Outings: Of stars and sailing ships

Go to Greenwich for a day out and you're almost guaranteed

to lose your sense of time - there's so much to explore,

writes Sarah Jewel.

A day's visit to Greenwich is an intriguing eye-opener on the relationship between time, space and the navigation of the sea. In the 17th century the greatest problem that beset all maritime trading nations was how to travel across the seas to the New World without getting lost. In 1675 Charles II decided that he would appoint an astronomer to draw up a map of the heavens that would be accurate enough for sailors to pinpoint their longitudinal position at sea. It took John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, 40 years, but his meticulous charts of the night sky solved the problem until the invention of the marine chronometer. In 1884 Greenwich was chosen as the site of the prime meridian line of the world (longitudinal position 0) and Greenwich Mean Time began.

Charles II's Royal Observatory, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is perched on the top of Greenwich hill and the magnificent view from the meridian line looks out over the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House - Inigo Jones's 17th-century royal villa, the Royal Naval College and the 19th-century tea clipper, the Cutty Sark. Beyond the Thames, the yellow construction cranes of the Millennium Dome loom as this century's tribute to the passage of time.

The visitors

Sarah Jewel took Esther Hindley, nine, and Guy Hindley, seven.

Sarah: We took the Docklands Light Railway to Island Gardens and then walked through the leaky foot tunnel under the Thames to Greenwich pier. It was pouring with rain as we came out of the tunnel and we looked up at the glistening symmetry of the rigging and masts of the Cutty Sark outlined against the sky.

Launched in 1869, this delicate little ship was built to sail to China and back in the great tea races of the 1870s. After standing over the polished wooden and brass steering wheel on the main deck and fantasising that we were out on the open seas, with the rain lashing into our faces, we needed warming up.

Greenwich village is full of bars, cafes and exciting shops. We dived into the Pier Fish Restaurant where we each had some tasty cod and chips and a rather watery hot chocolate. Then we made a beeline through the park to the Old Royal Observatory.

For anyone, like myself, with an under-developed sense of spacial awareness this is the place to push the buttons, play with the gadgets and get to grips with measuring the lines of longitude and latitude around the world, working out time changes between the eastern and western hemispheres. Clocks of all description are on display, from "H4" the forerunner of all precision watches, to the Accurist Millennium Countdown clock.

As we left the Old Royal Observatory the sun started to shine, and we walked down the hill across the beautifully kept lawn to the National Maritime Museum. Huge oil paintings of the battleships that fought during the First and Second World Wars line the walls of the exhibition of 20th- century sea power. The bloodied breeches of the greatest captain of the seas, Admiral Lord Nelson, are on display in the exhibition that charts his life and loves.

Esther: I thought the Docklands train was very exciting because there was no driver and it feels as though you are controlling it yourself. I liked sliding about on the decks of the Cutty Sark which were very wet and slippery, and looking below deck at Long John Silver's collection of lady figureheads.

In the Old Royal Observatory we played games and learnt what the time difference is between London and Los Angeles. We saw an enormous telescope that can see through the clouds at night, but I was disappointed that we weren't allowed to look through it. We played with a machine that explained how light rays shine through different-shaped lenses. I think my class should go there, because we are learning about convex and concave lenses at the moment.

At the Maritime Museum there was a really exciting gallery for children with lots of different gadgets and games all about people and the sea. I liked putting my hands in a huge pair of rubber gloves inside a tank and feeling how difficult it is to operate machinery under water. In the Lord Nelson exhibition there was a film about the Battle of Trafalgar that showed how Nelson got shot. In the room about 20th-century ships, the whole exhibition was shaped like a boat, and there was a pretend control room of a frigate where we shot torpedoes at an enemy ship on a computer screen.

Guy: I liked the train because it went slow and fast and it felt like being in one of my racing cars that tip to the side when they go round the corners of my Scalextrix. I thought we had a very good captain of the train - but I wasn't sure how he controlled it.

I thought the Cutty Sark was very interesting, and I liked going below deck where there was a sailor who was tying all different types of sea knots with funny names like Chinese button knot and monkey's fist knot.

The thing I liked best at the Observatory was the old wooden telescope in the Octagon Room, because when I looked into it I didn't see the sky and the rain - instead I saw Pluto, the dog from Disneyland. I would like to go there at night and look through the enormous telescope and see a star being made, like we saw on the video screen. At the Maritime Museum I liked sending a Morse code message across the room to Esther in the children's gallery. I had a very good day out.

The deal

Getting there: the Docklands Light Railway runs from Bank or Tower Hill Tube to Island Gardens. Walk through the foot tunnel to Greenwich. Boat cruises from Westminster, Charing Cross or Tower piers to Greenwich pier.

Prices: The Old Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum (0181- 858 4422) open daily 10am-5pm, adults pounds 5.50, concessions pounds 4.50, children pounds 3; combined ticket includes entry to Queen's House.Cutty Sark: open daily 10am-5pm, Sun 12 noon-5pm, adults pounds 3.50, children pounds 2.50, family pounds 8.50.

Other attractions: Royal Naval College, Queen's House, Greenwich Park.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor