Greenwich, London

My journey to Greenwich takes me on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).  I know Boris would be upset if he knew that his multi-million pound transport system always reminds me of riding on an extensive little toy train set.

Cutty SarkA couple of turnings from the station and its hard to believe that I left the hustle and bustle of the City only a few minutes ago.  Now I can hear the Thames lapping against the steps leading up from the river and the clip clop of the mounted policemen on their impressive steeds heading for the sweeping backdrop and greenery of Greenwich Park. Swivel your eyes to the right, sway gently and fix them on the three masts set against a delightful blue sky.  Try hard and you can imagine yourself on the world’s sole surviving tea clipper heading off on the seven seas for swashbuckling adventures (sorry if people give you funny looks while you do that).

The Cutty Sark was originally launched in 1869 and built for the China tea trade.  Whilst you can admire the Cutty Sark for free from the ground, to fully appreciate the exhibits and even admire the impressive lines of this record breaker from underneath you will need to pay a fee.  Do you know where the name Cutty Sark came from or why the figurehead is holding a horsehair whip? You’ll have to look up Robert Burn’s poem Tam o’Shanter to find the answer (such a tease eh!).

A few steps further on and I thought Del Boy had built himself a flashy greenhouse by the river.  Instead the impressive white dome (mirrored on the other side of the river) is The Greenwich Foot Tunnel.  Opened back in 1902 the 1,217 foot tunnel lined by 200,000 white tiles, allows you to descend 50 feet under the Thames and get to the Isle of Dogs without getting your feet wet.

Prince Frederick’s Barge - National Maritime MuseumI moved on to the National Maritime Museum, the world’s largest maritime museum.  Packed with exhibits that bring to life some of the UK’s amazing Maritime heritage.  There is so much to enjoy here from lighthouse optics to exhibitions on great explorers.  There are life size boats and displays on Nelson.  You can take charge on the Bridge and take in some of our war like history.

I also cringed at a display that included a Trephination set, used as a hand operated drill to release pressure on the brain.

Back out into the sunshine for a brief stroll in Greenwich Park, the oldest (dating back to 1427) of the eight Royal Parks.  At 183 acres it is a popular undulating sanctuary for Londoners to get away from the traffic congested streets and has been the venue for many films including the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

London Skyline incl. Royal Naval College DomesA walk up the very steep hill takes me to Flamstead House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the original observatory building.  Here I found The Greenwich Meridian Line.  As the equator divides the North and South hemispheres, then Longitude zero at Greenwich divides the East and West hemispheres.  Whilst some aspects of the Royal Observatory are free, some require a fee, so you will need to get your wallet out if you wish to get that photo of you with a foot in each hemisphere straddling the line.  Of course as well as all places on Earth being measured as the distance East or West from here, then all time is measured with reference to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  Even Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) using atomic clock technology, is based on Greenwich.  As well as many fine timepieces and telescopes (well of course it would), it is also home to London’s only Planetarium.  This odd looking structure is made from around 250 bronze plates being welded together,  to give a cone shape which has a unique relationship with the stars and its position at Greenwich. 

Chapel of St Peter & St PaulThe outlook from the Observatory also offers splendid views of the ever changing skyscraper skyline of London.
Back in the sunshine again for the short walk to my final destination of the day, The Royal Naval College.  Also by Sir Christopher Wren, its twin domed construction is a popular landmark in London.  Unfortunately the Painted Hall was being used to film a TV show, so I didn’t get to see that but I did get into the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul.  Imagine that your eyes can taste chocolate and you’ll get an idea of what the decor does for your visual sense.  The ornate ceiling, the statues, the woodwork, the mural just have to be seen to be believed.

Before I know it I’m heading back to the DLR, realising that I have to come back soon.  I didn’t see the Ecology Park, The Fan Museum or the O2 Dome (which you can walk over now if you have a head for heights).  So if you’re coming from further afield, give yourself a couple of days to do Greenwich justice.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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