So picture this, you are in London for work. You are in a Greenwich hotel very close to your work site. You are there on business and finally get an entire day of freedom. Maybe you don’t feel like running all around London visiting the obligatory tourist sites and hopping on and off a double decker bus. Well that is exactly how we felt! Having a nice walk while meandering through local neighborhoods and walking along the Thames sounded perfect.
It was appropriately gray and misty as we made our way through residential roads to the Thames Path. The path follows this great river all the way from the Cotswold, 184 miles away, to its end at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. I couldn’t help but wonder how old some of the buildings were. There seemed to be a mix of new and old construction, especially on the peninsula closer to the giant dome of the O2 arena, which just opened a few years ago. We passed a few pubs and eating houses further into the neighborhoods that looked to be long-time fixtures of the community though.
As we neared the Thames, the maritime and shipbuilding history of the area became more evident. Several huge warehouse buildings as well as docks greeted us when we reached the shore. The path here heads west along the shore toward The Royal Observatory and a few other landmarks. Below are the highlights of our journey and ideas for one of your own!
Grab a Bite in a Local Pub
Food is always in order for these two turtles, and we needed sustenance for our long walk. The Anchor advertised the best homemade pies, and we couldn’t help but enter. My steak and ale pie was rich and savory, with a flaky crust. It was served with an extra pot of gravy, just in case. My Guinness was a perfect accompaniment. T went for the special Game Pie, featuring 4 different kinds of bird. The server couldn’t tell us which ones, but we conjectured chicken, quail, Cornish game hen and pheasant. Any other thoughts? Conversation at our table was dominated by discussion of why the US hasn’t caught on to the joys of the meat pie.
Check out the Royal Naval College
Free entry at the Royal Navy College grants access to the lovely gardens, a fun, interactive Discover Greenwich Visitor Center, (be sure to try on a knight’s helmet), the Painted Hall and the Chapel. The buildings and grounds, which stand on the site of the former Greenwich Palace, were originally designed in the 1690s as a refuge for pensioners, old and injured sailors. There were some interesting tales about what life was like for these guys at that time. In the Painted Hall, laminated guides to the ceiling helped navigate the intricately detailed paintings depicting the royal family and maritime power.
We didn’t pay the entry fee for the museum and to board the ship, but the Cutty Sark is a must-see if you’re in the area. It’s a British clipper, one of the last tea clippers to be built, and one of the fastest. The masts and rigging are impressive. How many hands must it have taken to sail a ship of this size. It was surely a brave set of men who set off across the sea aboard a clipper. Steam propulsion ships made the clipper all but obsolete.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Built in 1902 the Greenwich Foot Tunnel connects Greenwich in the south with the Isle of Dogs in the north of the Thames. The tunnel is 1215 feet of cast iron that sits about 50 feet under the river. It was built to replace an unreliable ferry service to get workers across the Thames to the docks and shipyards near Isle of Dogs. The tunnel was damaged by bombs during World War II and the repairs are evident by the reinforcements that narrow the tube on each end. It’s worth walking in to check out and make sure to take one of the elevators, they are huge!
The Royal Observatory sits atop Observatory Hill straddling the Prime Meridian, also known as the Greenwich Mean Line. This line divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth, marking longitude 0. Everywhere on Earth is measured in terms of distance east or west of this line. Even if you don’t pay to enter the main courtyard, there is an extension of the line down the wall outside the observatory. Other areas open to the public are the Great Equatorial Telescope (watch the spiral stairs if you’re afraid of heights!), galleries featuring Harrison’s clocks, naval timekeepers, and parts of the Astronomical Museum. Even on a dreary day, the views from on top of the hill are lovely.