We promised the kids we would go on a little adventure, said we would be sailors for the day. First we jumped on the Thames Clipper Greenwich, so much more fun than the tube and the best way to enjoy a sunny day and views of the Thames. On arrival it’s only a couple minutes walk to the Cutty Sark, an admirably renovated Tea Clipper.
Ever wondered what a Tea Clipper is? Extremely fast sail boats, built in the 19th century. Tea was such a precious cargo in those days that exporting it from China back to Europe or the US brought competition and literally races. The ships would leave filled with manufactured items, beer, wine, spirits and come back loaded with huge wooden boxes filled with tea leaves. Built in Scotland in 1869, the Cutty Sark was one of the last. Not the fastest but quite fast enough, she could do the return trip in 122 days. Sadly, with the Suez Canal opening, steamboats took over. And so the she started her second life, exporting wool to Australia.
In 1895, the ship was bought by the Portuguese company Ferreira and renamed as such. She remained a cargo ship till 1922. After that she became a practice ship, first in Cornwall then Thames Nautical Training College. Last but not least, she was placed on display in Greenwich for the public’s greatest pleasure. UNESCO added her to their list of exceptional historical heritage. It is indeed, quite an exceptional piece.
Today, she remains nestled in a glass case protecting her hull. You walk right underneath, entering the amazing steel and wood structure. There is plenty to learn on the two levels through videos, games and signs. Kids love it, there is so much for them to do it actually proves difficult to drag them away. The stairs then lead you onto the deck. Her sails might not be there anymore but the ropes do give you a very clear idea of how complex it all was, how powerful too. Look around – you can step in the sailors’ tiny rooms, even try and have a quick nap in their narrow and uncomfortable bunks. The kitchen is no bigger. Makes you appreciate your own home, trust me.
Don’t leave just yet – the best is yet to come! You can now go right under the boat. Yes, underneath. It’s quite impressive to see the metallic hull (to stop barnacles for hitchhiking on it) so close. There is a café there and now the space is sometimes used as a theatre too (click here for the program).
So where does the name come from? A poem by Robert Burns about the witch Nannie Dee. She wears, in the story, a sark (a linen shirt) that is too cutty (too short). Hence the white figurehead at the front of the ship, shirt open. Seen by Tam, coming back drunk from the pub, she will chase him but will only succeed to grab the tail of his horse. Don’t miss the rather nice collection of figureheads on the lower floor!
After the visit, if the tide is low, you can walk a little on the Thames bank, sand and pebbles on this side. Or go to the (free) Greenwich Maritime Museum for even more nautical fun…
♥ Cutty Sark ♥