A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

A day in Greenwich

I recently took advantage of a day in London to do something that I have been meaning to do for 40 years, but have never quite managed to accomplish. And that is to spend a day randomly walking and exploring the Center of the World, Greenwich England. Greenwich is (technically) a part of greater London, located east of the city, south of the Thames, and it is easily accessible by bus, by ferry, by car, National Rail, or (as I did it) by the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) from where I was in Shadwell. From The City, you get on the DLR at Bank or at Tower Station.

London Google map(map via Google)

I find it very easy to make a great distinction between London and Greenwich. London of course is a city of history, of impressive architecture, of the Royal family, and of the names and sights that everyone knows and recognizes. When you think of Trafalgar square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Sherlock Holmes, and Abbey Road, you are thinking of London. Greenwich is much more specific, much more focused. Yes, there are beautiful buildings and Royal influences, but the focus of Greenwich is on the history of England’s marine traditions. England’s Navy, her merchants, the history of worldwide trade, of global navigation, and (of course) Greenwich is the home of the Prime Meridian, the invisible line that every time zone and location on earth measures itself to.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Greenwich really is at the center of our physical world.

My exploration of Greenwich involved one day, but was divided into 3 portions, first exploring Greenwich Park, second was the village, and finally the historical sites and grounds. Fair warning, the first portion of this day (exploring the park) was moderately challenging, involving about 6 miles of walking (some of it quite steep), many areas are not handicap accessible, and my walk would not be suitable for all. The rest of the day (the village and the historical sites) was mostly on level ground, along paved or smooth footpaths, was reasonably easy to walk, and was 100% handicapped accessible.

From the start then… I took the DLR from Shadwell down to the Cutty Sark station in Greenwich. The DLR uses the same Oyster card as the London tube and bus systems, and from the Shadwell DLR station no train changes were required to get to Greenwich. There are actually 3 ‘Greenwich’ stations to choose from, Cutty Sark, Maze Hill (National Rail), and Greenwich. However, I do not suggest using the Greenwich or Maze Hill stations for tourism. Cutty Sark is the ideal station for most visitors. It is right down in the center of the old town and it is the closest station to the river and all of the historical sites. And no, the station is not named for the whiskey. It’s the other way round. The whiskey (and the station) are both named for the Cutty Sark, a 210 foot long 3-masted late 1800’s vintage clipper ship, which is one of the truly great and unique attractions in Greenwich (more on that later).

As soon as I looked out from the station I knew I was going to like Greenwich. It just has a certain vibe and feeling to it. Quaint, homey, bricks, wood beams and cobblestones, a bit old fashioned. At first I could not decide where I should head first, in which direction to start walking, or where to start my exploring. I didn’t even know where anything was, except that Greenwich Park is south of the town and the station. Full disclosure: I had done NO PLANNING at all. I had no guidebooks, no pamphlets. I had nothing but a desire to see and explore the area. As I was exiting the terminal area, I saw a McDonalds in one direction, and I made my first impromptu decision. I turned my back (literally) on the modern and headed in the other direction. This was a very wise decision, as in just a few paces I was standing across the street from Britain’s oldest brewer, the aptly named “Spanish Galleon”. I had been in Greenwich for barely a minute, and there was my first photo-op of the day (and there would be many more…)

Greenwich Spanish Main

First impressions do matter. My first impression was “I am going to like this town”

Looking left I could see a rather imposing stone arch, and a large grassy area beyond it. Since it was exactly opposite of McDonalds, my feet led me in that direction, a short walk down a crushed stone pathway to where I soon spotted a tourist information center, and a café where I could get a cup of coffee. Perfect! I ‘contributed’ two pounds in the voluntary donation box and picked up 4 quick guides to Greenwich. As I drank the coffee, I looked over the guides and quickly decided on the scenic walking tour as a good start. I love to walk, I am a fast walker, and I knew I would only be ‘loosely’ following the guide suggestions. But that guide did have a map that would be perfect for what I needed, and it highlighted some spots with excellent views. I’ve added a Red trail to (basically) indicate the actual path that I did walk. Not exactly their suggested path, but then again I grew up reading Robert Frost, the American poet who talks about travelling the path less well trod, “and that has made all the difference”.

