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Greenwich, London

 

Its hard to believe that a few minutes ride on the Docklands Light Railway has left the hustle and bustle of the City behind.  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 and you see the three masts, set against a delightful blue sky, of the world’s sole surviving tea clipper.  April marks the anniversary of the ambitious conservation project to restore The Cutty Sark following the well publicised fire. Originally launched in 1869 and built for the China tea trade, much of the original wooden planks and iron frames have been saved.  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? Read Robert Burn’s poem Tam o’Shanter to find the answer (it’ll niggle at you until you do).

 

A few steps further on and I thought Del Boy had built himself a flashy greenhouse by the river.  Instead the impressive white dome (duplicated 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 desend 50 feet under the Thames and get to the Isle of Dogs without getting you feet wet.

 

I 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.  I admired the massive optic and light room from the Tarbat Ness lighthouse which was designed as far back as 1891.  There was an enjoyable exhibition about explorers: The Americas and the North West Passage, enthralling me with tales of adventure for gold and spices.  I marvelled at the opulence of Prince Frederick’s Barge from 1732 based on the simple Thames wherries (a type of water taxi) but by the time it had been upgraded and gilded, it bore little resemblance.  I was interested to learn that in the quest for greater speed in 1933 aluminium was used in the construction of Miss Britain III.  Although the boat lost the International Harmsworth Trophy to America, her design was highly influential in the future design of fast navel torpedo boats and gunboats during World War II.  

 

I also cringed at the 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 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.

 

A walk up the very steep hill takes me to Flamstead House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the original observatory building.  Here I found tourists queuing up to get that photograph with a foot in each of the West and East hemispheres by straddling The Greenwich Meridian Line.  The equator divides the North and South hemispheres, whilst Longitude zero at Greenwich divides the East and West.  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).  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 starts and its position at Greenwich.  The outlook from the Observatory also offers splendid views of the London City skyline.

 

Its a 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 & St Paul.  Imagine that your eyes can taste chocolate & 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 home, 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).  So if you’re coming from further afield, give yourself a couple of days to do Greenwich justice.

 

Steve Aldridge

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