Greenwich Hill review
I climbed my first hill when I was six (six or seven, something like that). Every hill I ascended before that was either on my dad's back or in the back of a sputtering car, but then my parents took me on a fun day out to Box Hill which turned out to be not so much fun. I only had little legs, little feet, a pair of flimsy plimsoles, and when I got to the top there was nothing to see. Just the tops of the trees as far as the eye could see. So nowadays if I climb a hill then it has to be worth it. If I'm going to end up sitting on the soaking grass hyperventilating for five minutes then I want to see a sunset, shooting stars, fireworks, rainbows, edge of the world, or a view of London's skyline.
This is a proper hill. You can tell it's a proper hill because they built an observatory on top of it. If you're standing at the bottom of the slope then the telescope dome might be hidden behind a giant tree so you'll have to shift your position a bit. That brick building is where the Astronomer Royal used to live in the days of Charles II. When Christoper Wren was busy building St Paul's he was also doing some work on this -- but I'll be describing all of that in my review of the Royal Observatory. Let's just stand at the bottom of the hill for five minutes. Or ten minutes. Take as long as you like because this is definitely going to tire you out.
There are two ways to climb it: the hard way, and another hard way (there is no easy way). There's no cable car to the top, no Snowdon stream train. If you want to climb this hill then you have to walk. Can you see that winding path up the front? It's probably full of tired people bent over double, hauling themselves up hand over hand, using the barrier like a rope, palms pressed against the top of their thighs while they take a two-minute breather. It's one step at a time up there. One puff at a time. That's the easiest way to do it. But if you're more adventurous then you can walk straight up the grass ski-slope (they sometimes barricade it off to stop people slipping down it). Just keep your eyes fixed on the statue of General Wolfe and don't stop till you see the hot dog sausage stand on the summit. That sausage stand is your reward for doing some exercise.
They cook their burgers and sausages from scratch up here so you'll have to lean against a tree while it sizzles on the grill. I've got the smell of cooking burgers and an old David Niven-type geezer blowing smoke over from a cigarillo cigar. The conkers are dropping off the trees and landing on the car bonnets and picnic tables all around us. I've had a few autumn leaves spiral straight into my face as well.
The view is pretty great, even on a foggy autumn morning. You can usually see the skyscrapers in The City and the turrets of Tower Bridge from here, but it's all lost in a whitewash today. All I've got is the long drop down to Queen's House and the Old Royal Naval College, plus the concrete forest of Canary Wharf behind. I can see the wooden masts of the Cutty Sark and the mustard-coloured struts of the O2 Arena but that's about it, the fog has erased the rest, wiped it all out like a giant mistake. London has gone. I can't even see where the river bend ends. There are a few white streaks in the sky and a few white wakes in the water as the Thames Clipper lines up to the pier but it's far away to hear (too far away to even see it's moving). It's like you're spying on the world from a distance. Everything looks like a fudged photo, a frozen photo that doesn't move.
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