Blackheath and Greenwich is often overlooked by want-aways seeking a London city break. Central London comes with a premium price tag and north west of the city, while familiar and well connected tube-wise, is also pretty pricey. If you’re willing to be a little less rigid in your choice of location, this beautiful area of south east London is a fantastic mini break in itself.
Looking out of your window at the Clarendon Hotel with its elegant Georgian façade, across 211 blustery kite-flying acres acres of Blackheath, there is a nation’s history to imagine…
A piece of A3 card, provided by the Clarendon, selects some highlights of centuries of celebration and confrontation. Way back in 1381, Blackheath saw the defeat of the Peasant’s Rebellion. Henry V and his archers celebrated their Agincourt victory on Blackheath in 1415. Henry Vlll first met Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, at Blackheath: “I like her not,” he told Thomas Cromwell. The marriage was never consummated and doomed to divorce.
When the Thames was frozen, Queen Elizabeth l honed her archery skills on the ice. The Clarendon’s Goffers Bar celebrates that Blackheath witnessed the first golf ball ever struck in England by James 1, pining for the ways of his Scottish homeland. Similarly, the Meridian Restaurant, celebrates the Clarendon’s location on the longitude line between Eastern and Western hemispheres. As a part of contemporary history, the Clarendon hosted NHS staff during the worst of the Covid – 19 pandemic.
Although still making history, Blackheath is a desirable village with a short commute into central London, with the Uber Thames Clipper starring as one of the most scenic trips into work.
Appropriately named, Zero Degrees, offering a mellow mango beer, is a micro-brewery with exterior tables looking across Blackheath. The neighbouring Ivy Cafe and the Everest Inn, with a Nepalese menu, share panoramic views across Blackheath.
A walk across Blackheath leads to Greenwich Park. As one of London’s lungs it is busy with locals running, cycling, taking a group exercise class – or more sedately taking morning coffee or afternoon tea.
Back in the days of empire, Greenwich grew rich and powerful on the profits of trade. Now in dry dock, The Cutty Sark, a clipper constructed with 15 miles of rigging and 0.7 acres of sail, racing chests of tea from Shanghai to London, epitomised the era. In today’s values her cargo would be worth £18.5 million.
Few visitors resist the urge to take a picture looking down on the Old Royal Navy School – classic Sir Christopher Wren architecture built between 1696 and 1712 – with a backdrop of the Thames and Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers. Often described as Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, the artwork in The Painted Hall was so exquisite that artist James Thornhill was rewarded with a knighthood for his 19 years of labour.
The Old Royal Navy School was built on the site of the former Placentia Palace where Henry Vlll was born. To the south-east, Eltham Palace, given an Art Deco 1930s makeover, is lovingly cared for by English Heritage. Once a Tudor Palace and seen as a country escape in those distant days, the 19 acre site, complete with moat and gardens, hosts jousting and other heritage events.
Up to 90 metres above the Thames, the Emirates Cable Car gives views east towards the Thames Barrier and east to Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers and beyond. Commentary gives deep insights into a short journey that actually flies over two rivers: the Thames and the Lea. It tells of the days of thick pea-souper fogs when pilots navigated by their nose, sniffing fish docks, tobacco wharves and match factory phosphorus. Meanwhile, below the Thames the navvies were digging out Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s tunnel. When it opened in 1843, 50,000 people paid one old penny each to walk through the world’s first underwater tunnel.
Today’s visitors find journeys on the Thames, on an Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, more exciting. One option is a short voyage from Greenwich Pier, past the O2 to Greenwich Peninsula, to take a high-level sculpture trail including works by Anthony Gormley and Damien Hirst. Alternatively, a day’s ticket gives cruisers the opportunity to hop on and off the boats as and when they please to take in sights such as Tower Bridge, The Globe Theatre, The Houses of Parliament and The Tate Modern Art Gallery.
Even then, there is still more to do. It is possible to book a tour of the historic museum at Blackheath Golf Club, step from Eastern to Western Hemisphere at the meridian and take a traditional lunch of jellied eels and mash in Greenwich Market. Greenwich and Blackheath certainly deserve a three or four-day visit.
For more reviews and ideas for staycation breaks visit our Travel channel.Last modified: May 18, 2021