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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