What is Cutty Sark?
Cutty Sark is the name of a whisky, or a pub, or a hotel, or a legend. However, the original Cutty Sark was a tea clipper.
What is a clipper?
A very fast sailing ship. Cutty Sark was a cargo ship from 1869 to 1922.
Where did Cutty Sark sail to?
At first, directly from London to China. Later, she sailed to Sydney to pick up coal and then on to Shanghai to pick up tea.
Where does the name Cutty Sark come from?
Her name derives from the poem Tam O’Shanter written by Scottish poet Robert Burns. In a nutshell, Tam, a farmer, is chased by a witch called Nannie. She was wearing a short shift called cutty sark, an archaic Scottish term. She managed to cut Tam’s horse’s tail. The witch is represented by the figurehead on the Cutty Sark’s bow, complete with horse’s tail in her hand.
To visit Cutty Sark, you need to make your way to Greenwich, a 20 minute rail journey from Cannon Street station in London. You may want to purchase your ticket online ahead of time to avoid long lines during peak season and holidays.
You walk down Victorian and Georgian streets to King William Walk, and then down to the river and Cutty Sark. You’re greeted with a strange vision; a glass, steel and wood construction that looks like a spaceship with old fashioned masts.
You go inside the Visitors’ Centre and up to the various decks. Here, you learn about the clipper’s history and see what it would have looked like back then and what the sailors’ living conditions were. You also learn about the tea trade mainly between China and the UK and other trade routes round the world. Maybe even some world history too.
You climb the narrow steep stairs to the main deck, where you’re regaled with views of Greenwich, the River Thames and famous London landmarks in the distance.
You decide it’s time for a cup of tea and yes, maybe a slice of Victoria sponge cake you like so much. You make your way to the Even Keel Café underneath the bronze-clad hull.
A colourful group of people at the far end catches your attention. You realize, on closer inspection, that it’s a collection of figureheads. This is the largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads in the world. They come mostly from 19th century vessels. You cock your ear, trying to catch what they’re saying. They might just be reminiscing about old adventures on high seas, of braving foul weather to reach port and deliver their precious cargo.
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