Crossing the Line in London

Okay, okay, that title should be “Crossing the Line in Greenwich,” but “Crossing the Line in London” appeals more to my alliteration-loving sensibilities.

During our recent trip to London, Mr. Husband and I seemed to be making up for all the things we wanted to do last time (way back in 2013), but couldn’t manage to squeeze in. Besides a wander over Hampstead Heath and a spiraling climb up The Monument, we wanted to straddle two worlds in Greenwich. And I just had to see what it was like to walk across the bottom of the Thames.

But First…Getting There

Because our vacation rental was way out in west in Kensington, and because Greenwich is way out east (and on the other side of the river), and because we’re tourists, we decided hopping a boat would be a more interesting way to get to Greenwich than making five Tube transfers.

thames clippers, london eye, london

You also have nice views while waiting for your boat.

Thames Clippers cruise up and down the Thames most of the day. It’s stupid expensive if you just show up and buy a ticket, but if you can wrap your brain around the intricacies of the Oyster card and Travelcard, you can ride the boat for half price (or close to half).

The boats are big and wide, so even the wimpiest landlubber is unlikely to get sick. It is a bit slow since it’s public transportation and does make stops (like a bus) several places along the river. But if you grab a seat up front, you get terrific views of the London shoreline (or you will if the window isn’t being splattered by rain).

tower bridge, thames clipper, london

That’s Tower Bridge on the right, if you can manage to spot it through the rain drops.

Heading Off to College

Since we had no idea where anything was (our guidebooks had no maps of Greenwich) one of the first places we stopped was the visitor center, where we were greeted by this handsome fellow:

Isn’t he cute?

Maps in hand, we headed out to roam the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College. This was once the site of the Tudor playground known as Greenwich Palace. The palace was demolished long ago to make way for Greenwich Hospital around 1700. The hospital (designed by Christopher Wren) was actually a retirement home for seamen and included a chapel and a dining hall, named the Painted Hall for its super fancy painted ceiling. In 1873, the hospital kicked its residents out to make way for the Royal Naval College to educate naval officers.

As we can’t seem to avoid a little bit of bad vacation luck, the Painted Hall was coated in scaffolding for renovation. and we couldn’t see it without coughing up a large number of pounds for a tour. Ah well, the buildings themselves were still quite photogenic.

royal naval college, Greenwich, london

Crossing the Line

Greenwich is also the home of the Royal Observatory. In 1675, Charles II decided he wanted to have a royal astronomer so he needed a place for the guy to work. Christopher Wren (of course) got the commission and the observatory opened for business with John Flamsteed taking the position of Astronomer Royal.

When Britain decided she wanted to rule the seas, she realized it might be handy to know where in the world her sailors were. This generated a huge amount of scientific study and eventually the longitude problem was settled. Located at (and running through) the observatory, the Prime Meridian marks the zero point for longitude, so when you straddle the line you have one foot in the West and one foot in the East. It sounds rather extraordinary, doesn’t it. Well, scientifically speaking, it absolutely is, but really, it’s just a line in the ground.

london, prime meridian, greenwich

Yep, that’s it.

You can go in the observatory for a somewhat hefty fee, but if you only want to see the prime meridian, keep your eyes open for a rather plain iron gate just before the observatory entrance. Slip through this gate, walk a few steps, and you can see (and cross) the line for free.

greenwich, royal observatory, london

Left: view of the observatory…and the long uphill walk to get to it. Right: the observatory up close.

Back Down the Hill

After our tour into the East and back to the West, we headed back down the hill to see two other Greenwich sites before our stroll across the bottom of the Thames. Mr. Husband wanted to pop into the National Maritime Museum. I’m not super keen on maritime museums, but I did admire the old ships’ prows and I found a little boat I might like to have.

I wonder how one of these would look on the front of our car…

For some reason, they wouldn’t let me take this royal barge for a spin.

A little bling on the MY royal barge.

Our final stop was the Queen’s House. No, not THAT queen. This is the former home of Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. How’d she snag this cute little palace? Rumor has it that Jimmy swore in front of her and to make up for it he gave her a palace. Guess the florist shop was closed. The “house” was designed by Inigo Jones in 1616 and was a royal residence until 1805 when George III donated it to house the orphans of seamen.

