London Discovery Tours: Greenwich
Let’s start at the very beginning: Greenwich, where time itself begins. Nestled on the inner reaches of the Thames estuary, Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, an arbitrary line on the globe from which all other time zones are measured. In 1884, an international agreement sliced the world into 24 convenient time segments, firmly asserting Britain’s stance as the centre of her global empire — an empire on which it is commonly said that the sun never set. And how true it was: with colonial outposts at every corner of this clockwork orange, indeed, the sun was always shining somewhere upon Her Majesty’s realm. And so it was on this cold January day when I emerged from the railway station beside the river Thames.
Greenwich also does a fantastic job of reminding visitors of Britain’s former maritime glory. Despite being an island nation, it’s easy to forget how important a role the sea plays in her long history. In London’s main tourist circuit, the attention is drawn to the more landlocked features of Parliament, red telephone boxes and double-decker buses. But here in Greenwich, the nautical heartbeat of Britain can be heard in the lapping of the waters along the shoreline.
Perhaps the most spectacular reminder of Britain’s global empire here are the towering masts of the 19th century vessel, the Cutty Sark, a trading ship which famously carried tea from China to London in 80 days. Record-breaking for her day, the Cutty Sark rests immortalised on her dry-dock stilts, restored for tourists to visit her decks and stand at the helm. Aboard the ship, sparing but informative displays relay nuggets of information and stories: including the anecdote of one captain who took up photography, roller-skating and breeding prize-winning dogs in his spare time — all whilst aboard the ship.
Just along from the Cutty Sark, the Royal Maritime College sits on the former site of Henry the VII’s Tudor palace, built before Columbus even dreamed of crossing the blue Atlantic. The current facility dates from 1694, and serves as an institution of higher learning, though originally served as a hospital for sailors. The painted hall and chapel are open to visitors, free of admission.
The expansive green square at the centre of the college backs up to the Maritime Museum and Observatory. Set atop the hill behind the college grounds, the observatory is visible from the river. Atop the gabled copula, the bright orange ball drops at 1pm every day to visibly signal the hour to ships on the river. From here, the Prime Meridian is drawn, and tourists line up to have their photograph taking while straddling the line, technically existing in two time zones simultaneously.
Strolling back down the hill, the walk pauses with a stroll through Greenwich Market, savouring the food stalls and antique wares for sale. Across the lane, the oddly intriguing ‘Fan Museum’ displays a collection of wind-making devices from around the world.
To finish, head back to the Cutty Sark and descend the stairwell inside the red-stone circular building by the riverbank. A few hundred steps later, you will be crossing under the Thames in a pedestrian tunnel, constructed in 1902 by the city council. Safely emerging on the north bank, it is a short stroll to catch the London Overground trains for the journey home.
This article is reposted from our partner blog site, 52londonwalks.blogspot.com