Considering how busy Greenwich Park gets – especially at the moment – it’s incredible to think that there is an (as far as I know public) space, right in the middle of town, that can be almost guaranteed empty at any given moment of the day.

It’s not even hard to get down onto Greenwich beach – the grand King’s Steps, that have seen Royalty and bigwigs arriving at the hospital for centuries, aren’t even gated. And at the other end, by the power station, that gate that always looks like it’s locked, isn’t.

It wasn’t always a bleak, empty space - if you look at this early 20th Century view of kiddies playing on the beach there isn’t an inch to spare – and the Thames was a hell of a lot filthier then than it is now.

I took a stroll along there at the weekend, nipping down the steps by the power station, and wandering along an almost deserted beach. I understand that at one point the authorities brought in tons of sand to make it more beach-like (all gone now, of course) but even along the little stretch between Crowley’s wharf and Greenwich pier, the number of different types of riverbed is remarkable – mud, gravel, pebbles, rock – and yes, even a little coarse sand.

The guy I was talking to the other day about the archaeological excavation to be done at Cutty Sark Gardens was telling me that the reason the Vikings (and their successors) chose that particular bit of beach to land on was that it was most suitable to drag the boats up the strand, and the remains of ancient chains and broken anchors are still to be seen. One thing I didn’t see, apart from a part-submerged tractor tyre, was any modern rubbish – not a coke can or baby’s nappy in sight.

It’s a real pleasure to crunch along the beach. I collected a whole hoard of treasure. In – what – fifteen minutes? – I found broken clay pipes, pottery shards, animal bones, oyster shells and what looks like a cross between a brooch pin and a Victorian hypodermic needle. I will, of course be reporting such important finds to MOLAS…

Don’t, BTW, try to enter or exit  the beach via the stairs outside the Trafalgar Tavern. They have been (somewhat inexpertly) closed off using a bit of mesh and some wire. I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but I’m guessing it’s the Trafalgar Tavern owners trying to avoid a lawsuit from drunken revellers falling down the steps.

If you’ve never been down onto the beach at Greenwich, you really have to give it a go. At some times of the year the steps get a bit green and slimy, so you have to take care – but show me a beach in Britain where there isn’t a spot of seaweed from time to time.

We need to reclaim it as a space for Greenwichians. Maybe someone could rent out deckchairs? 99, anyone?

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11 Comments to “Beachcombing”

  1. Fascinating stuff. I really ought to get down there and have a look around. My Dad used to take me down to the last little remaining bit of sand in front of the Royal Naval College but I haven’t been down there for years. There must be all sorts of things down there.

  2. Paul says:

    The college – or is it the Maritime Museum? – do occasional architectural ‘digs’ which are well worth attending, especially with kids, as their experts can distinguish yer Tudor bricks from the Wickes version, etc.

    They have one event scheduled for 14 August:

  3. Ebspig says:

    It’s the Thames Discovery Programme which runs the archaeological events along the Thames foreshore. Well worth taking part – wellies or bare feet recommended!

  4. Benedict says:

    I used to go mudlarking down there all the time. I would find loads of bones, some huge oxen shoulder blades, which I would then turn into bits of sculpture.
    It is amazingly free from litter, I think most of it gets washed out to sea unfortunately.
    It is I agree , one of Greenwichs most under used resources.
    Mrs Benedict was convinced she would find Roman urns and Anglo Saxon gold , alas we found a lot of mobile phones and empty wallets/purses, which I suspect were left from modern day pilaging by Hoodie Vikings.

  5. scared of chives says:

    TGP – is that your square-shaped display of stuff? If so, it’s very lovely…could be framed – I’ll take it :-)

  6. Indeed it is. In fact it’s still lain out like that on my kitchen table. But you could make one yourself – all it takes is about ten minutes on the beach when the tide’s out (natch.)

    Oh and Ebspig – I totally endorse the wellies – but not sure about bare feet – some of those stones are pretty sharp down there…

  7. Paul C says:

    Does anyone know the current fate of the Powerstation pier? A while ago I heard it was to be taken down (coal no longer being delivered into it) to redevelop the riverside, but these plans come & go so frequently…

  8. My choice would be a cafe – or just a viewing point – don’t you think it would be a fab place to see the Thames from?

  9. Benedict says:

    Ballroom and whitebait/oyster/champagne bar……or a little museum of stuff/artifacts found on the beach…with a champagne bar.

  10. Mike says:

    There’s still lots of sand down by the rowing club. Most of it up at the footpath though!

  11. Sal says:

    Just wondered – how come there are loads of animal bones on Greenwich beach? It was quite spooky but it was like some sort of animal graveyard when I went beachcombing down there last year. What’s going on?