Tigger had the afternoon off today so, of course, we made the most of it. The first item on the agenda, you will not be surprised to learn, was lunch. We went to a Chinese restaurant in Borough High Street called Hing Loong and chose the vegetarian set menu. This was very good and the servings were generous.
After lunch we walked to the Thames because Tigger fancied a ride of the Thames Clippers riverboats and there is a pier for boarding near London Bridge. Also near here is the mooring of HMS Belfast, a warship that is now a museum and part of the Imperial War Museum. The ship is closed at the moment following the collapse of the main gangplank. A report of this by the BBC will be found here.
The pier floats on pontoons and can become quite bouncy when the river surface is choppy. The Clippers run a regular service and we had to wait only about 10 minutes for the next one – time to look around and take a few photos!
It has been a dull day, as you can see in the above photo looking upriver to London Bridge, with at least three other bridges visible beyond it. You can also see a helicopter in the sky, one of the several that were monitoring activity in the streets of London because today is a “Day of Action”, with public sector workers coming out on strike and holding demonstrations.
During the holiday season, the Clippers are usually packed with passengers as they provide a good way to see the Thames and its environment and to travel between some of the most popular tourist destinations, but today our boat was virtually empty.
Perhaps the weather was keeping people away too. The sky was overcast and soon after we came aboard, rain began to streak the windows. It was warm and sheltered in the enclosed lounge and I wasn’t looking forward to going ashore…!
We disembarked at Greenwich Pier and watched the Clipper go on its way. The Clippers are catamarans and are quite fast but give a fairly smooth ride. The rain had stopped but there was a cold wind.
Across the river we could see Canary Wharf and its companion towers. They were momentarily lit by sunshine but the view was hazy, veiled with rain falling between us and them.
We went into Greenwich Market which is always an interesting place to visit, with a wide variety of goods on sale both in the stalls and in the shops around the perimeter. The Market received its Royal Charter in 1700 and looks set to trade for another four centuries at least.
The entrance gate has reinforced tracks to guard from wear by cart wheels but I doubt whether many of those come into the market these days. The gateway acts as a meeting place and provides extra seating. On the lintel is engraved a stern injunction: A FALSE BALANCE IS AN ABOMINATION TO THE LORD BUT A JUST WEIGHT IS HIS DELIGHT. (Proverbs 11:1)
Greenwich, of course, has close connections with navigation and the sea. It is the home of the Royal Observatory and of the Old Royal Naval College. Today we were paying a visit to the National Maritime Museum. We had only a short time to spend there when you really need to take the whole day over it and still come back again and again. Here are just a few of the things we saw.
This figurehead is captivating in its own right but also has a strange story behind it. It is said to have belonged to an unknown Spanish two-deck warship that fought in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and evaded capture. By 1869, the ship was stationed in West Africa and serving as a prison hulk. Four officers aboard HMS Sirius decided to capture it. Approaching the ship in a dinghy with a gale blowing, they managed to saw the head loose and take it back to the Sirius.
Does this figurehead look British to you? Would you say there is something slightly Continental about it? It comes from a survivor of the Battle of Trafalgar which came to be known as HMS Implacable. Originally, she was a French warship and was captured and renamed by the British. Sadly, she was deliberately scuttled and sunk in 1949, because in the post-war period funds could not be spared to maintain her as an historic relic.
Barges made for royalty and other important persons are interesting because no expense is spared in their building and decoration and they represent the ultimate in luxury. This barge was used by Frederick, the Prince of Wales, until his death in 1751 and then as the royal barge until 1849. It was sawn into four sections and stored for 100 years in the Royal Barge House at Great Windsor Park.
In the section on colonial power and trade, we find this striking bust of Queen Victoria. Her era was arguably the heyday of the Empire and of imperial enthusiasm in England. In 1876, Victoria added to her titles that of “Empress of India” and thereafter signed herself Victoria R.I. – Victoria Regina et Imperatrix. She was by all accounts delighted with the title though she was never to visit India.
The entrance hall is lit by blue light and decorated with hanging lanterns forming an unusual but attractive decor.
When we emerged from the museum, the town lights had come on and it was getting dark. We walked to the station and took a Docklands Light Railway train to Bank where we changed to the Northern Line. Riding the DLR is one of the pleasures of a trip like this though I expect that, for people who use it to go to work every day, it’s only too familiar.