Highest and lowest

Ihave been thinking recently of just how high and how low I’ve travelled whilst driving a cab.

If you take sea level as the mean, the lowest seems easy

The UK’s Ordnance Datum is based on measurements at Newlyn in Cornwall, so it’ll come as no surprise to hear that the midpoint between high and low tides is generally how the zero point for altitude is defined. The highest spring tides at North Woolwich reach 12ft above sea level whereas the very lowest gets down to 9½ft below.

How low can you go?

As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. One night one of those fortuitous events happened, the London to Brighton train service was cancelled.

So here I was in a convoy of cabs heading for Brighton. Long after midnight found me parked on Madeira Drive on the seafront taking a picture of the pier, with the cab a few feet above the sea, although I’m not sure how close the tide was to the Datum Mean.

But where was the highest?

Heights can be measured above ground level, which is what we do with tall buildings, or above sea level, which is what we normally do with hills. The two measurements give different answers. The bottom of the Shard is 43ft above sea level, for example, which lifts the elevation of the observation deck from 1,014ft to 1,057ft. This turns out to be important because the highest ground in London at Westerham Heights is 804ft above sea level, and that extra 43ft makes the Shard substantially higher.

Obviously, I couldn’t take the cab to the top of the Shard, so just where have I been whilst sitting in the cab?

Researching this post using Wikipedia (naturally), I’ve discovered that a road and a house with the most magical name and address, the Grade II Listed house is very near me – Blue Boar Hall on Orange Tree Hill in Havering-Atte-Bower is at 344ft the 18th highest in London.

One of my favourite places in London, the curiously named Vale of Health in Hampstead, is slightly higher at 427ft above sea level.

I’ve never been to Westerham Heights, but if memory serves me right, its got be Stanmore Hill, the third-highest in London at 499ft that is the highest I’ve pushed the cab.

As we are on distances, what were the shortest and longest journeys?

The short is very short

The shortest journey I ever undertook involved picking up two young Japanese girls from the Heathrow Express rank in Paddington. Both were carrying suitcases twice as heavy as them and nearly their height. Not knowing their hotel’s location, and with my Japanese a little rusty, they thrust a piece of paper at me. The Prince William Hotel is located just 400 yards from the station’s exit. After much giggling and struggling, they left my cab after paying the princely sum of £1.80.

And the long is much longer

On a Saturday night, a desperate pair hailed me near Victoria station. The men had gone to a football match and downed a pint – or two. Then they discovered that a replacement rail service was in operation. Nothing unusual you might say, except there was a two- or three-hour wait for the bus and they had to get back to close their wine bar – in Bristol. I questioned their overall planning abilities but dutifully drove them home. Before leaving Bristol I was even hailed again! Pity I didn’t hold a Bristol licence.

Featured image: Havering Atte Bower farm is the 18,306th highest peak in the British Isles and the 3,942nd tallest in England © Derek Voller (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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