Perhaps the reason I chose Greenwich is because of the London Olympics. I had the good fortune to work for both the Olympic Delivery Authority (which built the facilities) and LOCOG (the entity that ran the Games). You always have two companies, one the government backed one to create the facilities (the long term stuff, who received the £9.3 billion much discussed in the press) and the essentially private company that does the short term stuff of running the Games and which is funded by the grants from the International Olympic Corporation, the TV rights monies, the sponsorship funds and the receipts from ticket sales (about £2 billion and not the Government funding).
Greenwich was a principal venue outside of the Olympic park, home to the equestrian events. Greenwich Park is very historic – it is a Royal Park, used by the unspeakable to catch the uneatable in years gone by. For the Olympics we needed to close large areas and build (albeit temporarily) on others which was not so easy given its unique status. This was made even more difficult because the high proportion of lawyers who lived locally and who, while possibly pro the Games as a generality, were often opposed to anything in their own back yards – NIMBYs (not in my back yard) as we know them here.
The toil was worth it; the venue, with its hillside backdrop looking over the Palladium splendour of the Royal Naval College and in the distance the towers of the City and Canary Wharf was easily the most iconic of the Games.
The beauty too is the Greenwich is lovely all the time. I arrived by boat out of London Bridge Pier – at £8 for a single journey it isn’t cheap but it is relaxed,
uncrowded (except the once I shared a trip with a party of what looked extraordinarily like a day release group from a Japanese anime factory)
and the views excellent.
Once, having been forced out of the underground because it had shut unexpectedly I left the sea of angry commuters and headed for the pier. I needed to get to Canary Wharf. While I waited for my boat a gannet dived into the Thames and came up, a silvery fish in its beak. It landed on a wharf nearby and did that jugging thing they do to turn it round to be able to swallow it. I mused then on the different direction my morning had taken: from being crammed into someone’s armpit to watching nature in tooth and beak at work. Another of London’s many contradictions.
On arrival you first see the Cutty Sark a beautiful tea clipper that burnt to shell a few years ago but is now restored albeit with a skirt of perspex that allows visitors to inspect the hull and makes it look like it’s escaping from a giant balloon..
To one side is the Old Brewery home to the information point and to the other, beyond a strangely grand monument to a sea loss off New Zealand in the 1860s,
the squat circular red brick building housing the access to the foot tunnel under the Thames.
The Tunnel is worth exploring but I guarantee, even on busy days, at some point you will feel a creeping sensation, look around and realise you are alone and yet you know someone is there. I wonder why?
As you walk away from the river, you first spot the beginnings of the Royal Naval College on your left.
These splendid buildings are now fairly accessible to the public but once were only for Navy personnel.
As they were run by the Navy they function with the expected efficiency and discipline if not with a great degree of intelligence.
It was said that, when the Navy first commissioned nuclear powered submarines to enable them to stay underwater for longer and spy on the Russians, the Navy wanted somewhere to run these new fangled nuclear engines to test them for safety.
So they chose Greenwich College, less than 5 miles from the capital city. Clearly if something went wrong and there was a radiation leak then no one would really be impacted. Maybe it is an urban myth but it has the ring of truth.
Beyond the College and the National Maritime Museum the sloping lawns of the Park climb towards the Royal Observatory.
This really is a must see spot.
To begin with the meridian line runs through here, London having taken it from Paris in years gone past and you can stand with one foot in one hemisphere and one in the other. Also you can see the Harrison Clocks. John Harrison was a clock maker, not an educated lad but he, rather than the scholars and scientists of the day cracked a method for determining a ship’s position around the globe and thus where you were on the lines of longitude – before then sea travel over any distance was something of a lottery. There was even an Act of Parliament in 1714 – The Longitude Act – that offered a prize of £20,000, a huge sum then, for a reliable method of determining your position. Harrison won.
From here, with the weather turning iffy, I headed for the Greenwich Market, an old, early 18th Century permanent home of stall holders, passages and small shops.
The baked potato I secured was, indeed, a rather grand reward for my tromp.
In past years this market has supplied me with countless ridiculous silk ties.
I hope never to have to buy another one.
returned via the Docklands Light Railway which has been extended here and takes you back to the centre of the City at Bank. I enjoy Greenwich – if I didn’t live in Dulwich I might have ended up hereabouts. It does give good value for a visit.
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