Saturday, September 17, 2011

World Heritage Update: Greenwich

I've been to more World Heritage Sites in the UK than any other country. That's a reflection of the fact that I've been the UK more than any other country except the US, and there are a lot of sites in a relatively compact area in the UK. There are 28 in the UK, of which 22 are on the island of Great Britain. Four of those are even located in Greater London, but until this month I had missed out on one, Maritime Greenwich.
View from "Octagon Room" in Observatory

With several hours between my arrival in Paddington Station and when I had to catch a train out of town, I decided to head in to see it.

Ye Olde Telescope
The Tube does not actually go to London, rather something called the "Docklands Light Railway" does. For a visitor, it's like the Tube, but with a different kind of train. Nevertheless, when I got to the transfer point at the Tower of London, I was overcome by a desire to approach Greenwich by boat, so I transferred to the Thames Clipper service instead. It cost me a bit of time, but it seemed appropriate.

Once I got to Greenwich, I had time for essentially only one attraction before things closed and I needed to head back to catch my train. I chose the Royal Observatory, and it turned out to be an excellent choice.

The Royal Observatory was founded in order to solve the problem of calculating longitude from a ship, and the Observatory now has an excellent exhibit with a very nice audio guide that tells the story. Despite the fact that the more obvious way to calculate longitude was to have accurate star charts (hence the founding of an observatory), the problem was also solved by John Harrison, a clockmaker who was able to build a more accurate chronometer than anyone had previously been able to carry on a ship. (Pendulums don't work too well at sea.) The story is fascinating, but I won't re-tell it here. (There's a book called Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time from last year on the subject.) But it's pretty interesting to see how an observatory got to be the keeper of the world's standard time.

So that's 50 World Heritage Sites I've visited (more than one-quarter in the UK!), and the last one in London. I'm back up to 5.3%. There are only 3 sites in the southern part of Great Britain that I haven't visited -- Canterbury (a couple of hours from Cambridge, which I may visit next year), Dorset (a couple of hours from where I usually am in the UK), and Cornwall (the very southwestern tip of England). So I'm going to have to start diversifying. I have a chance to be near four sites in the first week in December, but even if I am, it would take a lot of doing to visit them all in what would be a very busy week. We'll see.

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