Cruising London: Photo tour

Last Saturday I spent a leisurely three hours on the Museum of London‘s Frost Fairs cruise along the River Thames.

Frost Fairs are a rare occurrence in the pages of London’s history. They were held when a combination of winter-y elements meant that the River Thames froze over and created a lot of excitement for Londoners. Our Museum of London host told us that the earliest Frost Fair was likely to have occurred in 1114-1115 between Westminster and London Bridges when all sorts of activities  – shopping, drinking and eating, and games like skittles and ice-skating – were at the disposal of those who dared to venture out onto the river’s icy surface.

But it was a double-edged sword as while many entrepreneurs and well-to-do celebrated this rarity, a third of Londoners depended on the river for their livelihood and so were left destitute when they could no longer ply their many trades.

The last Frost Fair occurred in 1814-1815: Once the old London Bridge was demolished and the new bridge – constructed by John Rennie and opening in 1831 – was in place, a more free-flowing river was created, giving little opportunity for ice to “dam up”.

London Bridge (640x333)

Cruising under Rennie’s London Bridge

So last weekend I made my way along the embankment to Westminster Pier, boarded the Pride of London and took my place on the upper deck. It was one of those grey London days – not as pretty as a crisp blue-sky day but it did lend something quite atmospheric to the usual view. Here’s a little photo tour of my time on board.

Big Ben vs Boudicca

Boudicca vs Big Ben – looking up from Westminster Pier gives you this great perspective.

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Blackfriars Bridge – trains stopping at Blackfriars Station actually stop on the bridge.

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No Thames cruise photo tour would be complete without a shot of Tower Bridge

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I loved this row of old bankside houses – the two building to the left of the row stand like sentries at the entrance to one of the many channels that branch off the river.

O2 Arena (640x360)

The cruise took us all way downstream to the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsula, the latter being home to the Millenium Dome (or as it’s now known, the O2 Arena). It does look like some sort of alien ship has landed.

Greenwich 1

This is the Royal Naval College in Greenwich – you can see the Royal Observatory in the background (which by the way is a great place to visit.)

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And this is the famous Cutty Sark, just a hop step and jump away from the Naval College

Along the route back, the daylight had started to fade and I spent most of the time just watching the bank glide by, the wake from the various river craft creating foamy ripples along the shore. Before long, we were cruising past the modern shapes of London’s City Hall and The Shard…

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London’s City Hall is the curved building on the left and look how the tiny white-lit Christmas tree mirrors The Shard that overshadows it.

…and London’s lights glowed in the dusk as we continued to cruise back towards Westminster.

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Southwark Bridge

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The London Eye

Victoria Tower, Westminste Palace (640x360)

Passing under Westminster Bridge gave me this atmospheric view of the Houses of Parliament’s Victoria Tower

Soon it was a quick under and back again with Westminster Bridge, a gentle drift towards Westminster Pier and with my head full of what I’d seen and heard, I disembarked and headed home.

I am a big fan of the events put on by the Museum of London and this was such a great way to spend a few grey and blustery hours on a Saturday afternoon. So I hope you enjoyed this little photo tour a fraction as much as I enjoyed for real.

The Beginning Of Time…

As regular readers of Gidday From The UK will know, I have just played host to my lovely Mum at Gidday HQ. Having visitors of the family kind stay in ‘your space’, I’ve always felt that it’s important to sprinkle the intensity of trying to cram 18 months apart into 10 days with a jaunty outing or two. Which brings me to Greenwich.

After stuffing ourselves severely the day before (see the Departures post for a snippet of our High Tea exploits), what was called for was an outing full of fresh air, fascinating facts and fab photo opportunities. So we headed out into a clear, crisp Sunday to explore the delights of South East London. Having never been there before, I seriously underestimated how much there is to actually see and do in Greenwich. There’s the Royal Naval College, the Maritime Museum and Greenwich Village just to name a few. But Greenwich is most famous for its status as the beginning (and end come to think of it) of time and so, like good little tourists, it was to the Royal Observatory we went.

Yep, there is it. On the top of the hill. A meander through Greenwich Park followed by a steep, short yet concentrated walk upwards.

The Royal Observatory was founded by Charles II in 1675 who decided to build an observatory in Greenwich Park, his own royal back yard so to speak. The ability for early sailors to safely navigate the high seas once out of sight of land was extremely limited and while a comprehensive understanding of the skies was seen to offer a solution, the conundrum of time was inextricably linked. And in defining one’s position east or west, the important question of ‘from where?’ has left us with the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time.

John Flamsteed was appointed Astronomer Royal and every night for 40 years he used a telescope and clock to record the movement and altitude of stars across the meridian line. After a disaster at sea in 1707, more reliable means of finding longitude at sea were sought and it was Yorkshire carpenter turned clockmaker John Harrison who solved the problem almost 60 years later. (His four timekeepers are on display and in full working order!) On his 1768-71 voyage to explore the South Pacific, then Lt. James Cook (yes, the dude that came a cropper on the reef off the coast of what is now Far North Queensland Australia in 1770) became the first to successfully test this new method of finding longitude at sea and he continued to test emerging methods on two further voyages until 1779.

The meridian line shifted four times (across the now Prime Meridian Courtyard) as each new Astronomer Royal took advantage of the increasing accuracy available. And finally in 1884, the Greenwich Meridian was awarded the prize of Longitude 0º by 41 delegates from 25 countries, making it the Prime Meridian of the World. Makes it sound like a super-hero doesn’t it?

