Grand Ascent



View of Greenwich Park from the north, Francis Place, 1676:

© British Museum (CC BY NC- 4.0)


The Grand Ascent, commonly known as the Giant Steps, was a series of 40-yard-wide (36 metres) grass terraces cut into the hill up to the Royal Observatory in the seventeenth century. They were part of a formal landscape design created for King Charles II by André Le Nôtre, the architect of the Palace of Versailles gardens in France.

Sir William Boreman, Clerk Comptroller of the Household to Charles II, obtained approval for the construction of the Grand Ascent in 1661. They were constructed between September 1661 and June 1662 and edged with Scot’s pine trees (Pinus sylvestris) in 1664.

As the works proceeded from 1662, Charles II planned to add a cascade down the hillside. In a letter to his sister in October 1664, he wrote, ‘Pray let Le Nôtre goe on with the modell and only tell him that this addition that I can bring water to the top of the hill so that he might add much to the beauty of the descents by a cascade of water’ 

In April 1662, the Grand Ascent was referred to by the diarist Samuel Pepys when he wrote, ‘To Greenwich by water, Sir William Pen and I walked into the park where the king hath planted trees and made steps up to the castle which is very magnificent.’ 

The Grand Ascent was illustrated on many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century maps and paintings, with the number of steps shown varying from seven to 12. 

The steps have suffered from erosion and degradation due to the number of visitors to the park and are no longer visible. A major element of the Greenwich Park Revealed project will be to restore the Grand Ascent in 2024.