Greenwich walk

Starting from the north-west entrance of Greenwich Park, I walked on a paved path that headed east across the northern edge of the park, aiming for the top of One-Tree-Hill. This was a location I knew about from some rather famous paintings, and was a specific spot I knew I wanted to visit. It was a nice walk, and plenty of people were out in the park sitting on picnic blankets, playing Frisbee, or walking and exercising their dogs. Only the last 200 yards of actually climbing the hill was steep, and at the top the view was well worth the climb. Also up top are a nice set of benches under the shade of a chestnut. Yes, well worth the hike.

This photo was taken about half way between One Tree and the Royal Observatory. But I think it catches the spirit of One Tree Hill better than just another panorama shot of the London skyline… (you can google dozens of One Tree Hill panorama photos on the web)

Greenwich OneTreeHill

Between One Tree Hill and the observatory, I made a really long detour to spots that looked like they might be interesting. The first was the Royal Oak. OK, yes, that does sound odd, a Royal Oak? But there is some history here that really opens your eyes. Lying on the ground here is a 4 foot wide 30 foot long section of an oak that fell in the 1990s. So what? Big deal. Right? Wrong. That oak tree was alive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth-I, who was born in Greenwich castle in 1533. And right next to this fallen log there is now growing a new oak, planted by HRH Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth-II.

Think about this for one second. The lifetime of that original oak tree is longer than that of the United States. This tree, and its successor, have lived thru a span of history that has written everything we know about modern North America (pause for reflection on Native Americans, Canadian First Nation)

That is awe inspiring. One tree. One oak. Almost 500 years of history. Worth stopping at just to let your mind wander. Mine did. But, my mind tends to wander a lot…

Above and beyond the Royal Oak is the small and rather unimpressive site of a Roman temple ruin. It is really nothing more than a few stones, something you would quickly walk past without noticing. Of course this location for a Roman temple makes perfect sense, this might be the highest ground elevation anywhere near London and it certainly has a view of the river valley.

I can only imagine what it was like 2000 years ago, when trees and forests still covered this area. Looking at this site served as a reminder that while we think of London as modern, or sometimes we reflect on her great glory from 1600-1900, there was the even older Londinium before this. These Roman reminders do pop in a few places in and around London (like the section of Roman wall near the Tower), but they are very rare and are always worth a stop.

London Tower Wall

Roman walls near the Tower of London

I know I was heading the wrong way, away from the Observatory, but it was a pleasant day, and I was so close now that I had to keep walking until I reached Deer Park. What did I expect? A few fenced in acres, some deer running around, some birds, trees, and not much else. Pretty much, that’s what it was. Deer Park is small, and having lived in Maine for many years, deer are not much of a novelty to me. But if you have never before seen one of England’s famous red deer, this is probably your best bet outside of a zoo. These are nothing like the white-tail or mule deer you know if you live in North America. Red deer are… epic. I don’t regret the extra hike; it was a pretty place, but probably more interesting to a city dweller than a country boy. In comparison to London’s better known deer park (at Richmond) Greenwich has some major advantages in terms of solitude and less crowding. Honestly, Richmond is only nicer if you want a longer walk with more people around. Unfortunately I did not get a good picture of the deer in Greenwich, so let me substitute a photo of some red deer does that I took in New Zealand. They really are magnificent animals.

NZ Red Deer

Now I turned my back on the deer, headed to the Thames, and took a fast path to my primary target, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Also known as the Center of the World (at least to me)

From almost anywhere in Greenwich Park you can see the observatory, and it is obvious the view there is going to be spectacular. Well, it is. These next 2 photos are taken looking up at the observatory, then from the observatory looking down at Queens House, the National Maritime Museum, and Greenwich University.

Greenwich Obs looking up

Looking uphill at the Observatory. One Tree Hill is out of the frame, over to the left.

If this next photo looks familiar, it should be. Or at least it will be familiar if you saw Thor-II (the Dark World), with the climactic battle taking place on the grounds of Greenwich University. Those 2 towers are the towers of the courts of Mary and Edward at Greenwich University and feature in the final battle scene.

