Thursday, 11 April 2013


Greenwich from across the river

About the walk  

I had never been to Greenwich, only seen pictures, but when I read about an exhibition of photographs by the great Ansel Adams at the Royal Maritime Museum, it was clearly time for a trip. There seemed to be no rush, but then it became clear that there were only a couple of possible days left before the exhibition ends on April 28 and we chose today, which dawned wet and grey. Nothing for it but to carry on.

I found the route for this walk on the AA website. And it is a very good route, but it seems to have been written by someone who was only looking at the ground, since it describes the route almost without reference to what you pass or what you can see. I found other similar routes which had detailed descriptions of the buildings (Daily Telegraph)  or pictures (London for Free), but not both, and neither had a map.

We started at Island Gardens on the north bank of the river and enjoyed the majestic view above, with Wren's former Royal Hospital for Seamen (a massive almshouse) with its twin domes in the foreground. It later became the Royal Naval College and now houses part of the University of Greenwich. The Queen's House, designed by Inigo Jones in the centre, and the Royal Observatory on the skyline.

I had read that there were other almshouses,
--> Trinity Hospital Almshouses, overlooking the river and I wondered how easy they would be to find. I need not have worried. Although they date from 1613 they have an early nineteenth-century battlemented, gothic facade, painted a whitish cream which is impossible to miss. The Royal Observatory is again on the skyline.

We now took the impressive foot tunnel under the river. It was designed in 1899 by Sir Alexander Binnie and opened in 1902. It is 1,215 feet long and 50 feet deep, and the inside is covered with white ceramic tiles. You emerge by this domed exit ....

... and are immediately confronted by the Cutty Sark, one of the last tea clippers, built in 1869.

The immediate impression is one of enormous size - unlike recent encounters with the Golden Hind at Brixham and Southwark, where you think how did they get so many men into that. The ingenious glass casing around the hull means you see it from underneath if you go in and from the outside gives a sense of what it would have looked like in the water

We walked through Greenwich Market and took St Mary's gate into the park and then followed the path up to the Royal Observatory. As you near the top there is a tremendous view of the Queen's House. The influence of Palladio is more obvious from the rear facade, but the lovely open colonnades and the two large wings were only added in 1807-16.

The Observatory was founded in the reign of Charles II, who also appointed the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. It is now known as Flamsteed House. It was predictably crowded and impossible to photograph, but we were entranced by the 24 hour clock. It dates originally from 1852, but is now controlled by a quartz mechanism from inside the Observatory. The time is actually 12.43, but since the clock only tells GMT it is showing 11.43.

We now followed the road to the Blackheath Gate and turned left stroll through the tree lined park, following its outer edges. Another left brought us onto a small path heading back towards the Observatory and passing Queen Elizabeth's Oak. It has a wonderful story. It dates from the 12th century and Henry VIII was said to have danced around it with Anne Boleyn (this may be a euphemism). The future Queen Elizabeth is said to have taken refreshment under it, hence the name.

The tree actually died at some point during the 19th century, but was kept standing by the ivy which had grown on it for another 150 years, only finally being felled by a storm in 1991.

We continued on a path below Flamsteed House and could now enjoy a clearer view of it. The curious red balloon was added in 1833 to help others, especially sailors on the river, set their clocks to GMT and is raised every day at 1300.

We then attended to our prime purpose in coming to Greenwich - the Ansel Adams exhibition. It offered a wonderful selection of his extraordinary photos, which I hope will inspire my future efforts.

Then we walked along the inside of the colonnade for a brief look inside the Queen's House ...

.. then exited the park to walk along Park Road, to the side of the Royal Naval Hospital - you have the sense of the entrance to a classical city, as painted by Claude.

Even the side elevations are handsome.

Reaching the river, we gazed across to the Millenium Dome ...

... and had a brief close-up look at the Trinity Hospital Almshouses to complete the walk.

Then back to Cutty Sark DLR station to begin the journey home.

Conditions: drab, cloudy, some drizzle

Distance: 4 miles or so

Rating: four and a half stars


I have read about the green Ring-necked Parakeets which live in London's parks and in the park section of this walk we soon heard their unmistakable cries and saw a group of three cavorting in the tree tops. I was pleased to get this picture a bit later on.

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