My parents came down to London to visit me a couple of weeks ago. They left around midday on the Friday and as I had an afternoon free, I decided to visit the Cutty Sark.
The Cutty Sark is a tea clipper, the last one to survive. She was named from the poem ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ by Robert Burns, in which the character of Nannie the witch wears a ‘cutty sark’ – an old Scottish term for a short nightdress. Launched in 1869, she enjoyed a varied career transporting tea from China, wool from Australia and various cargoes to and from Portugal and the Americas before being severely damaged in 1916. In 1922 a retired windjammer skipper, Wilfred Dowman, set out to buy her and brought her back to the UK where she was restored. The ship was towed into a dry dock in Greenwich in 1954, where she has remained ever since.
When I was a child, I visited Cutty Sark with my family although we didn’t actually look round the ship: there are, however, several photos of us standing outside it. At the time it was rather run down, so I was pleased to hear that a refurbishment programme was planned (this began in 2006). Though severely hampered by a fire partway through the restoration, the programme was completed and the Cutty Sark reopened to the public just over a year ago, on 25 April 2012.
I was astounded when I walked up to the ship from the DLR station that shares its name. It is exactly where it always was, but the ship and its setting have been transformed. The ship rests on a raised glass canopy, beautifully restored.
I paid my entry fee and headed to the centre of the ship. I sat and watched a short video surrounded by a number of boxes and the smell of tea. It was very atmospheric. Next I headed to a higher floor with more exhibits. My favourite thing was the seat designed to mimic the movement of the waves: sitting on it was so relaxing!
I went on deck and explored further: the outside has clearly been just as painstakingly restored as the inside.
Here, I stopped to look round the captain’s quarters, which were fairly swanky, a clear improvement on the narrow bunks used by the crew. Still, I don’t suppose it makes a great deal of difference where you are when the ship is swaying every which way.
I went down in the lift to the lower ground floor, which has been cleverly designed to fit under the ship while still letting through plenty of natural light. I enjoyed looking at the motley collection of figureheads.
The view of the ship from underneath is pretty impressive.
Visiting the Cutty Sark is pretty expensive, but it’s worth it just to marvel at the brilliant job the restorers have done with it. I was hugely impressed.
Address: Cutty Sark Clipper Ship, King William Walk, Greenwich, London, SE10 9HT
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm
Prices: Adult £13.50, Concession £11.50, Child £8.50; under-5s free. Combined tickets with the Royal Observatory are also available.