I fell in love with Greenwich a while ago and am now in the process of trying to buy a place in Charlton (a few mins from Westcombe Park). I’ve read your site with interest and wonder if you would mind giving me some tips on how to get to know the area better. I was planning to stop off at Little Nan’s cocktail tea party tomorrow and criss-cross the area on foot , but would appreciate any suggestions that you think might help someone who’s already inclined to like the area start appreciating it even more.
The Phantom replies:
Every Phantophile will have their own suggestions here, so I suggest you read any comments as well as mine, but in my view you have the right idea. Burning shoe leather is the only way to really get to know Greenwich – indeed, in many places it’s the only way to get to them as bikes/trains/cars/buses just don’t go.
Don’t expect to do it all at once – there’s a lot of Greenwich and it’s all very different. It divides up into discrete areas and it’s worth getting to know them all, then exploring the bits you like best in greater depth.
I’d start with the vistas. There are two main high-up viewpoints, the overcrowded but splendid lookout by Gen. Wolfe up at the Observatory and the much-less known Point at the top of Point Hill, looking out towards London, a bit of a faff to find but worth seeking out. My favourite way of getting there is to fiddle up through the blocks of new-build housing – there are steep steps – from Royal Hill then take the ‘country lane’ to the bottom of the jutty-out bit, before taking even steeper steps up to the top, though many just approach from Blackheath.
Then there’s the classic ‘Canaletto’ view from Island Gardens by the foot tunnel, I am rather fond of the one from Enderby Wharf on the Thames Path (we’ll get to that) and there’s an excellent bench on the ridge at the west end of Greenwich Park that bears a lazy afternoon’s sit.
I would then suggest you take the Thames Path all the way round from, say the Cutty Sark through to the ferry at Woolwich. You can go even futher both ways of course, and soon, when the famous swing bridge at the Creek is built (anyone have any updates on that one?) it will be easier to go west than ever. You should see the Peninsula while you can – it is changing at an alarming rate and will soon be all dreary apartments in glass and steel – enjoy what’s left sooner rather than later. Don’t be tempted to cut-off the very tip of the peninsula and nip straight across to where the Pilot Inn is, you’ll miss good stuff.
I personally adore the cable car, though it is not universally loved (it’s not terribly useful at the moment – I prefer to look at it as infrastructure for the future that Phantoms can play on now) I have one of those ten-trip tickets that makes it easy to just nip across, have a coffee at the Crystal (the weird looking glass building the other side) and then come back.
I’m assuming you’ve done the tourist stuff – the Maritime Museum, Observatory, ORNC etc, but once you’ve done the vanilla versions, they all repay regular visits and there’s always stuff on. Smaller gems like the Fan Museum are also wonderful.
Continuing with ‘areas’ of Greenwich, you should explore the areas around Hyde Vale, Crooms Hill and Diamond Terrace – just wander around (there’s an excellent vista from Diamond Terrace, too) then enjoy the pubs in Royal Hill, especially the Richard I (the Tolly) and Greenwich Meantime’s own Union.
The area around the Ashburnham Triangle, just to the west of there, is also worth a walk – there’s an excellent booklet on it, available at the visitor centre, by Diana Rimmell. Don’t forget to visit the Discover Greenwich Centre BTW, it’s a fabulous intro to the area.
You’ll need to walk up Maze Hill, see John Vanbrugh’s castle at the top of it and admire the view – perhaps before taking a LOOOOOONG walk around the park. Don’t miss the perimeters – and make sure you see the deer at the back. Keep an eye out for open days at Westcombe Park Woodlands, just behind it – or better still volunteer as a friend.
I am a big personal fan of East Greenwich. It’s a little harder to love, but for me it has a gritty reality that the west is just too shiny for. And you should check out Blackheath Standard as it’s closer to you in Charlton.
Which brings me to your new stamping ground. You will not be there long before you feel the need to at least see inside Charlton House, peek around St Lukes Church and wish that Inigo Jones’s loo was still open.
But to get to really love the place you need to go to a Charlton match – the place has to be one of the family-friendliest grounds in London.
Wandering around the backstreets of Charlton itself will reap rewards if you keep an eye out
and, the other side, over at Woolwich there is also much to enjoy, though perhaps that’s for another post.
But for me, to really get to love Greenwich is to get involved. Join stuff, go to the theatre (the pantos are superb) look out for events, join the Picturehouse, rootle round the market, drink the beer, try the pubs (I’m a big fan of the Pelton Arms and Vanbrugh Tavern, both in East Greenwich) listen to the choir at St Alfeges, visit the Advent Windows, go to the Heritage Centre at Woolwich and above all, keep your eyes open for weird stuff, which is everywhere if you only care to look.
And if you see something particularly splendid, tell me, eh…