Art Travelling: Greenwich, London

I have been spending more time in Greenwich lately. One of my close friends moved there not long ago – lucky her – and lives near the magnificent Greenwich Park with its ancient oak trees and incredible vista. I’ve also been going to Greenwich for some research at the wonderful Maritime Museum, which I’m going to blog about in another post.

Whatever the reason for going to Greenwich, whether it’s part of your trip to London or if (like me) you live in London but you still enjoy exploring different neighbourhoods in the city, Greenwich is one of the very best experiences you can have. From the incredible architecture of the Royal Naval College (now Greenwich University), to the historic Royal Observatory and the famed clipper ship Cutty Sark, Greenwich is a feast for the eye and trust me, I will show you all of those things in my Greenwich blog posts – so stay tuned.

Here, I’m  going to introduce you to Greenwich while popping in a few photos of what I consider the most beautiful aspect of Greenwich, its incredible park.

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Greenwich, with the London Docklands in the background.

Greenwich is in London but it doesn’t feel like London. It’s on the south side of the Thames, about 5 1/2 miles (just under 9 km) from London’s Centre at Trafalgar Square but it’s very easy to reach. You can take a boat from Westminster Pier near the Houses of Parliament – something I’m going to do now the weather is better! Alternatively, you can take the Tube, the train or the Docklands Light Railway. If you have the stomach for it, you can even walk under the River Thames via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel from Island Gardens on the north side of the river. (I haven’t done that for a while; I won’t lie, it’s a bit claustrophobic but hey-ho maybe I’ll give it a shot next time.)

Greenwich’s three most fascinating connections are:  with the English Royal family the Tudors (both Henry VIII and Elizabeth Tudor were born in Greenwich); its maritime history and the stunning Royal Maritime Museum; and of course its worldwide fame as the place where the Greenwich Meridian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time were devised.

There’s so much to see on a day or even half a day in Greenwich. But it’s also notable for some magnificent 17th and 18th-century architecture, so just strolling around the area is a wonderful experience in itself. The main road is very busy and unfortunately really clogged with cars but there are enormous numbers of adorable sidestreets and once you get into the park, well, your lungs just fill with lovely air from the grass and the oak trees and the sheer pleasure of being in 183 acres of Royal Park.

The park was formerly the hunting grounds of the old Royal Palace which fell into disuse and was demolished by King Charles II in 1660 (probably not personally, though I love to imagine the King swinging the wrecking ball).

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King Charles II on the left.

Charles had the park was laid out alongside his Royal Observatory. Many astronomers such as Edmund Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) worked there; the Prime Meridian passes through the building. I studied Astrophysics for a year at university and it gave me a huge love for the Royal Observatory and the magnificent history of the science.

There is also a wonderful Camera Obscura, though to get the best out of that it should be a sunny day. Camera Obscurae are among my obsessions.

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The Royal Observatory
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a Quadrant  (and the inevitable “person on a cellphone”

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The Museum at the Royal Observatory has many amazing artefacts about time and astronomy.

In the park, you will find many extremely old oak trees, remnants of a time when England was covered in oak forests. There is even the remains of a tree that scientists estimate first grew in the 12th century. It’s dead now but it’s still there!

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In Greenwich, history comes alive. You feel steeped in it as you walk the streets or climb the hill to the Observatory. Looking down at the vista of London below, where the modern city in the distance meets old Greenwich, you feel the passage of time. Quite appropriate for the place where our modern conception of “time” was devised!

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all images  ©Gillian McIver all rights reserved