24 May 2017

Emirates Air Line, Isle of Dogs and Greenwich Photo Walk

For various reasons, I've spent very few weekends in London this year and I've been feeling the urge to explore my city again. On Sunday morning, the weather was lovely so I decided to check another activity off my London bucket list: taking a ride on the Emirates Air Line, AKA the cable car that runs 1 kilometre between North Greenwich and Docklands.

The Air Line has not been without its critics — it's been referred to as being as pointless as a Garden Bridge, and indeed, it's far from practical, given that there is a Jubilee Line Tube station five minutes' walk from either terminal. Nonetheless, I have a certain fondness for cable cars and so on Sunday, I hopped on the Tube to North Greenwich and then walked to the Air Line. It was so quick from my Bermondsey home I couldn't believe I hadn't done it before. The sun was shining and the sky was blue; everything was going well until I realised I'd left my camera's memory card at home. Undeterred, I pressed on using my iPhone.

You can buy a £10.70 'Discovery Experience' ticket or just swipe in through the barriers using your Oyster or contactless card, which costs £3.50 one way ("but you do have get off, touch out and touch back in again if you want to come back," the sales assistant warned me). Unsurprisingly, it wasn't very busy, despite the clement weather, and I had a car to myself for the ten-minute ride. There was a commentary playing throughout, which included some information about the history and construction of the cable car, but I was too busy taking photos of The O2 and the London skyline. The views were really excellent.

I planned to return to North Greenwich using the cable car but finding myself in the Docklands — a part of the city whose architecture and development has always interested me but which I rarely visit — I decided to walk down to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs instead. It's about a three-mile walk and if you like countryside rambles, it probably won't be for you, but if you enjoy gawking at the Docklands' shiny and often brutalist modern architecture, give it a go.

It took about an hour to walk down to the tunnel, including plenty of time to take photos of Canary Wharf (there's a particularly striking view from Blackwall Basin), The O2 and North Greenwich. By the entrance to the tunnel, there is an excellent view across the river in Greenwich of the Old Royal Naval College, whose staid, symmetrical architecture contrasts starkly with the buildings of the Isle of Dogs. I have run through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel a few times but it's still a novelty for me and before long, I was emerging into the sunshine next to the Cutty Sark.

I walked through the Old Royal Naval College (home to the Painted Hall, among other things), which I've visited a few times before  and then crossed over into Greenwich Park where the Queen's House is located (entrance is free, although donations are very welcome). Inigo Jones created the residence for Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, in the 17th century and the whole building is exquisitely designed. Perhaps the jewel in the Queen's House's crown is the feat of geometry that is the Tulip Stairs, a beautiful, Venetian-inspired cobalt-blue spiral staircase that was England's first self-supporting spiral staircase.

By then, it was time for me to head home, but I have also made a mental note to return to the Royal Observatory — there's so much to see in Greenwich and it makes an excellent day- or half-day-trip from central London (if the weather's nice, take the boat).

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