After feeling refreshed following a good night’s sleep at the Staycity Aparthotel we utilised our apartment’s kitchen to prepare some breakfast and with a dishwasher on hand we soon had things tidied away and were ready to go out. After popping our key cards in the express check-out box in the entrance lobby we jumped onto a bus that was conveniently just approaching outside. This whisked us along to the Cutty Sark in only a few minutes leaving ample time for a little walk around the town before our pre-arranged tour of the famous tea clipper.
Thankfully the rain clouds of the previous day had been replaced with fluffy white ones interspersed with sunshine making everything look so much nicer as we strolled along the historic streets. Turning into King William Walk my eyes were drawn to a sign hanging outside Goddard’s cafe offering pie and mash. The business has been established since 1890 and serves up this most traditional of London dishes along with another East End favourite that of jellied eels. I’ve never tried jellied eels and the thought of them doesn’t sound appealing but give me a plate of pie and mash any day. Goddard’s is definitely somewhere else I’ll be returning to next time I’m in Greenwich.
The time was approaching 11.00 a.m. so we made our way over to the Cutty Sark where we joined a short outdoor queue to tour the ship. The Cutty Sark is the first of Royal Museum’s Greenwich attractions to re-open, having introduced a one way route along with hand sanitisers positioned next to interactive exhibits for visitors safety. The ship is surprisingly spacious and with limited numbers on board at any one time, it felt perfectly safe and did not detract from the overall experience in any way.
Our self guided tour commenced in the lower hold which was used as ballast and to store the ship’s cargo. We settled down on wooden benches surrounded by restored tea chests to watch a short introductory film on the ship’s history.
We learnt that the Cutty Sark was one of the most famous ships ever built and the world’s last surviving tea clipper built to ply the tea route between the U.K. and China. The streamlined shape and large sails of ships like Cutty Sark meant they could ‘go at a clip’ (very fast) across the waves. When the Suez Canal opened it gave steam ships the edge on the route east so wool replaced tea as the Cutty Sark’s cargo and Australia its new destination. For ten years she held the record for the fastest journey between England and Australia.
She was then sold to a Portuguese company and later rescued by a British sea captain who restored her and used the ship as a training vessel. In 1954 she sailed into the dry dock in Greenwich to be converted into a ship museum. In 2007 whilst being restored, she was sadly engulfed in flames but was finally able to re-open after a five year restoration.
On the main deck we viewed the captain’s cabin where life was relatively comfortable but if you were one of the lowlier crew members it was quite a different story down on the lower decks with cramped, basic conditions.
Under the hull is the new Sammy Ofer Gallery, a large space to admire the cutting edge design of the ship’s hull. The gallery has been cleverly designed and is flooded with natural light.
At one end is the world’s largest collection of merchant ship figureheads. The Long John Silver Figurehead collection once adorned the prow of ships and were the captain’s pride and joy. There are over 80 in the collection making it the largest display in the world.
Shipowners found inspiration in literature for the naming of their vessels and the figureheads that adorned them. The Cutty Sark’s own figurehead Nannie is a character from Robert Burn’s poem Tam O’Shanter about a witch called Nannie who was wearing a nightdress, in Scottish dialect her ‘Cutty Sark’.
From the upper deck we enjoyed panoramic views of Greenwich and The Thames, admired the rigging and ship’s wheel then took the steps down to the gift shop for a look around. My verdict is that there’s lots to explore with exhibits and interactive displays suitable for all age groups. Adult tickets are £15 and until the end of August, accompanied children go free.
Leaving the Cutty Sark we took a walk along part of the Thames Path, a walking and cycling route running along most of the length of the Thames through Greenwich and then crossing the river via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
A glass domed structure marks the entrance to the tunnel which runs for 390m under the river. Due to the pandemic the lifts were not operating so we took the stairs and made our way across to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs. Both the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels are listed buildings and when new lifts were installed great care was taken to re-use the original wood panelled interiors.
Our plan was to walk to Canary Wharf, a distance of around 3 miles but if you are not wishing to go so far, it’s still worth walking through the tunnel to enjoy one of London’s finest views, that of Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College.
The route to Canary Wharf is reasonably well signposted taking us through Millwall Park which leads into Mudchute Park passing its 32 acre urban farm. This sits on land that was earmarked for the building of 1970’s high rise flats but due to local opposition remained a green space. The farm is currently closed but I’d like to visit there sometime.
We continued along through Millwall outer and inner docks where attractive waterfront homes overlook the restored docks. It felt like an oasis of calm yet is so close to one of the world’s largest financial centres and there’s even a sailing centre where one can take to the water with a backdrop of skyscrapers.
After crossing the South Quay footbridge we followed the water’s edge along South Colonnade into the heart of Canary Wharf. Taking this walk offers a chance to see parts of London that are not usually frequented by tourists.
It makes for a very pleasant stroll combining heritage buildings with gleaming modern architecture and lots of lovely fresh air.
It was then time for some lunch and despite not all the restaurants and bars having re-opened, there were still plenty of places to choose from and we soon found somewhere for a leisurely snack.
An hour or so later we were on our way again, this time taking the Jubilee Line one stop to North Greenwich, the home of the Millennium Dome which is now known as the O2 Arena. The reason for our visit was for something quite different though, to take a walk on The Tide – a new elevated riverside walkway on the Greenwich peninsula.
The completed first phase is a 1km trail which will eventually be extended to 5km around the whole peninsula. It’s a beautifully designed linear park landscaped with sunken gardens and seated terraces. Native trees, grasses and wildflowers line a series of elevated walkways from where we enjoyed splendid riverside views.
Linear parks are often found on former railway lines such as the High Line in New York City and beside rivers and canals where we visited Zaradaye Park in Moscow. It would be a perfect place to watch the sun set or to just sit and relax at any time of day.
There was still enough time to fit in one more activity before returning home so we headed over to Monument Station to visit another park, this time London’s highest, Sky Garden at 25 Fenchurch Street, just a short walk away.
It’s free to visit the garden but visitors need to book online to be assured of admittance. Tickets are released each Monday and reservations can be made up to three weeks in advance, details can be found here.
The exquisite indoor garden has been landscaped with a variety of drought resistant plants from both the Mediterranean and South Africa providing all year round colour. The garden features an open air terrace offering superb views of many of London’s landmarks.
There are several bars and restaurants and it’s one of my favourite places to visit when I’m in London and it was pleasing to find that it had re-opened albeit with reduced numbers and for guests safety, no more than 6 passengers at one time in the large lifts.
That brought to an end our weekend break, our first away from home since the lockdown. We felt assured that COVID-19 precautions in place wherever we went were keeping us safe yet at the same time not detracting from our enjoyment. London isn’t just about the bright lights of the West End as our weekend in Greenwich has demonstrated. We’re planning on returning soon when the Royal Maritime Museum and other attractions re-open so stay tuned to find out what we get up to then. In the meantime I hope you’ll also consider visiting this part of London when you feel ready to travel again.
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