Joined: 27 Apr. 2001
From: Galashiels Selkirkshire United Kingdom
We decided to fit a trip to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark during our trip to London in August 2012.
We were staying near Tower Bridge, so we caught the Thames Clipper boat from the Tower Millennium Pier (right next the Tower of London) to Greenwich Pier. It was a thrilling trip zooming up the Thames on the powerful clipper boat, with lots to see on either side of the river. I would say that this is probably the best way to get to Greenwich from Central London!
Once in Greenwich, we were impressed with the approach to the Cutty Sark. Since the restoration, the ship has been "suspended" in dry dock in a magnificent glass conservatory representing the seas that she sailed in:
Visitors can explore the whole of the ship, and then inspect the hull from underneath in a conservatory area.
The entrance, where we purchased our tickets, was at the rear of the ship, at ground level. Once we went through the ticket barrier, we climbed a few steps up to a door cut through the different layers of the hull, straight into the lowest level of the ship, the hold:
The hold was where the Cutty Sark's cargo was stored. We saw a short video about the history of the ship, and displays showing the different types of cargo she carried: tea initially, followed by wool and many other things!
The Cutty Sark went through various incarnations during her working life - from her launch in 1869 she was a tea clipper ship transporting china tea from Shanghai, then she became a general cargo ship transporting various goods such as coal, jute and even the Australian mail! Her most successful period followed, when she transported wool from Australia. During her final working years Cutty Sark was a Portuguese ship transporting various cargoes to and from Portugal.
Here are some pictures of the hold:
Once we had studied all of the exhibits in the hold, we climbed a small staircase to the t'ween deck. Here were more exhibits about the life of the Cutty Sark - the routes she sailed, and some of the original artefacts from the ship, such as the first ship's bell, which had it's own interesting history:
There were some hands-on exhibits for children (and adults) to play with, such as how to load the tea cargo into a ship without making it tip over. Emily tried all of these and really enjoyed them. There was an interesting bench that you could sit on which simulated the movement of the ship at sea - not for those who suffer from seasickness!
The tween deck even contained a bicycle that one of the captains used to ride in there!
After examining all the exhibits on the t'ween deck we climbed another small staircase to the main deck. This was one of the best parts of the tour - the chance to explore all over the deck, with its various cabins and rigging.
The views from the main deck were great - looking towards Greenwich in one direction, and panoramic views of the Thames and Docklands in the other.
Here's the Thames including a view of HMS Ocean from the Cutty Sark. This modern warship was there as part of the security arrangements for the Olympic Games, so it's a view that will probably never be seen again from the Cutty Sark!
This deck was were the crew lived and slept - from the crowded bunks for the lowly seamen to the luxury of the Captain's quarters. There was even space for pigs that were carried on board! There were lots of fine details carved into the wood around the deck:
I loved standing beneath the huge main mast and looking up at the intricate patterns of the rigging above. I could only imagine how frightened the sailors must have been climbing up on the rigging - especially if the boat was in a storm! We spent ages exploring this part of the ship!
The final part of the tour took us underneath the ship into the dry dock. We went from the main deck down to the dry dock in a specially constructed lift.
The view under the ship of the dazzling shiny hull was fantastic. The light streaming in through the new conservatory glass and being reflected off the hull gave a really light and airy feeling.
The dry dock contains more informative exhibits including an collection of figureheads, a memorial to seamen, and the cafe. We were very tempted to have a coffee in the cafe, as it was a lovely area, but we didn't have time!
The exit was up one flight of stairs, through the Cutty Sark shop, of course! The shop had some interesting things, with cheaper souvenirs such as tea-towels and bags, as well as the more expensive items.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Cutty Sark - the restoration is fantastic. There is new wood replacing the parts that were damaged in the catastrophic fire in 2007, but this has been done in a sensitive way so you can tell what is original and what is new. The displays are interesting and informative, and we loved the feeling that you could just roam around the ship and explore everywhere. Next time, I would definitely make sure we had enough time to have a coffee or lunch in the cafe.
The ship was physically quite small, and I think it could become quite crowded at weekends or holidays (it was quiet when we went, as London was empty due the Olympics!). So it might be worth trying to find a quiet time to visit, in case the ship becomes too crowded at busy times!
Recently (September 2012) there has been some criticism of the restoration of the Cutty Sark, reported here: BBC News Cutty Sark Restoration.
I really cannot agree with that criticism - I think the Cutty Sark Trust have done a brilliant job of restoring the ship - I love the effect of Cutty Sark floating on glass water; and the space underneath, in the dry dock, offers a dramatic and unusual perspective on the shape of the vessel.