The Prime Meridian Marker at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
I had to be quick to get this before the next in the very long line positioned themselves for a happy snap.

So that’s enough of the history stuff for now. Suffice to say we spent all afternoon wandering around the Observatory and finished with a stint at The Peter Harrison Planetarium to see ‘Secrets of the Stars’ before some coffee and cake overlooking the park. Here’s how it went…

There’s a spectacular view of Canary Wharf (L) and the O2 (R) from the Observatory hill.
This is just one part of the 40ft long telescope that William Herschel, famous for the discovery of Uranus in 1781, had built but rarely used. Boys and their toys eh?
Flamsteed House was built by Christopher Wren for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. The red ball was known as the Time Ball and every day at 1pm, the ball would fall, allowing all around to set their timepieces. Those who may have been partaking of a few too many and missed this daily ‘missive’ were deemed to be ‘not on the ball’. 
Told with great enthusiasm in the Prime Meridian Courtyard, we learnt about the beginning of ‘time’ itself.
Mum though she should check out the Prime Meridian laser, just be sure.
And here it is. The beginning and end of time. It lights up at night but it’s a little underwhelming for something so renowned isn’t it?
We wandered around the galleries for a while and there’s some amazing stuff – like John Harrison’s 4 timekeepers – but it’s really difficult to get a good photo. So you get this quirky display of telecommunication through ‘the ages’. I probably shouldn’t admit that I remember them all!
The Peter Harrison Planetarium, home to the winners’ gallery for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year and our tryst with Patrick Stewart, he of Star Trek fame and narrator of ‘Secrets of the Stars’. This is also home to the oldest thing from my Departures post – a piece of Gibeon meteorite some 4.5 billion – yes that’s with a ‘b’ – years old.
Finally it’s time for coffee and cake but boy it was chilly!

As closing time approached, we reluctantly shifted from our glorious vantage point…

…headed back down the hill and across the park to the bus stop. I must admit that, in the face of the trek back to North London after so long on my feet, the little voice in my head was groaning a little with each step I took. A little ‘beam me up Scotty!’ would not have gone astray.

So that was Greenwich peeps. The beginning and end of time immemorial. And definitely worth a visit with so much more to do than we managed in an afternoon.

Departures…

After a 10 day sojourn, Mum flew out to Dubai last night on the final leg of her February 2012 odyssey. It’s quiet here this afternoon at Gidday HQ but I have lots of things to be getting on with before it’s back to work tomorrow.

All up it’s been a busy 10 days with some ‘must dos’ not done as we traded off a few excursions for a little chill out time at home. I’ll post about some of the specific things we did over the next week or so – that’ll be more posts of the ‘Armchair‘ variety coming up for you – but in summary we shopped, played tourist, ate, drank and were generally slightly hysterical very merry.

Day 1 started gently for my erstwhile traveller, recovering from 2 weeks amidst the hurly burly of Egypt with a sleep in, a short stroll around my local park and a coffee stop or two before heading into The Tower of London in the evening for the Ceremony of the Keys.

The Ceremony of the Keys has been occurring every night at the Tower for the last 700 years and is the ritual of securing the Tower and the Crown Jewels for the night. From arrival at the West Gate at 9.30pm to departure at approximately 10.15pm, every moment was filled with a sense of both occasion and history as the Yeoman Warder led the group down to stand at Traitor’s Gate and watch the ceremony.

After explaining the ceremony itself, he left us to watch in silence as he joined his fellow warders in the ritual locking of the two outer gates, the steady march towards Traitor’s Gate right through to the proclamation that the Tower had been secured and the haunting notes of the bugler’s Last Post. This is definitely one of London’s hidden gems and even better, it is free but you need to send off a request form a couple of months in advance. You can click here to go to the website and check it out for yourself.

Saturday we were off to High Tea at The Connaught in Mayfair with A-down-the-hill to enjoy a significantly posher version of our previous Champers and Cupcakes escapades…

Champers gets our afternoon off to a fab start
There were also scones (they were scrum-diddly-umptious) and we got to choose three jams between us – my fave was the Apple & Quince!

Mum and I took ourselves off to see The Artist afterwards which meant a much needed 25 minute waddle along Oxford Street…

Oxford Circus
Selfridges
Get your five a day at the junction of Oxford and Duke Streets

Sunday was clear and crisp so we headed off to Greenwich. This will be featured as an Armchair post so more about our day later on. Suffice to say we managed to get our hands on something quite old…

We did a spot of shopping on Monday then decided on a ‘rest day’ before heading off to Dublin on Wednesday for 4 days. This little trip warrants a couple of dedicated posts but for now, I’ll leave you with a highlights package…

The Boyne Valley, about 45 minutes drive north of Dublin, has 40 passage tombs in all shapes, sizes and states of preservation…
…and we visited Newgrange Passage Tomb which predates the pyramids.
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I poured (and drank) the perfect pint at The Guinness Storehouse (and have a certificate to prove it)…
…while Irish history came to life for me at Kilmainham Jail.
I was delighted to find a ‘host of golden daffodils’ in Merrion Square…
…whilst visiting the Famine memorial by the Liffey River was quite moving.

We managed to cram a lot into our four days and came back to Gidday HQ on Saturday night absolutely exhuasted. Then departure day had arrived, all too soon it seemed, with much packing and sorting going on before heading back out to Heathrow again and hugging Mum goodbye.

As I walked away from the Departure Gate, I felt the familiar tearing of my heart between the love of family on the other side of the world and the connection of my soul with London. And I wondered at what it was in me that led me here so very far away, and where I might end up next.