In the search for a staycation, people are slowly returning to London. After the opening of many hotels, pubs and restaurants on 4 July – England’s ‘Independence Day’, visitors are steadily becoming more confident.
Some hotels are more experienced – and more confident – at dealing with the ‘New Normal’ than others. In Blackheath, The Clarendon Hotel, provided over 2,500 nights of accommodation for NHS staff from neighbouring Blackheath Hospital.
“Long before guidelines were issued we had to evolve and create our own safety protocols,” said Ken Milton, General Manager of The Clarendon Hotel, who enjoys nothing more than sculling along the nearby Thames.
As a gesture of the nation’s gratitude, The Clarendon has offered those NHS staff a chance to enjoy a free night. On their return, they will have time to be able to savour views across the royal historic Hundred Hides. In Blackheath’s vast sweep of history, a pandemic is a mere blip, after all there are those who claim that the heath was named after a Black Death burial pit.
Over the months, The Clarendon Hotel has developed measures to keep its guests safe, first NHS staff and then key workers. Breakfasts are ordered the night before, TV remote controls are placed in sealed plastic bags, housekeeping only enter rooms when requested, meals are covered as they are served. The Clarendon begun its route to recovery long before 4 July. After successfully dealing with at risk NHS staff for months, the staff have a confidence that their routines are safe and secure.
The Clarendon is at the heart of an area steadily – but cautiously – returning to the new normality of social distancing. With 211 acres of blustery Blackheath on its doorstep, guests are attracted by the freedom of open-air living. Restaurants and cafes, with views across a heathland where 18th century highwaymen were once the threat, now have tables outside. Views from the Ivy Cafe, the Zerodegrees Microbrewery Restaurant and the Everest Inn serving Nepalese cuisine, are drawing back customers. Though waiting staff, after months of furlough, are feeling the return to work in their backs, their calves, their feet …
An invigorating 30 minutes stroll takes guests across a common that was the birthplace of golf in England. James l imported golf from Scotland and played his first round on Blackheath in 1608. Close to the tidal Thames, played over a terrain of sandy gravel and strong winds, a links course evolved before the present Blackheath Golf Club was formed. As one of 2020’s safest sports, visitors to Blackheath can book a round of golf and also a visit to the Club’s fascinating museum.
Greenwich is steadily opening-up. Booking online in advance gives visitors access to a one-way tour of the Cutty Sark, the Victorian clipper that once had over 15 miles of rigging and three-quarter of an acre of sails. Hands-on exhibits are still in operation on a ship that brought £18.5m, in current values, of tea from London to Shanghai, though there is plenty of sanitiser available.
The Old Royal Naval College, with a ceiling that is said to be Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel, is now open. From 3 August the Royal Observatory is open too. Eltham Palace, a medieval mansion and Tudor Royal Palace, set in 19 acres of grounds, welcomes back visitors, who book online, from 1 August.
Stall owners are beginning to return Greenwich Market, some of the boutiques and galleries are opening their doors. You can have a drink at the Coach and Horses pub, shop at The Fudge Patch and get a socially distanced authentic taste of South London, jellied eels and mash, at Goddards of Greenwich. “What more do you need?” asks a local eyeing up a traditional bread and butter pudding as afters.
Taking to the Thames this summer is different. There is no one-hour queue for a Thames Clipper. Nor are there any tickets. Just tap your credit or debit card as you step on board, with face coverings compulsory, for a short voyage east to take The Emirates Airline Cable Car back across the Thames. From there walk The Tide, an elevated sculpture trail with thought-provoking works by Anthony Gormley, Damien Hirst and others.
It is a good time, crowd-free and queue free, to enjoy Blackheath and Greenwich, with space to appreciate the attractions. But many public conveniences are locked. Some cafes are only offering a take-away service and their bathrooms are closed too. Buses and trains are relatively empty, so travel, once you get used to your mandatory face-covering is easy.