After our wild adventures from the day before, I thought it might be nice to slow things down a bit and spend some time "in the country", a whopping 10 miles (and over an hour's travel time) away from the city center. After finding an interdimensional portal at the train station...
...we found ourselves in the sleepy little town of Chislehurtst. Our target? The Chislehurst Caves!
As you can see from the map, the caves were natural tunnels under London used by the Romans, the Saxons, and even the Ancient Druids! This area was thought to have been used for ritual child sacrifices thousands of years ago:
Or at least, that's the story they used to tell in Victorian times. The caves are one of several examples we saw on our trip where humans have been in an area so long that they forgot what really happened. Then some enterprising "historian" came along hundreds of years later to spin an interesting tale, and it was only in modern times with modern methods that we have a good idea of what actually happened. Of course, someone may be saying the same thing about us in a few hundred years as well, so who knows.
Anyways, modern historians have determined that the caves are not naturally occurring, but are in fact man-made tunnels created to mine chalk and flint. Not only that, but they weren't built 10,000 years ago in the time of the druids, 2,000 years ago in the time of the Romans, or 1,600 year ago when the Saxons conquered Britain. The earliest parts of the cave probably "only" date to about 800 years ago. Older than any historic locations in The Colonies, to be sure, but a lot less impressive than the story once sold.
In the 20th Century, the caves were used for munitions storage during the First World War, then as an air raid shelter capable of sheltering 15,000 people during the Second World War.
Then in the 60's someone built a stage and some minor acts played there. Probably nobody you've ever heard of, really. I think on guy was named Jimmy, and another one was named Dave Something-or-other.
After that I found an awesome pub in the area where we could have lunch. But it was 11am and apparently Sundays are fairly slow in England so it didn't open for another hour! So we hopped on another train and headed closer to the city, stopping in a charming little town called Blackheath. We chose a restaurant called The Hare and Billet, and were surprised to find, in stark contrast to the previous restaurant, that they were completely booked for lunch already! However, they managed to squeeze us in (they could definitely tell we were lost, hungry tourists). As luck would have it, Sunday lunch means Sunday roasts! I had the pork belly (of course) and Tashia had the more traditional beef roast. Both were served with various local vegetables, and of course, a Yorkshire pudding. It was all fantastic!
(As a side note, I'll take this opportunity to mention how reasonable the food prices were. Considering we were in a major metropolitan area with a very high cost of living, and considering that we were hurt by a weak exchange rate, I think our lunch was a steal at less than 50 bucks including tip and 20% sales tax. Not a small amount of money, to be sure, but we easily would have paid as much if not more at a trendy restaurant in downtown Cincinnati for the same food.)
After lunch we took a stroll through Greenwich Park, which was surprisingly large, considering how close we were to central London. And everything was so green! We couldn't have picked a more beautiful time to visit!
Almost smack dab in the middle of the park was the Royal Observatory, which is the very basis of time itself! In a manner of speaking. You see, the observatory straddles the Prime Meridian line, and was for a very long time the official keeper of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), upon which all other time zones are based. It also used to be the home of the Astronomer Royal, who was the Who's Who of all things space and time in Britain. Today it's a museum, and a rather crowded one at that (especially on a nice day in spring). But it was very interesting to see the history of clocks, timekeeping, and the understanding of time itself. (Side note: for a more in-depth look at some of the history of the park, check out this awesome and hilarious video.)
After that it was a short walk (all downhill, thankfully), into into Greenwich city center. Our target: the Cutty Sark, one of the fastest tea clippers ever built to shuttle tea into Britain from China. Unfortunately, it was built in 1869, just 5 days after the Suez Canal was opened to traders, which drastically pushed trade to Asia in favor of steam ships. After 8 trips to China, the Cutty changed to transporting wool from Australia (and held a speed record for 10 years)... until that got taken over by steam ships as well. Today it's a museum on the southern bank of the Thames river.