Saturday saw an early rise as Heather, Gemma and I headed to view the striking masts at the Greenwich Tall Ships Festival 2014, almost fifty ships gracing the Thames from maritime Greenwich down to Woolwich.
We gathered at Heather’s and took the overcrowded bus to Greenwich, arriving just as they began to shut the roads off to even buses. The Royal Naval College gardens had been transformed into a row of food stores thronged with people sitting in the hazy sunshine to enjoy lunch as shanties were sung on the bandstand. We made our way through the throng to the riverside, finding a nice spot with a good view of the ships both moored just off the bank and making their way up and down the river (“cheating” by obviously not being under sail power).
There were a good number of the ships passed us by heading one way or the other (or both in a couple of cases) before we decided to make for some lunch. The sandwich place ran out of falafel but as I’m still not sure what that is I didn’t care (it annoyed Heather though). After sandwiches and some cake we wandered though a little encampment with historical re-enactments and round the maritime museum shop (looking for a model boat for Gemma, though such things seemed strangely lacking both in that shop and the whole festival). The plan was to travel to Woolwich Arsenal to see some more of the ships, which we’d intended to do by the laid on clipper service but the obviously huge queue (estimated by the marshals as over an hour wait) put that idea to bed. You’d think the organisers would have realised the demand the weekend would bring and had more boats—or even cooler some of the tall ships—on ferry duty. Quite glad we hadn’t bought pre-booked tickets.
Not fancying standing around looking at nothing much for so long we headed back out of the festival village. Gemma’s highlight of the day came on passing back through the little historical camp, with an encounter with some Chinese water dragons. She got to hold and stroke one while a second was balanced on her head.
We were further delayed on the way out as the crews paraded around the site (and by a couple of giant lobsters being taken for a walk). Once we were clear of the crowds the road closures caused more issues as the nearest operating bus stop seemed to be quite some distance away. Fortunately it turned out not to be too far to Maze Hill station and a remarkably quiet train took us to Woolwich.
The actual festival site could have done with some better signage (as could the oyster reader at platform level to tell us not to tap out there due to the barriers later). Once found it did at least offer souvenir opportunities though these did seem limited and distinctly un-nautical (t-shirts, keyrings, fridge magnets. The only directly ship related item seemed to be a captains hat).
As we approached the river Heather was delighted to find a carousel, which of course she had to have a go on while Gemma and I quietly shook our heads at her and explored Peter Burke’s Assembly sculpture (another thing which could use a sign; I had guessed at it being a Gormley work—quite the feel of one).
It’s a pity that on finally arriving at the riverside one is confronted with a tall concrete wall. We found a vantage point a little way along though to look at more docked ships and those passing by.
Some of these things are really impressive, and it would have been marvellous to see them fully in sail but that wasn’t to happen until midweek, so we had to make do with the few sails unfolded and the intricate rigging.
Inevitably there was only so many ships to see though, and we were getting hungry. We made our way back away from the Thames, pausing long enough for photos with a Jack Sparrow look-a-like (fortunately not the real Johnny Depp or I may not have got Heather back!). We hunted for another bus, eventually finding one next to the tube/DLR station (which gave an opportunity to see the ugly Tesco development which pipped Gateshead to the Carbuncle Cup. We rode the bus (hate buses!) all the way back to Orpington where dinner was had in Hisar. Very nice, though I was beginning to feel a little under dressed with the smart birthday and wedding (at least it looked a bit like one) party which arrived. It was the first time Gemma had had Turkish so we had to talk her through the menu, but she seemed to enjoy her chicken shish and baklava so we may get her back!
A final bus home let everyone head for tired for their bed, sleepy from a lovely day.
A whole page worth of photographs were taken!