The Queen’s House (white building in center) and Royal Naval College (domes in background) viewed from the top of the observatory’s hill.

Now, the palace serves as an art gallery and is fun to wander from room to room reading about what each of the vast spaces had once been used for. The palace also houses the very lovely Tulip Stairs (also designed by Jones), which would have been a great photo op if the light had been behaving.

tulip stairs, queens house, inigo jones, greenwich

Hold Your Breath!

Finally it was time to take our lives in our hands and walk across the bottom of the Thames. Okay, maybe it would be more correct to say “under” the Thames. Long before the Channel Tunnel, Londoners needed to cross waterways because workers had to get back and forth to work from Greenwich to the Docklands and the Isle of Dogs. There had been a ferry service, but apparently it was too expensive for workers and too unreliable in a day when bosses would fire you for the least discretion, including tardiness. Construction on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel started in 1899 and took three years to complete.

greenwich foot tunnel, london

Tunnel vision!

Since I love anything “under” (give me a crypt and I’m a happy tourist), I HAD to do this river crossing even if I was half dead after a long day of sightseeing. Down down you go (you can take an elevator or stairs) and then you’re in a 9-foot diameter tube…and you cannot see the end. The 50-foot deep tunnel is 1215 feet long and is amazingly water tight. It didn’t even feel damp or humid and no action-movie style cracks developed that sent us running for safety.

Well, Since We’re Here

One we emerged from under ground, we were dead on our feet and decided to take the boat back. Since the nearest dock to our temporary home was Westminster, I figured we might as well climb the stairs, brave the rain, and take our requisite photo of Big Ben.

big ben, london

Done and done, it was time to hop the Tube home and kick back.

What about you? Ever walk across the bottom of a river? Have any favorite forms of London transportation? Share your thoughts!

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15 thoughts on “Crossing the Line in London

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    We didn’t walk the tunnel under the Thames. Sounds very cool. But we did take the Tube everywhere. I’m still hearing “Mind the gap” in my head!

    • painterwrite says:

      The tunnel was a little eerie at first, but after walking many miles through Underground stations, it was no biggie. And, thankfully, there was no gap to mind anywhere!

      You do start to feel like a mole in those stations; I’m glad we were able to get above ground with bus and boat trips!

  2. David Anderson says:

    D-oh! I forget there were a bunch of old scientific things in the Royal Observatory I wanted to see. Oh well, next time. It was fun and relaxing taking the boat up and down the Thames. Look at the picture of the tunnel under the Thames again. What do you see, or don’t you see? There is no litter, and it didn’t smell of urine!

    • painterwrite says:

      That’s right! I forgot to engage the Smell-O-Vision for these posts!! London Tube stations, busses, street corners, etc are remarkably urine-stench free, unlike certain other cities that shall go nameless. And mostly litter free. And I love that the Tube stations have ads for books on the walls, not soda and fatty/sugary snacks.

    • painterwrite says:

      The tunnel ended up being fun, even if my legs were about to fall off. Glad you like the tours. I thought I’d manage to sum everything up in three posts, but I think there might be a couple more coming.

  3. crawcraftsbeasties says:

    “Guess the florist shop was closed” – HA! 😂 Great tour of Greenwich, Tammie… Although I’m a little upset that I missed the chance to walk along the bottom of the river when I was last there. Oh no, now I’ll have to go back…

    • painterwrite says:

      It’s so nice of me to provide you with a to-do list for your next trip across the Sea, isn’t it? In truth, I think Anne deserved to a little verbal smack down since she had supposedly just killed his favorite hunting dog. Yet somehow she snagged a palace out of the deal. Those clever Danes!!

      • crawcraftsbeasties says:

        Why yes, thank you for being my own personal tour guide! It really has been too long since I was last over there. And maybe if I take a leaf out of Anne’s book I can get Elusive Boyfriend to pay for it all… 🤔

      • painterwrite says:

        Hmmmm….since your standard, modern boy is so much different than your royal, 17th century boy, maybe I should have put a warning label that reads “Your results may vary” on that section of the post. 🙄😉🙄

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