Greenwich Observatory

From the Observatory, looking down at the Maritime museum and the University

Of course the ‘real’ reason anyone goes to the Observatory at Greenwich is to be at the center of the world. Just as millions of people have taken pictures at places where they can straddle the equator, Greenwich England lets you straddle the Prime Meridian. I was too cheap to pay the 10-pound entry fee, (which covers the museum and the observatory), so I just stuck my hand thru a fence to take this shot…

Greenwich Prime

“East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet” (Kipling) Except in Greenwich….

Leaving the observatory I headed for a lookout that seemed promising. It is called The Point in some references and The Mount in others, and seemed to offer the possibility of a different panorama of London. The path to it actually cuts along the edge of a residential area beside the park, and after the peace & quiet of the morning, the presence of cars and buses quickly reminded me that I was still in London. A very short walk, and a small glade bordered with benches and trees led to what was obviously the lookout. I sat on a bench, rested, enjoyed the view, and relaxed a while. The view:

Greenwich Mount City view

The Shard (on the left) and the Gherkin (right center) are easily recognizable landmarks, as well as the dome of St Paul’s just to the right of The Shard. If the sun would have stayed out just a bit longer, this photo would have been as amazing as some I have seen on websites. Oh well, it is London, and the weather does change. Deal with it!

Rather than retrace my steps back to the Park, The Mount became the place at which I started part 2 of my exploration journey, wandering the town itself. Looking out towards London, I saw a very small and steep path that led downhill into Greenwich, seemingly right into someone’s backyard. I couldn’t say no, I just had to walk it. At the very start of that walk, just leaving The Mount, I found something that stopped me cold.

I should explain that I come from a family well versed in aviation, including pilots who flew in WW-II and the Cold War, and a family friend who was a Polish pilot flying/fighting with the RAF in the Battle of Britain. So as I started my walk down from the Mount and saw a small memorial with red poppies I instantly knew the significance. For those of you unfamiliar with what red poppies mean in England, the poem “In Flanders Fields” (John McCrae) was written about soldiers dying in WW-I, but the poppies he mentions have been adopted all through the UK as a way to commonly recognize & memorialize all the dead from all wars.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below…

So, when I saw the poppies, I knew what to expect. Or I thought I did. Because I know; in Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row.

I won’t bore you with details of the Battle of Britain in WW-II. It suffices for me to say that in the summer and fall of 1940, when all the world seemed dark and England truly stood alone, life and death aerial battles were being fought every day right over this area. And this was one outcome. He was one. Just one. Just one of Churchill’s “the few”.

Greenwich RAF

I have to admit, this memorial is not as glamorous as what you can find elsewhere in London. It lacks the pomp and prestige of the Royal War Museum, or the size and the visual impacts of the impressive statues and monuments near Hyde Park and around London (and through all of England) dedicated to the wars, and to the dead. This is an incredibly simple, low key and subtle memorial to just one pilot. A plain marker in a roughly cut and unpolished stone, with just a few carved words. This is not even a burial location. It is just a memorial. And for whatever reason, it left a deeper impression on me than any other memorial I have ever seen. Anywhere.

I salute you R. C. Reynell, and all of your brothers in arms.

Churchill(Quote from Winston Churchill)

This small memorial and the poppies reminded me of another piece of poetry, from another WW-II pilot, who also did not survive the war. (An American, John Magee, flying and fighting for the RAF)

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

[[FYI; After I returned home to Houston, I found out more about Richard C. Reynell. He and 11 other flight members attacked a Luftwaffe formation exceeding 100 aircraft. His Hurricane was literally blown into bits in mid air with part of it crashing here. In an ironic twist of fate his father, Lieutenant-Colonel Carew Reynell had also been killed in action. But in WW-I, on August 28, 1915, at Gallipoli, while commanding the Australian 9th Light Horse Regiment ]]

[[Update; On the anniversary of his death Sept 7 2016, I was told of an excellent link by “blitzwalkers” to a lot more background and story about this aviator, his memorial, and his personal history blitzwalkers ]]

I’m inserting all of this here because when wandering around London, and really all of Southeast England, there are many reminders of what this land went through at the start of WW-II. Even as I walked in downtown Greenwich, at a random corner, I saw a sign on a building, built in the 1700’s, that was also damaged during the blitz.

Greenwich Mitre

The Mitre, in Greenwich. A UNESCO world heritage site, built in the 1700s, and damaged in the Blitz.

Greenwich is historical, there is no doubt of that. But do not be naïve, for a lot of England’s history includes blood. The Tower of London may be a great photograph, but a wise tourist will also learn what went on behind those walls. And the same is true in Greenwich. Anyways, once I had finished my moments of silence at the Reynell memorial, I walked the steep path down into the village and spent an enjoyable hour walking a totally random path around the western side of the town near the Park. The area was a delightful complex of small twisty roads, tight turns, and some wonderful small pubs, restaurants, and stores. I know that if my wife was with me we would have been long delayed there.

Greenwich curved street

I almost expected to see Mary Poppins floating into view here underneath a black umbrella.

Greenwich Pigsty

Yes really! This is a real street (an alley) in Greenwich!! And also yes, “Pigsty” in English sounds the same as when we pronounce it in America.

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language” (George Bernard Shaw)

[[Note, for some smiles and laughs, this fun website has a list of some really bizarre London area street names… ]]]

OK, by now I was getting hungry. I wanted some lunch, and nothing average standard or normal. I wanted something unique and different. And I knew I will know it when I see it… And as I walked, I found it… Goddards! They were advertising Pie and Mash with eel??? How can I say no? I have to try this…

Greenwich Goddards

And what a presentation, eel pie and mash with extra liquor (that’s “gravy” to us Yanks)

Greenwich Goddards pie

Don’t turn your nose up and run away. Try it. With a nice & cool British ale on a warm summer day…

OK, so lunch is now done, I am suitably rested and it is time for phase 3 of my day, the historic sites, buildings, and monuments of Greenwich. But where to start? The answer to this was actually obvious. I had spent the morning and early afternoon wandering the Park, and from many places in the park the National Maritime Museum (NMM) stands out as an obvious landmark. It seemed like the logical place to start, and I knew exactly where it was. It certainly did not disappoint.

Greenwich NMM

Encapsulated into a few floors and a half dozen exhibits were the highlights of 500 years of England’s maritime traditions. Exhibits and items that related to the Spanish Armada, Nelson and Trafalgar, and even the bleak and dangerous times of WW-I and WW-II. Excellent artifacts and videos covering the development of the empire, India, the Pirates of the Caribbean, trading in silk and tea, and the reign of Queen Victoria. Really it was an enjoyable visual journey through many pages of English history. On a personal note, one thing that really caught my eye was a full size Thames private barge on display. If you think back to the time of Henry-VIII, the river was the highway of London. It was safer, faster, and easier to commute on the river than by horse or carriage. In the NMM they have a full size ‘royal’ riverboat. It was rowed by a crew of men, with a private sheltered compartment in the stern for the Lord (or Lady) to sit in. I could close my eyes and imagine swarms of royal water taxis scurrying through the waters carrying people like Sir Thomas Moore and Anne Boleyn to their fates…

History – They really make it up close and personal here in Greenwich.

It’s unavoidable. It’s part of the air and the water here. Several times during the day I would be startled, sometimes by items from WW-II, and at other times with almost nonchalant or offhand notices and placards or signs about Henry-VIII, Elizabeth-I, George-III, and Victoria. What is obvious in Greenwich is the reality of the history. These people we know only from movies or tales and legends in our books really walked here, stood here, saw these same sights. You can feel it.

Greenwich Henry Ann

Original stained glass windows, on the left Henry-VIII with the red & white roses, and on the right with the heraldic emblems (designed by Henry) for his new Queen, Anne Boleyn.

