The weather gods were not favouring us today, our last day in London. It was gloomy and forecast to rain a lot. It’s too bad we couldn’t have switched the British Museum tickets for the Tower of London tickets and gone to the museum today. That’s the chance you take pre-booking things online. And because we had tickets, we didn’t want to waste them and there is a lot to see indoors at the Tower.
Today’s mode of transportation is the Underground since it’s quite a way to go by bus. We got there (and have I mentioned lately how many damn stairs there are in this city????) and it was raining very lightly. It was before 11 a.m. but the crowds were already thronging. It’s Easter Sunday and that’s part of the reason. The other part is that the Tower of London is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Combine the two and you have epic crowds even on a rainy day like today. I can’t imagine how bad it would have been on a sunny holiday Sunday!
Because we’d had our tickets, we didn’t have to queue up to buy them. But the queue to actually get in was tremendously long. Still, that didn’t seem to take too long. Down through the gates, stop to have my handbag checked for security and we’re in. Where to start?
We wandered a little, had a look at the Traitor’s Gate leading out to the Thames and took in a small display on Torture machines. We went into a gift shop to escape the rain for a bit. Graham saw a couple of little souvenirs he wanted but we didn’t linger too long as it was a little too warm and a lot too crowded. Back out into the rain and we decided to head for the central White Tower, the oldest part of the complex.
When William the Conqueror and the Normans took over England, William built an intimidating wooden palisade on this spot and it was later rebuilt in stone. It was the monarch’s residence, or one of them, for centuries. The walls we see around the tower now were added over the years subsequent to William’s reign in two concentric circles around the White Tower, with guard towers and gates at various points around. The Tower has been, in addition to the royal residence, a prison, a mint, and even a menagerie/zoo.
The Crown Jewels are currently on display in one of the other buildings in the compound and the queue for that was unbelievably long. Even though this was Graham’s first visit, he was not inclined to stand in that lineup in the rain! Even though I’ve been here before, I haven’t seen the Royal Armoury in the White Tower and we were both enthusiastic about that.
Up more stairs on the outside of the White Tower to the entrance. The armouries did not disappoint! It is chock full of armour and weapons from eras as early as the 14th century forward. There are a couple of suits of armour that belonged to Henry VIII and several other monarchs. There were displays of armour for horses and even children and a dwarf. Some of it was very intricately decorated and all of it was polished to a gleaming shine. This first room was, unfortunately, not that large and with all the displays taking so much room, it was really crowded.
Up even more stairs, now we can see the “great hall” and some old Norman fireplaces. There are more displays here, more armour and weapons and lots of information boards. I really liked the Elizabethan era armour. In one area there was a display about the Executions in the Tower and it turns out there really haven’t been that many considering how much you’ve heard about it. Most of them took place from the mid-16th century to the end of it. You only had the privilege of being executed inside the walls of the Tower in relative “privacy” if you had royal blood or were particularly important. Some people that were imprisoned here were executed outside the walls on Tower Hill.
One of the most chilling exhibits was a case featuring a “block” with a carved out nook for your head, an axe and a black metal mask that an executioner would have worn rather than a black hood as you see in films. It might not have been something they all wear but someone obviously did and the creepy thing about it was a skewed mouth with white teeth painted on it in a horrifying grimace.
Yet even more stairs led to the top floor. There were lots of weapons here, some more modern and international items. There were also some interactive hands on displays for kids. Oh and one really neat display was a huge dragon made from various bits of armour and weaponry, with gleaming red lights for eyes! Very impressive.
At the end, you have to go back down many, many stairs in a spiral staircase. There are a few more steps up and then you’re outside and must climb down to the ground. Are we tired yet? We found our way to the chapel but it seemed to be closed and we couldn’t go in and have a look there. We stopped into Beauchamp Tower where there was graffiti carved into the walls. I didn’t see it but there is apparently some authored by Guilford Dudley, the husband of Jane the ill-fated 9 days’ Queen (the one between Edward VI and Bloody Mary I)
We also had a look into the Bloody Tower, most famous as the place where the two young princes disappeared and were likely killed during the reign of Richard III. They also had Sir Walter Raleigh’s quarters set up in the Bloody Tower as well. He was imprisoned three times, finally meeting the axe in 1618. They also had a room up a narrow winding staircase where the Princes were held. Graham went up there and said it was just an empty room. He had to go out of there onto the walls to come back down so took a few photos while he was up there.
On the ground, I spied a parade of the Beefeaters in their scarlet and gold coats coming towards the corner of the green where I was waiting for him. Looked like some sort of changing of the guard except they weren’t dressed like the military guard who was standing by the guard post by the Queen’s House. That’s a half-timbered building at one corner of the Tower compound. Shortly after that, we saw another line up of a group of veterans being inspected as well.
Here’s a few more of our photos of the Tower and the armoury.
By now we’d had enough of being damp and wet and chilled and decided we’d seen enough for one day. Our feet agreed. We had people to meet and a pub to go to. We made our way out the exit which is along the river and facing Tower Bridge.
The pub we are heading for is called the Doric Arch, a little pub just outside the Euston train station. You must go upstairs from the ground level, though. And the toilets are down stairs from the ground level, meaning you have two flights to go down and back up if you need the loo. *sigh* Anyway, our friends arrived a little later and we had a lovely few hours in the nice, warm pub. They didn’t have pear cider but they did have Kopparberg apple cider so I had that and it was very good, as well. The food there was really wonderful. My beef pie was hot and full of big chunks of meat and mushrooms with lovely hot gravy.
Finally it was time to leave. We said goodbye to our mates and caught a bus two stops up Euston Road to Warren St. Station next to the hotel, picked up some sandwiches in Tesco for later on this evening and tucked up in the hotel where it was warm and dry! We made tea and coffee and spent our last evening together.
Monday was an early start. I had booked an airport transfer service for 7:30 so it was too early for the hotel breakfast, which started later on weekends and holidays. Graham headed to the train station and I to Heathrow where I got breakfast after I checked in, amazed that my suitcase wasn’t overweight! Picked up a few items in duty free and waited for my gate to open. The Luggage Gods favoured me and my bags arrived with me.
Another holiday ended and another one always in the works to be planned.