Tall Ships at Greenwich – Battleaxe voyages down the Thames

Over the last week or so, around 50 tall ships passed up the Channel on their way from Falmouth to Greenwich, for the 2014 Tall Ships Festival.  Here in Hastings, we had our telescope ready in the verandah, but unfortunately the weather was hazy every single day, and we didn’t see a single one.
     However, at the weekend we had a lovely couple of days in London, firstly, visiting ‘Art and Life’, an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery featuring the work of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and the pottery of William Staite Murray. It was all quite maritime, preparing us for the visit to the Tall Ships the next day.
     We travelled all the way from London Bridge to Dulwich on the bus, passing through my old haunts of Camberwell and East Dulwich. Camberwell looks much the same as it did 40 years ago, but East Dulwich is so gentrified you would not know it was the same place. All artisan chocolatiers and organic bakers.
      That night, we stayed in the Premier Inn by Tate Modern, which was fine, except we had a room right on the top floor by some noisy fan outlet. I went down the following morning and told them at Reception that we had not had the excellent night’s sleep they promise, and my money was refunded then and there…. amazing. We will certainly stay there again – and ask for the same room. No seriously, I was impressed by the customer service.

Night view from Bankside Pier

       There is a river-bus pier right by Tate Modern, and on impulse, we decided to take a boat down to Greenwich. All the years I lived in London, and all the times I have visited since, I have never been on a boat on the Thames.  Our City Clipper boat emitted great belching clouds of diesel particles, which I guess would be one downside of increasing commercial boat traffic on the Thames. Still, I don’t quite know why that Boris hasn’t introduced the London equivalent of the Venetian Vaporetto.
      Anyway, it was good fun. We cruised under London Bridge and then Tower Bridge, and down past Canary Wharf, stopping at various piers along the way.

The Shard and HMS Belfast
Under Tower Bridge…
Tower Bridge recedes
The Tower – The Traitor’s Gate
Canary Wharf

        Both of us were astonished at the incredible number of Docklands apartment blocks, mile after mile of dull, not very attractive waterside developments. They looked just like Brighton Marina/Birmingham Brindley Place/Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour and a hundred other similar places. Could they not have tried a little harder with such a world-class site?

Uninspired Docklands development

       We arrived in Greenwich just in time for the start of the Sail Past, which was fortunate. The place was absolutely heaving, but our boat neatly dropped us off at a place where we could stand by the railings in front of the Old Naval College and get an excellent view. We saw many ships pass by, very impressive, but we felt it would have been even better if more of them had their sails up. There wasn’t any wind, so I would have thought it would have been possible, but I know absolutely nothing about sailing, can’t tell me barque from me brigantine….

Romantic ships

        Many of the ships were surprisingly new, used for up-market holidays or sail training for young people. Lord of the Rings Fever seemed to have afflicted some of those responsible for their names. We saw Tolkein, Loth Lorien and Queen Galadriel.
        After watching the ships for about an hour, we got hungry, forged our way inland until the crowds thinned out and found a pub with nobody in it for beer and steak sandwiches. The caught the boat back up-river again. It was all most satisfactory.

We sail away from Greenwich


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