium, continues the tradition of artificial hills along the A40.

3. Yardley Hill

View over Chingford wrapped in greenery

10 minutes' walk from Chingford station at the end of the Overground line lie the Sewardstone Hills, a picturesque range stretching north along the fringe of Epping Forest. Southernmost is Pole Hill, bizarrely owned between the wars by Lawrence of Arabia, who built a hut on top of it. Beyond it is the most secret of the summits, Yardley Hill, whose grassy clearing commands stunning views of the distant city and the hills of south-east London. Below are the sparkling waters of King George's Reservoir and the William Girling Reservoir, part of the Lee Valley chain of reservoirs.

4. Orange Tree Hill

A bucolic view looking over rolling green hills
Image: Londonist

The most unlikely — and scenic — ascent of the 17th-highest hill in London is from Romford station. By way of a meandering green chain of parks, you eventually reach, perched on the edge of the escarpment, one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the country and the bucolic village green at Havering-Atte-Bower (once home to Havering Palace). It was named after the Orange Tree pub just down from the village, which dates back to the 18th century.

5. Foxes Hill

A grassy hill with a path worn up towards the top

Sitting within Bedfords Park in Havering, not far from Romford, along the way to Orange Tree Hill, this hill gives you wonderful views down towards the hidden River Thames and across to Shooters Hill and Woolwich in the south — and to the east, the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford.

6. Addington Hills

The tops of high rises poking above a canopy of green

This 130-acre ridge of woods and heathland close to downtown Croydon — green space takes you all the way there from East Croydon station, or just hop on the tram — offers spectacular panoramic views from the substantial stone-built viewpoint at the summit (paid for by a director of the Trojan car factory in Croydon that manufactured bubble cars). On a clear day the whole of the London skyline is visible as far away as the Wembley arch.

7. One Tree Hill

The moon rising over an autumnal park

Hardly an original name, and a more illustrious namesake lies further south at Honor Oak, but this one in Greenwich Park gives you less famous, but just as special, Thames views to the east: the cable car, planes landing at City Airport, the O2 and the wide bend in the river around the Isle of Dogs.

8. Garlick Hill

A grand golden clock hanging over a City street

This narrow little City of London street leads down towards the Embankment from a central ridge formed by the three ancient hills of London — Ludgate Hill, Cornhill and Tower Hill. At its foot is one of the City's finest Wren churches, St James Garlickhythe. "Of old time, on the banks of the River of Thames, near to this church", recorded Stow's Survey of London back in 1598, "garlick was usually sold."

9. Westow Hill

View down a picturesque hill with a church tower
Image: Londonist

Everyone has heard of the legendary Crystal Palace, the vast glass pleasure dome relocated from Hyde Park to the top of what was then Penge Common but is now Crystal Palace Park. But the ridge on which it stood — home to the equally iconic television transmitter — straddles Sydenham Hill to the north and Westow Hill at the southern end. The town centre of Crystal Palace now extends over Westow Hill.

10. Hilly Fields

A concrete pillar painted with flowers

In the 19th century this site of a former farm and brickworks in the heart of Brockley in south-east London was scheduled for development. But public protest and the intervention of Octavia Hill, the founder of the National Trust, sought subscriptions from the great and the good including William Morris, ensuring that in 1896 the land was purchased and opened as a public park. These days Hilly Fields has a great café at the top, its own henge of stones, and probably the only trig point decorated with flowers.

Hillwalking London: Ten High-Level Walks to the Heights of the Capital by Caroline Buckland is published by Safe Haven, RRP £14.99

All images © Safe Haven unless otherwise stated

Last Updated 10 November 2023

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