Wellington Arch review
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I'm guessing that most people come to Wellington Arch for just one reason: to have a sneaky peek over the wall into Buckingham Palace. They're hoping to see the Queen sunbathing on her manicured lawn, or Prince Philip testing out his shotgun on the sparrows. Alas, the view into the gardens is quite disappointing... but more on that later.
This place is like a Tardis inside, and a lot bigger than you'd imagine from the front. They've got a few rooms on a couple of floors, which they use for exhibitions. At the time of writing they've got a bit about the Battle of Waterloo, but it might have disappeared by the time you arrive. The most interesting exhibit for me is always the permanent one, which tells you about the architecture of the arch itself. And yes, I know exactly what you're thinking -- yawn, yawn, yawn -- but it's actually a very interesting story.
Wellington Arch originally looked a lot different than it does today, because it started off at right angles, facing Apsley House. When they built the main round they shifted it back and spun it round ninety degrees, so now it faces down Constitution Hill instead. It also had a colossal bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington on top. As soon as they lifted it into position it was obviously too huge for its seat, but nobody wanted to upset England's greatest-ever general by knocking him off the top of his triumphal arch, (especially when he only lived over the road), so they had to wait for him to die before installing the four horses we see today. Check out the old photos and drawings of what it used to look like in its original state -- it's very interesting (if you're a saddo like me, that is).
The highlight is obviously the balcony at the top. There are actually two of them -- one on each side. The first one overlooks Hyde Park Corner and Apsley House, whilst the other one stares straight down Constitution Hill. You can't see Buckingham Palace at all, unfortunately, because it's totally hidden behind the trees. All you can see of the gardens is a little piece of the gravel path, and maybe some tennis courts (it's difficult to make them out through the leaves). And there is no way that the Queen ever risks walking around there -- not when people can spy on her from the arch -- so the chances of you seeing her walking her corgis is non-existent.
If you want to have a game of "spot the landmark" with me, then try and find The Shard and the London Eye (you'd have to be blind to miss those!). Big Ben is very easy, and so is Westminster Abbey. That's pretty much all you can see.
[Note: Wellington Arch is currently wrapped around in scaffolding, so this is an old photo of the outside, but the balcony views were all taken today.]
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