We’ve had to break the rules a bit this week. Normally one of the basic requirements of Getting Off Our Arse is that we need to investigate a bit of London that we’ve not really explored before. However, on this occasion we were far too hungover to venture far, or attempt anything even vaguely adventurous. (That’s the last time that this Londonista spends the early hours of the morning attempting to teach ‘British drinking customs’ to a group of random crazy Italians in a student union bar.)
So instead of breaking new boundaries with our London explorations, a lacklustre wander around Maritime Greenwich was the best we could muster. On one hand this is no bad thing – Greenwich is a great place to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, but on the other hand we were definitely cheating – we had visited the area many times before, so we were hardly breaking new ground.
Still, pedantic rules aside, there’s still a lot to be said for an investigation of this area. Even a seasoned Greenwich-dweller can discover something new or interesting in such a richly historic place, and it’s one of the few parts of London south of the river that this Londonista approves of.
Our route involved walking through the sometimes-useful-sometimes-scary foot tunnel from the wonderful Isle of Dogs, but before we descended into the damp cold subterranean passageway we took a good look at Greenwich from the north side of the river. The view was pretty good; we found ourselves having one of those moments where you have seen something a million times, but never really noticed it before. Then again, maybe we were still suffering the after-effects of the previous night’s indulgences.
When you exit the foot tunnel on the south side, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the Cutty Sark as it towers over you. And why would you want to? The oldest surviving tea clipper may be in urgent need of renovation, but that’s little surprise at her age (about 137 years old). The old ship certainly suits the ‘gateway to Maritime Greenwich’ (as we’ve just decided to call the foot tunnel) well.
We wanted to walk along the river to the Trafalgar Tavern to see if a pint of frothy ale might help our delicate condition, but the walkway was blocked off and we couldn’t be bothered to find an alternative route. We weren’t all that fussed to be honest – we hear great things about the Sunday lunches at the Trafalgar, but they’ve always been too busy to accommodate us every time we’ve visited. There’s something morally wrong about having to book a table in a pub for Sunday lunch.
Next to the Cutty Sark are the impressively solid stone buildings, simple well-kempt lawns and courtyards of the Royal Naval College. Originally constructed as a hospital, the buildings designed by Christopher Wren served as a naval training college until 1998. And this was no ordinary naval college – it’s a little-known fact that this particular establishment housed a fully operational nuclear reactor from the early sixties until about ten years ago. Crikey!
As we wandered through the grounds an impressive performance of contemporary jazz music seeped out of one of the buildings – we presumed that this had something to do with the Trinity College of Music, which is based in some of these buildings these days.
We crossed the annoyingly busy road and walked towards the north end of Greenwich Park. This end of the park is home to the National Maritime Museum, which is definitely worth a visit, especially as admission is free these days – if you’re thinking of going, our previous visits would suggest that you would want to allow a good few hours to see it all. Next to the museum is the Queen’s House; as the name suggests this is a big old mansion that was built for a couple of Queens in the 17th century.
We decided not to visit these attractions this time, but carried on into Greenwich Park proper. This is definitely one of our favourite parks – big, a bit hilly in places, green, well kept, and the only Royal Park in East London (and supposedly the oldest). Once again weariness got the better of us, and we elected not to climb the hill to the Royal Observatory on this occasion. But again, this is an attraction of the area that we would also recommend if you have an hour or two to kill – like the National Maritime Museum it is also free, and fascinating if you’re geeky enough to be into chronometry. There is also the old favourite tourist japery of straddling the Prime Meridian while your gormless friends take a pointless photo, or the decidedly more satisfying experience of climbing the hill at dusk and standing underneath the laser-beam that shines due north from the observatory, tracing the meridian it until it becomes lost in the glittering lights of Canary Wharf.
No trip to Greenwich would be complete without a rewarding visit to the Richard I pub, in our case to finally get our hands on a hangover-reducing pint of real ale and relax on the substantial ‘beer patio’ (do any London pubs have beer gardens that actually feature grass?). We would normally tell you where this pub is, but frankly it’s the best pub in the world and we don’t want the likes of you turning up and ruining it. Still, it won’t take much Googling for you to track it down if you want to.
So we did manage to Get Off Our Arse for a bit, despite our weakened state. However it’s impossible (or at least extremely rude) to have just one pint of ale in the Richard I, so we did spend most of the remainder of the afternoon back on our arse again. Still, the journey was worth it.