June 11 – A Day in Greenwich

Cutty Sark, Royal Greenwich Observatory and Queen's House

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Susan and Peter have to be at City Airport in London by 6 am and there are all sorts of delays at the moment with the trains so we offered to drive them down. It is only 55 mins and on the outskirts of London. We were all up at 4 am, dressed, breakfasted and on our way just after 5. The motorways and roads were pretty good at that time of the morning and we arrived at City Airport at just after 6, quickly dropped them off and negotiated our way out of the airport again. The airport only has a one lane road in and out and was the most congested part of the trip. We had researched possible parking places and recognised Travelodge close by so we parked there for the day. We were told at the hotel that we could either cross the river Thames on the Woolwich ferry or go by the DLR (overland train). What we weren’t told was that it was quite a long walk to the ferry. The Woolwich ferry is a free ferry. There is one ferry on each side and they go back and forth every ten minutes. Lorrys, cars and passengers all cross for free. We missed one ferry but didn’t have to wait long for the next one.

When we got to the other side of the Thames we decided to walk along the Thames walkway. After walking for quite a while and picking up one geocache we came to a detour and had to turn into a housing area and backtrack a bit. When we got out to the main road I checked the cell phone and it was still a further 53 min walk to Greenwich! We did not realise we were that far down the river. So we caught the next bus to North Greenwich, thank goodness we have Oyster cards as you can no longer pay by cash. The bus took us all the way to the bus station near the O2 stadium. On the way, I asked a lady next to me who said we were on the wrong bus so we would have to change to the 129 East Greenwich bus which would take us all the way to Cutty Sark. From the bus, I saw Christchurch which is the church my Grandmother was christened in being born only a few streets away in Glenforth St.

We arrived at Cutty Sark at about 8.30 and none of the places we want to visit were open until 10. Luckily there were 4 more geocaches that we could do in the area, a fine pair, a virtual near the Gypsy Moth pub, one of the London marathon series and an earthcache to do with the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which goes under the Thames. We were able to do all of these geocaches and have some breakfast too.

The Greenwich Tunnel is interesting. There is a small round building which doesn’t seem to do anything but lots of cyclists kept riding into it so I had to go to have a look. It had a series of wide, circular stairs going down plus a big lift so cyclists either lift their bikes down the stairs or go down in the lift. When you get down to the tunnel it slopes steadily downwards and then up on the other side of the Thames. We didn’t go all the way across this time but maybe another time we will. It was awesome to see and lots of people use it every day. The earthcache was about which kind of rock the flagstones were made of and was quite straightforward.

At 10 am the Cutty Sark opened and we were the first customers through the door. We got combined tickets for the Cutty Sark and the Royal Greenwich Observatory. The ship is in a dry dock which has been completely blocked in and the ship is surrounded by a glass cover which allows you to walk right under the ship. It is amazing. The Cutty Sark was originally built as a tea clipper in 1869 by Scott and Linton but was soon replaced by steamships so spent the rest of its life transporting wool from Australia and other cargoes.

I remember coming to visit the Cutty Sark in the 1960’s and have always remembered it. Since the fire in 2007, it has been completely renovated and is a really impressive exhibition. Underneath there is a huge area where education classes take place and on Saturday night they even had a Sailors Ball. There is also a lovely display of ship figureheads featuring all sorts of famous people like Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale….

Next, we walked up the road to the Royal Greenwich Observatory picking up another geocache at the gates on the way. There are other caches at other gates of the park but we had very sore feet by the time we had been up to Observatory and back so we didn’t get any of the others.

The Greenwich Meridian line is inside the grounds of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and we were able to take a photograph at the Meridian line without any problems. Apparently, sometimes you have to queue as there are so many people there. We had a virtual geocache to do which required us to take a reading with the GPS on the Meridian line. To my surprise, it said N51 28.675W000 00.088. I was surprised, as you can imagine, and asked a guy nearby who pointed us to the explanation panel as well as telling us that the longitude has moved as the Earth is not round and because of the differences in methods of taking readings of the longitude that w000.00.000 was actually 102 m to the East. Later we went there too and stood on the real Meridian which lines up with the O2 stadium which was built on the current Meridian.

The museum went right through Flamsteed house where John Flamsteed was installed as the first Astronomer General by Charles II in 1675. It demonstrates the methods used for working out the longitude over the years. What we had never realised was that this was important for sailors who need to be able to pinpoint their position on the Earth to avoid collision and shipwreck. Clocks which used pendulums did not work properly at sea as the movement of the sea adversely affects the movement of the clock and therefore the time and the measurements.

John Harrison was a self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker who invented a marine chronometer, a long-sought-after device for solving the problem of calculating longitude while at sea. His solution revolutionized navigation and greatly increased the safety of long-distance sea travel. The problem he solved was considered so important that the British Parliament offered financial rewards of up to £20,000 under the 1714 Longitude Act. Four prototypes of the H clock, H1, H2, H3 and H4 are all display and all still working. ‘H1’, the timekeeper is unaffected by the motion of a ship owing to its two interconnected swinging balances. It compensates for changes in temperature and thanks to extensive anti-friction devices, runs without any lubrication.

We also went to see the telescope which was at one time the biggest telescope in the world. We arrived just after a group of young school children who were asking lots of very interesting questions so were lucky to hear the explanations about the telescope.

We then walked down through Greenwich Park going first to W000 00.000, the real Greenwich Meridian then down the hill to the Queen’s House. Queen’s House is a former royal residence built between 1616 and 1635 in Greenwich by the architect Inigo Jones, for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I. We walked through the house looking at all the artwork which was mostly themed on the sea and portraits of admirals etc. There was one fabulous work of Queen Elizabeth I which has been restored in the last few years. We were able to see a short film documenting the conservation of this painting. There was also some fabulous large modern works by Max based on flowers and fire. They were brilliant and my favourite modern art I have come across.

We then made our way back to Cutty Sark and the DLR station was nearby so we caught the train. We had to change trains twice but only from one side of the station to the other. There were no steps which was a great relief at that time of the day. By about 4, we were back at the car and on our way home without hitting the heavy commuter traffic. A fabulous day!