Tower of London -- Yeoman Warder Tour review (Aug 2013)
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I've already visited the Tower of London about fifty million times (at least), but I trudged my way back today to have a go on the Yeoman Warder tour. It was Bank Holiday Monday too, so I had visions of bazillions of people all crammed into the place like sardines, sweating in the sun beating down on our heads, but it was actually alright -- I suppose everyone must have had the same thought and decided to go and see their in-laws instead. It was still pretty busy though.
If you ever go to the Tower of London then the first thing you'll see when you walk under the entrance tower is a big wooden board by the moat. That tells you what time the next warden tour is starting. They run every half-hour from 10 o'clock, and are included in the price of your ticket. After today's showing, I definitely recommend doing it.
The Yeoman Warders are better known as 'Beefeaters' -- those big guys dressed up in red and black with funny hats, who guard the tower by day and by night. There's about fifty of them and they all live inside the grounds. And they are all ex-military too, so you don't want to mess with them. I remember when I was at school our art teacher had trouble keeping control of 20 kids, but this guy would have had no problems at all -- he had about 150 tourists to contend with and I reckon we would have been marching on the spot if he told us. Being an ex-soldier, he was also blessed with a fog-horn mouth, audible from about fifty miles away. So even though the crowd was large I didn't have any trouble hearing him.
The tour starts in the moat by the Byward Tower, where he sets off on a 60-minute speech of pretty detailed history. There are plenty of jokes and laughs with the crowd, and he loves to tell his gory stories -- beheadings, executions, escapes... they are all there. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for kids though -- its 60 minutes of non-stop history. And he doesn't dumb it down either. You hear plenty of stories that you'll be familiar with, along with lots of famous names like Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the Princes in the Tower. But I'm guessing that your little kid's eyes will glaze over when he's regaling tales about Thomas More and the Duke of Monmouth. Adults will have no such problem though -- I enjoyed the whole lot.
The section by the moat focuses on who built the tower and the walls, and after that you head up Water Lane to Traitor's Gate. That's where he stops and tells you about the prisoners who came in by water. Then you flip around and look at the Bloody Tower, where he tells you all about Richard III and his murdered nephews. You don't actually get to go inside though -- there are far too many people for that. All you do is stand outside and look. But the tour only lasts for an hour, so you've got plenty of time to go back and do the insides after.
After that comes the highlight of the tour -- you actually get to go inside the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. This is normally closed to tourists during the day (I think it opens for the last hour before closing), so this is the only realistic way of sneaking a look inside. It's just a plain church really, with wooden pews and some memorials on the walls. But the real glory is what is buried by the altar -- because this is where they interred all the headless traitors from Tower Green. When our Yeoman guide (Bob, was his name) pointed out the burial site of Anne Boleyn I was actually a little bit excited. Sad, I know. But what can I say -- I like my Tudors. Two paces across the altar is the grave of Catherine Howard and the Earl of Essex. Being able to actually go inside the church and see these graves is enough to make me recommend the tour on their own.
And that's it! After it's all over you can go on your merry way and do as you please, and have a proper look around all the towers and walkways. One word of advice though... if you're going to do this tour then try and do it at the very start. It's a really good way to get an overview of the place. I would also recommend going back to the Byward Tower and picking up an audioguide -- there is lots of information on there which you will need when venturing inside the buildings.
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You can attend a Sunday service at the Chapel Royal in the Tower of London -- one of the most historic churches in the City.
The Ceremony of the Keys is over 700 years old, and represents the traditional locking up of the Tower of London at night.
One of the best ways of seeing the Tower of London is alongside a Yeoman Warder (better known as the "Beefeaters").
The HAC will be firing off a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London, to make sure everyone knows it's Prince Charles' birthday.
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