October 05, 2014

Greenwich Acting Navigator

             Little did I know as I made my trek to the National Maritime Museum that I would soon become acquainted with very possibly my new favorite location in London. In accordance with a history course I am taking for my philosophy minor, my intended visiting purpose was the Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition.

             I ended up in a place called Maze Hill, which required three changes on the Underground and one on the Overground to reach. However, I quickly became enraptured with what I saw of the London skyline, just peeping above the trees in Greenwich Park. As soon as I spied the familiar silhouettes of the Shard and the Gherkin, I knew that the view had immense potential if I could perch myself somewhere with higher elevation. First, I had to attend to the matter at hand.

             The National Maritime Museum is essentially situated inside the outermost edges of Greenwich Park. I had a beautiful day for exploring, most uncharacteristic of October weather. The sun was beating down gloriously over the vast greenery that surrounded me, ideal for bouncy dogs, lazy strolls, lovers’ trysts, and makeshift picnics alike.

             Just as an explorer sets sail in search of land, I found my equivalent. The museum was landmarked with a gigantic ship in a bottle. I was sad to substitute the sun with the cooler indoors, but the museum’s main foyer was quaint all the same. To my right were numerous tables and chairs, with an inviting sign: “Enjoy your packed lunch here! And why not take in the lovely view while you are at it.” The museum seemed to share my sentiments in regards to the view and tapped into my childhood reverie of school trips consisting of clipboard questions and ham sandwiches.

             To commemorate the 300th anniversary of the passing of the Longitude Act in 1714, the Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition details how we eventually arrived at a solution to solve the age-old problem of navigating by longitude (distance east and west). The Longitude Act offered rewards to those who could propose such a solution, with the methods of clocks and stars emerging victorious in the end. All of John Harrison’s five timekeepers were truly a marvel to be seen together, their intricacies amplified and their inner workings fascinating to behold.

John Harrison's H1 timekeeper, photo courtesy of the National Maritime Museum
             The National Maritime Museum would not normally be my cup of tea, but as far as I’m concerned, I am always ready and raring to explore new areas of London. I once set myself a mental goal to alight at every tube station in London, but perhaps that was a little overambitious on my part. Nonetheless, I did find the exhibition interesting. I particularly enjoyed the wall-sized map pinpointing over a dozen of London’s coffee houses during the 1700s and the accompanying coffee cups on display.

This statue outside of the museum honors King William IV, who was known as the "Sailor King"
             It was and still is dangerous to travel at sea, which is why discovering better ways of navigating had been a vexing problem since the late 1400s. Advances in navigation might not have made the seas any less treacherous, but they certainly made them safer and more manageable. I found it surprising that the quest for longitude was mocked or seen as a “get rich quick” scheme. William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (Plate 8) was particularly jarring, depicting a link between the search for longitude and madness.

William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress (Plate 8), 1735, shows an inmate of Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam) sketching Humphrey Ditton and William Whiston's signalling proposal and other longitude ideas on the hospital wall, photo courtesy of Tate 
             After my tour of the exhibition, I was pleased to learn that the sun had not yet retreated behind a cloud. A group of people, looking miniscule from a distance, had already congregated at the top of a hill. Working up a sweat, I climbed that hill with fervor in anticipation of what I would see. The view overlooking the River Thames was truly breathtaking, a view to die for in every sense of the phrase. To my left, the Shard and the Gherkin proudly stood out amidst the rest of the skyscrapers, while to my right, the O2 Arena nestled itself in comfortably, looking like the back of an enormous tortoise shell.

 With the Royal Observatory seen on the right, this was my view from below after leaving my prime spot at the top of the hill with the others (left)
             This is the view that I wanted to share with you all, because let’s be honest, it’s too good not to:

I spy with my little eye...

             Not only is a fantastic view awaiting you, but at the top of the hill, you will also find The Royal Observatory, which was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian of the world. You can snap a photo standing on the Meridian Line and visit London’s only planetarium.

             Even after two years in London (wow, how time flies!), I still experience “pinch me” moments all the time, and this was certainly one of them. Although Greenwich is quite far away from Central London, the trip is more than worth it, and I guarantee you’ll be pinching yourself all the way home. To plan your visit, view the Royal Museums Greenwich homepage here. The Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition runs until January 4, 2015.


  1. the view from the top of the hill never gets old! it's one of my go to places to take any friends visiting London.

    1. I can definitely see why! I'm so pleased I discovered it, and on such a sunny day as well.