Rather than bore you with a blow by blow and step by step description of the historic buildings in Greenwich, perhaps this is easier. A few eye candy shots that will make you want to add spending a day in Greenwich to your bucket list…

Greenwich cannon

A canon, used in action by one of the ships in Lord Nelson’s fleet at the battle of Trafalgar

“England expects all men to do their duty” (Nelson)

Greenwich Cutty

The famous Cutty Sark, a 210 foot 3 masted Clipper ship from the apex of the age of sail. She was launched in almost the same year as the first steam powered ships, the ones destined to replace her.

“And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by” (John Masefield)

Greenwich Mary and Edward

The twin towers of the courts of Mary and Edward at the University of Greenwich.

Greenwich Raleigh

Who, him? Really? No Raleigh. Sir Walter. Famous for (among other things) laying down his cape so Queen Elizabeth-I would not get her royal feet dirty. He was also a pirate, a brigand, a founder of the Virginia colony in America, a sponsor of tobacco, and just a wee bit uncontrollable. Walter was arrested multiple times, imprisoned in London Tower twice, and ultimately executed by King James-I in 1618.

Greenwich George-III

Part of the Royal Navy College, this building bears the name of its sponsor George-III on the doorway.

While this was being built in London, we were doing our revolution thing against the Crown. Honestly, I doubt any building anywhere in the colonies at this time was larger than a warehouse. Such a large gap in wealth, it makes you sit back and reflect on how impossible it must have seemed for us to have won. What were we even thinking??? Chuckle

No hard feelings though. Right?

And if your feet get tired from walking, there are many fine restaurants and pubs in Greenwich, especially along the river. Like this one…

Greenwich Pub alchohol

I do like their attitude

In summary, take the time and spend a day, or even an afternoon in Greenwich. It will not disappoint you. I promise.

If you liked this post, I also spent 2 days walking thru London and finding some nice oddities with my blog at  2DaysWalkingLondon which is loaded with walking advice and (what I think) are nice photos of some of the best landmarks in London.



12 comments on “A day in Greenwich

  1. thestreetnames
    August 24, 2015

    Pigsty Alley – love it. There is also a HaHa Road in Greenwich.


  2. Pingback: London’s dirty street names: pigsties and gutters | thestreetnames

  3. Pingback: London’s tree streets: from One Tree Hill to Nine Elms Lane | thestreetnames

  4. Pingback: Gobbets of the week #21 | HistoryLondon

  5. Would you believe, have been back and forth from London 4 or 5 times though not yet made it to Greenwich. Sounds like you had quite the day though and I’m definitely going to have to plan for a stop when we fly back through. Love the amount of history, and I love that a day can be so fascinating and inexpensive at the same time. 4 pounds for pamphlets is a pretty good price to pay for a full day of culture and history!

    I’m fascinated by ancient trees as well, and it blows my mind that the same tree standing there today stood almost 500 years ago through so many stages of history. Crazy isn’t it! you think of all the history it would have born witness to could a tree have a consciousness and see!!

    Thanks for the detailed guide to your day in Greenwich – hopefully I’ll get there soon 🙂

    Meg X

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jlroehr
    August 30, 2015

    Yes, exactly! Ive been to London uncountable times and I just never made it to Greenwich. Now, I’m asking myself, what else have I missed… lol


  7. Susan
    October 17, 2015

    Absolutely loved this. Have been in and around London so many times. Visited Kew and other areas… but never the Greenwich side of the Thames. Definitely on my must do list!


  8. TurtlesTravel
    January 8, 2016

    Wow! Looks like you had a great time exploring Greenwich too. There’s really so much to see and do, as it seems you discovered.


  9. Barbara Lowe
    March 24, 2017

    Sorry to be so pedantic but being a Londoner born and bred I have to politely correct you on the delicacy which is known as Pie and Mash. ‘Liquor’ is not gravy. Liquor is a green parsley sauce. What you had is gravy, hope you enjoyed it 🙂


    • jlroehr
      March 24, 2017

      Appreciate the correction!

      Just got used to using ‘liquor’ as a generic term for any UK sauce. Good to be corrected and specific.


  10. jamesanthoni
    August 10, 2017

    absolutely loving area the Greenwich . i think you have spent a great time in there.


  11. Kimberly
    March 20, 2019

    Great post. Thanks for the useful info! I’ve added Greenwich to my list of places I need to go 🙂


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