I had a spring in my step as I boarded an LNER early morning train between Leeds and London Kings Cross. Using public transport and travelling by train is something I do constantly but alas not in these strange times so I was excited to be taking my first journey for over four months.
I’ll never take simple pleasures like rail travel for granted again as I was so happy to be finally on my way. We had reserved seats in standard class but due to social distancing measures had been allocated an entire table for four so it felt almost as if we were travelling first class. If like us you are feeling ready to travel by train again not only will you have more room, but also benefit from extremely low fares to entice passengers back on the rails.
Arriving into Kings Cross on time we took the Underground along to Piccadilly Circus so that we could stretch our legs and find somewhere to enjoy our picnic lunch. The Tube was quiet but looking at the positives, we were assured of a seat. After glancing at the iconic big screen dominating the square, we continued down Piccadilly passing the Royal Academy and then popped into Fortnum & Mason for a little look around. The doorman looked resplendent in his bright red jacket and was sporting a matching face mask as he guided us into this most luxurious of department stores. Due to the lack of overseas tourists it seemed much quieter than usual but quite a few shoppers were around which was a good sign.
From Fortnum’s we strolled through Green Park, passing Buckingham Palace before continuing into St. James’s Park, another of London’s Royal Parks. Sitting on a bench overlooking the lake we tucked into our salmon sandwiches whilst watching the park’s resident pelicans who had just been fed.
Pelicans were first introduced into the park in 1664 when a pair were presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador. Nowadays over 40 pelicans have made the park their home and I always like to look out for them whenever I’m passing through,
After our brief lunch stop, we resumed our walk, continuing the short distance to Westminster and strolling along the South Bank as far as Blackfriars. From there we took the District Line to Bank and then transferred onto the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Greenwich where we had planned to stay. Although I’ve used the DLR many times I always enjoy the thrill of riding in these driverless trains. Do try to sit at the very front of the train for uninterrupted views and to pretend for a moment you are the one at the controls.
Maritime Greenwich is a World Heritage Site located in South East London yet is only a quick 20 minute journey from Bank station on the DLR or an even speedier 8 minute train ride from London Bridge. Do remember to tap in and out with either your Oyster or contactless card when using the DLR to avoid being overcharged as although there are no barriers, ticket validation points are positioned around the stations.
We’d arranged to stay at the StayCity Aparthotel just a six minute walk from the station on Greenwich High Road and although we’d arrived ahead of the 3.00 p.m. check-in time we were warmly welcomed and soon heading up the lift to our room. Staying in an Aparthotel right now seemed the perfect solution as our spacious one bedroom apartment felt like a home from home. With a fully equipped kitchen area we could be self-contained yet at the same time enjoy the services of a quality hotel.
From our welcome pack we made ourselves mugs of tea, even finding milk in the fridge and then settled down on the comfortable sofa. We didn’t linger too long as we were itching to start exploring the London Borough of Greenwich. After a friendly few words with the receptionist who was checking to see everything in our room was as expected we were on our way. Unfortunately, we had barely set off when it started raining heavily, our weather can be so unpredictable, even in late July.
It took around 20 minutes to reach Maritime Greenwich on foot but it can easily be accessed from the hotel by bus or popping back on the DLR one stop to Cutty Sark. Along the way we paused to view the lovely Queen Elizabeth College almshouses constructed in 1818 for the elderly poor of Greenwich.
Continuing on our way we decided to seek shelter in Greenwich Market which had recently re-opened and it was so nice to see it thriving on such a damp Saturday afternoon. It’s London only historic market within a World Heritage Site and its numerous stalls sell a range of gifts, jewellery, fashion, arts, crafts and of course there are lots of food counters cooking up delicious street food from far and wide,
Irritatingly, the rain hadn’t abated but we battled on regardless to walk through the grounds of the absolutely beautiful Baroque buildings of the Old Royal Naval College which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, one of England’s most highly acclaimed architects. It is now the main campus of the University of Greenwich and a wonderful location to study overlooking the Thames. This historic site is often used for filming and you might recognise it from such films as The King’s Speech, Lea Miserables, The Queen or Four Weddings and a Funeral.
From there, we walked the short distance into Greenwich Park which dates back to Roman times. It’s the oldest of London’s Royal parks and is home to the Royal Observatory set on top of the hill. On clear days one can enjoy stunning views over the grounds of the National Maritime Museum and across the river to the modern skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena in North Greenwich.
The Royal Observatory is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the first state-funded scientific institution of its day. The Observatory was yet to reopen otherwise I would have loved to have explored the home of the Astronomer Royals and stand on the historic Prime Meridian of the world, still there’s always a next time.
Located just outside the gates to the Royal Observatory stands the 150 year old brass placard originally installed for people to officially verify their measuring sticks. Located alongside theand the green Meridian Laser an inquisitive visitor can come along and calibrate scientific instruments using this device.
We then made our way back downhill following a different path which brought us out by the enormous National Maritime Museum, another of Greenwich’s impressive buildings complete with its ship in a bottle outside the main entrance. Closed for now but soon to re-open so I’ll hopefully look forward to visiting there too.
There seemed no end to the wet weather as we wandered the historic streets nearby. Spotting a branch of Marks & Spencer we called in for some groceries and a bottle of wine, just perfect for dining in. We then caught the DLR back to our aparthotel, opened the wine and cooked up a feast (actually M & S did, I just re-heated it) then when it had finally stopped raining we hopped back on the DLR across to Canary Wharf, just six short stops away.
Have you ever wondered about all the clocks outside Canary Wharf station? ‘Six Public Clocks’ was the winning design in a competition inviting proposals for this public space. The installation is based on the iconic Swiss railway clock but each of the 12 clock faces here show a single and different numeral.
Canary Wharf was once a derelict dockland but has been completely transformed into London’s second central business district. Along with the City of London it is one of the world’s major financial centres with its many tall glass and steel buildings.
It’s not all office blocks though, in fact it’s a great place to visit and easily accessible via the DLR and Jubilee Line. You’ll find luxury shopping and all the high street names in stylish underground shopping centres plus lots of attractive cafes, bars and restaurants many of them with terraces overlooking the water.
We made a beeline for the Crossrail Roof Garden which sits on top of the yet to be opened Elizabeth Line station. This free to enter indoor oasis is open daily and is a joy to behold. We strolled through the garden admiring exotic plants and relaxed awhile on one of the wooden benches nestled in the secluded pathways.
Being so close to Greenwich, Crossrail Place sits almost exactly on the Meridian Line with the planting being arranged according to which hemisphere the species are from. Asian plants such as bamboos to the east whilst ferns from the Americas are planted to the west. It’s definitely worth a visit as I’m certain you would enjoy the garden as much as me.
We were too late for shopping so we enjoyed a leisurely walk around West India Quay where there are more bars, restaurants and the Museum of Docklands which is free to visit and another of my favourite museums.
To round off our evening we called in The Ledger Building which looked beautiful with its gorgeous display of flowers adorning the front and its terrace. How we’ve missed everyday things like a drink in the pub, something else I’ll never ever take for granted again. After a lovely first day back in London we slept like logs in our extremely comfortable beds at the StayCity Aparthotel.
To be continued …..
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