Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian

We traveled to Greenwich, about 40 minutes out of central London, to see the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory. To transit there, we traveled by the Underground to Canary Wharf, a mind blowing commercial center, but in an area of East London some formerly called the Isle of Dogs. This is the City’s second financial center, with towering skyscrapers and seemingly tens of thousands of apartments for the people who work and live here. It’s bordered on three sides by the Thames River and after decades of construction, it’s still being built out.

Connecting here, we took the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) to Greenwich. The Cutty Sark is a short distance from the DLR station.

The Cutty Sark was a high speed clipper ship that was built and launched for service in 1869. The Cutty Sark carried many cargoes, but it was built to carry tea from China to England. There was prestige, if not money, at stake to be the first ship back from China with the new crop of tea.

With the later advent of steam powered vessels, its speed advantage diminished and it saw other duties, visiting many ports around the world until it was bought in the 1920’s and then put into dry dock to be restored in Greenwich in 1954. During its most recent renovation in 2007, it was badly damaged by fire, but remarkably, most of the original structure was able to be saved as substantial portions had been removed prior to the fire (The iron frame and much of the original wooden planks were saved). The Cutty Sark is one of only three remaining original composite construction (wooden hull on an iron frame) clipper ships from the nineteenth century in part or whole. The massive restoration was completed and reopened to the public in 2012.

From the Cutty Sark’s dry dock on the Thames, you can see London in the distance.
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(1902 tunnel entrance under the Thames)


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Cutty Sark

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Massive keel of the Cutty Sark


Royal Observatory

The Prime Meridian is a line of longitude (latitude goes around the equator) which is defined to be 0 degrees. If one uses directions of East and West from a defined prime meridian, then they can be called Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere.

A prime meridian is an arbitrary point, but this  one was agreed upon in 1884 by 22 countries. The importance of longitude and latitude was to enable navigation at sea. There are multiple meridians now, but in the early 18th century, a common means of determining longitude to enable long distance navigation was critical to commerce, which was rapidly expanding by the use of high speed sailing ships like the Cutty Sark. Lunar navigation relied upon determining Greenwich time and therefore position.

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East meets West at the Prime Meridian
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Stradling East and West Hemispheres

Greenwich is far enough away from London to escape the busy commercialism, but close enough to be in Canary Wharf in 15 minutes, or the City in 45 minutes. Aside from the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory (with a large surrounding park), there’s also a Royal Maritime museum we did not visit.

June 2nd is a travel day for us as we travel from London to Geneva, then by train to Interlaken and up into the Alps.


More photos on Flickr.

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