24 August 2008

holidays at home 4: day trip to Greenwich

There is no better time to have a holiday at home in London than bank Holiday Weekend. If the weather is fine, everyone is on the road and if the weather is dull, people are watching TV. Ideal for a trip across the river to pick up my newly strung pearls in Blackheath and stop off at Greenwich.

Greenwich Park
is a favourite of mine. Looking across from Island Gardens you get to see one of the best views in Europe - the Queen's House, the Royal Naval College, the Royal Observatory. Cross to the other side and walk up the hill to
Blackheath and you pass the most beautiful old sweet chestnut trees . Glimpsing these greyhounds through the trees as we walked up the hill, you could just imagine what it might have been like when the park was a private hunting ground.

Blackheath was in holiday-at-home mood. We picked up the pearls, stopped for breakfast and finished the errands. Walking back over the heath, the fair was set up, the kites were out and so were the donkeys.

But I was on a mission to get to the National Maritime Museum. We used to visit frequently when (young) John was a child. Today I wanted to see the Nelson knife that I had read about here. It was there, tucked away at the back of the Nelson gallery, a small beautifully made knife-fork combination made for after he lost his right arm at Santa Cruz. There too were his knitted stockings, stained with the blood of his naval secretary at the Battle of Trafalgar. And a lovely woollen undershirt, with one long arm and one short, finely stitched, the neck edged with linen and the prettiest Dorset buttons. I found the intimacy of the objects, simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, strangely moving.

The Queen's House did not quite match the mood. I've always thought that this would be my palace of choice if I was queen. Beautifully proportioned, big enough for parties, not too big to keep warm. Since my last visit it has been stripped of the replica furnishings which I suspect I enjoyed because they were the equivalent of playing doll's house for adults. Suited me. Now it houses some of the NMM's art collection (lots of ships, plenty of stormy weather and some good coverage of fish).

But you can't quibble with the exterior. That lovely
leadwork (such a tactile metal, warm, lightly yielding and such a lovely faded colour) and the stone road running beneath the building. Yes, bit of construction thing going on here for me not to say a pash for plumbum.

We came home via the foot tunnel, a masterpiece of engineering and a complete act of faith if you're a bit nervous about being underground, especially when it comes to that slight puddle in the middle of the tunnel.

And though it might not be in quite the same league architecturally, the cafe in Island gardens is just the right place to recover your equanimity.

PS I admit I had to join in with the tourists and take one picture from the top of the hill...

...my allotment is just behind that row of trees on the far side of the river. Prime location, eh?

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