22 March 2009

East, west, bike's best

Greenwich was a delightful place to be on a bike yesterday. Not so Blackheath: it was encircled by cars, in which gridlocked families were bitterly complaining about the traffic. Greenwich centre was pretty jammed with vehicles too.

But the park, closed off to traffic, was a relaxing trundle up that hill to the observatory. The view from here (right, see larger pic) is pretty stunning: the splendour of the old Naval College, now home to Trinity College of Music, with the blocks of Canary Wharf behind and, over to the east, the exoskeleton of the O2 dome.

And there's the chance to straddle the meridian line. Here, balanced on a knife edge, are the two hemispheres: on one side the mystic east of Woolwich and Dartford and beyond; on the other, the wild west of Lewisham and Brixton.

A steel monument and strip by the Royal Observatory, heavy with queues of visitors (right) intent on Twitpic-ing a holiday snap, show the zero line.

Except it's not the GPS zero. The line shown by the observatory is the 1884 meridian; today's zero, at least the one that your GPS will show as 0.0000 longitude, is a hundred metres east in the park (map, right: the marked line is in blue, the GPS zero line is in red).

No doubt someone, possibly me, is planning a hilarious cycling travelogue that involves cycling down the zero-longitude line inside Britain. You'd start at the line's northernmost point in the world on land (a caravan park near Tunstall on a bleak East Yorkshire plain - yes, I cycled there) and end at the place it leaves the south coast, somewhere off Bramber Avenue on the promenade of Peacehaven, West Sussex.

View Larger Map

En route you'd go through some surprises, such as a Greenwichesque meridian marker on the bracing promenade at Cleethorpes. (And you'd have to jag west off the line to cross the Humber via the Bridge, of course.)

If I ever did write such a book I'd have to put aside plenty of time, though. Our afternoon trundle to Greenwich, Blackheath and back managed to occupy six hours in covering about ten miles. But then we did leave the western hemisphere to do so.


  1. Does this mean that the Meridian markers just west of Cambridge (eg this photo ) are in the wrong places too?

  2. Yes, looks like Toft is in the decadent West. The map you link to suggests a longitude of about 0.0026. (The picture I link to in my post shows a handheld GPS on the Greenwich meridian line displaying 0.0015 or so.)

  3. I'll take out the GPS and check next time I cycle pass the meridian marker on the way to Toft

  4. Several weeks later I cycled past the meridian marker between Malton and Orwell in Cambridgeshire. For a photo, a GPS reading, a discrepancy, and a helpful explanation in a comment, see my blog.

  5. I was there last week, and my GPS indicated the meridian line was at W 00 00' 0.095" so I think the picture above is accurate. There is a tree to the east which really is at 0 on the GPS (it's the shadow just to the left of the red line).