Friday, 30 September 2011

Boat trip to Greenwich, Yeoman tour of Old Royal Naval College & Skittle Alley

During the second day of our summer heat wave, I decided to go to Greenwich by boat.  I got to Embankment on the Underground and via the escalator system surfaced at the ticket hall.  Turning right one faces the embankment and there is a crossing which is staggered just to the left of the exit.  This will take you near the ticket offices for the boat services on the river. 

I got the Thames Clipper from Embankment to Greenwich Pier and on this occasion had a seat mid-ship as I had previously sailed up and down the river on either port or starboard side.  ‘Visibility’ was quite good and I could make out some of the landmarks on either side of the river.  The outline of Tower Bridge was discernible and passing under the bridges always gives a sense of location, though I missed out on the curvature of the River Thames itself as it meanders through London. 

This is a commuter service, though quite a few tourists got on and off at Bankside and there is a Harry Potter attraction as well.  Canary Wharf seemed to be a busy spot for the suit brigade but I didn’t pick up any financial tips.  However, there are plenty of staff on embarkation and getting off again.  One of the staff told me about a museum at Canary Wharf itself, and recommended that I try it sometime.  

At Greenwich, I wandered through the Royal Naval College complex which was originally built as Greenwich Hospital with the architects Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor designing some of the buildings.   ( I found the Painted Hall, where one of the staff took me round to the Nelson Room and told me about a tour which lasted 90 minutes and started from the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre ( .  I was booked on the tour there and then and escorted to the visitor centre where I met Albert and Margaret, the other visitors, and our guide Wendy. 

On my last trip to Greenwich, I had been to the Greenwich Fair which is held in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College.  We wandered round the Charles II building and could hear the music coming from Greenwich University’s Trinity College of Music (now called Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance - ). 

It was a very hot and sunny day and I could make out the lines of the buildings, including the William, Mary and Anne buildings which form a landscaped line as far as the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum and the Greenwich Observatory.  I couldn’t make these out, though the buildings within the Royal Naval College stood out quite clearly.

Wendy took us to the Tudor undercroft.  There are stairs down to this, but it is well worth a visit as there are some carvings which can be touched, thus giving an idea of the sculpture involved in the decoration of the whole complex which spanned the reigns of from Charles II to Queen Anne. 

We then went to the College Chapel, which has many carvings, pillars and a beautiful geometric marble floor and my cane was able to follow some of the patterns.  In 1779 the Chapel was gutted in a disastrous fire … It was redesigned and rebuilt under the Surveyorship of James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, in the ‘Greek revival’ style for which he was famous, though the detailing was done by his Clerk of Works, William Newton, and it reopened in 1789.” (  

Wendy was able to take us behind some locked doors here and there and we went into the undercroft, which connects the buildings underground and emerged into a skittle alley, which I think is somewhere below the Painted Hall.  During its days under the Ministry of Defence, the complex was used and abused and it has gradually been restored.  The skittle alley was in working order and Wendy went to the other end of the alley and kept talking so that I could take aim with some of the very heavy wooden balls trying to knock down some of the skittles.  I’m not sure if there were 9 pins or 10 pins, but I think Albert did rather better than I did as I’m sure one of mine fell into a gulley on the way.

We then went to the Painted Hall and Wendy was able to describe the history of the painting of the hall and the symbology of the motifs depicted.  (  The ceiling was painted by James Thornhill and took him 19 years to complete.  As these were done at the time of the Hanoverian succession, there is some political significance coming so soon after the Jacobite uprising of 1715. 

Wendy then returned me to the Visitor Centre, where Edward showed me round some of the exhibits.  As Greenwich had been a Tudor palace, there has been some archaeology and historical reconstruction of what the palace would have looked like.  There are videos and objects which can be touched, such as a helmet, and a gauntlet.  There is even a listen and smell section where on ‘opening a window’ you can hear the choir singing a piece by Thomas Tallis and get a whiff of incense!  On walking around the centre, I detected a fluorescent blue wavy line on the floor.  This is a representation of the meanders of the River Thames and my peripheral vision was attracted by it. 

This has been a well thought out exhibition with something for everyone.  Edward helped me pick some postcards and took me to the Tourist Information Centre.  I had wanted to check out the best way to get back as Greenwich can be a rather daunting construction site with the Olympics, Cutty Sark and other construction projects around.  Ales, from the Tourist Office, took me to Saint Alfege Church and I knew the way from there to Greenwich Railway Station.  Ales took me via the gates of the Maritime Museum complex, so that will be a visit for another day!     

Transport:  Greenwich has good links with the Docklands Light Railway and Southeastern, in addition to the Thames Clipper service.  There are also bus routes.H

Date of visit: 29/9/11