Tower of London -- Twilight Tour review
The sun has scarpered and I'm sitting outside the Tower of London waiting for the Twilight Tour to start. This part of London is always empty at this time of night, just the occasional worker walking through to Tower Bridge. It's a scary place to sit if your heart is made of paper. You can linger along the waterfront and not see a soul for five minutes. It's quite pretty though, sitting on this wet bench with the office lights glowing over the other side of the river. That is where all the life is. People are still working over there, doing things. City Hall is all lit up and the Shard is pointing up and up and disappears into the bottom of the rain clouds.
If I hadn't been here before then I'd be a bit worried because the Gift Shop is all shut up. The ticket booth is boarded up too and there's not a Beefeater in sight. But you just have to be patient and wait. The Tower has been here for a thousand years and it won't be rushed. You just have to sit inside the dimly lit Welcome Centre until the Yeoman Warder comes along. That's where I am right now... waiting for him to turn up in the Welcome Centre. waiting. writing this and waiting. waiting.
I hope he's alright. he hasn't turned up yet and I'm getting a bit worried. Nope, it's okay... here he is, decked out in his black and red dress and his big black hat.
I'm trying to gauge how big our group is. When I went to the Ceremony of the Keys it was probably about 200 people, but we are nowhere near that today. I am guessing that there are about 50 people in total. The soldier guide has got a big booming voice (a standard bit of kit for soldiers) so there is never any problem hearing him.
The tour turns out to be pretty much identical to the Yeoman Warder Tour that you can do during the day, but with a couple of little extras thrown in. For starters, you actually get to go inside a few of the towers. You can't do that during the day because the crowds are too huge, but 50 people is much more manageable. So you get to hear a little bit of history about the insides too, which is nice. And the second little extra that you get is the dark. The tower is totally deserted at this time of night (all the tourists have been kicked out) so it's just you, the group and the guide. What lights they have inside the walls are of the mellow yellow variety, spaced out about a mile apart, so everywhere is very dark and gloomy. You get a nice sense of how it must have been when it was still a fortress.
I've already described the Yeoman Warder Tour in detail on another post, so you might like to read that as well, but I will go over the route here too. It starts off in front of the Byward Tower, where he spends about ten minutes telling you all about the history of the building. He takes you through its Norman days, and the building of the moat. He was chuntering along at quite a pace, packing the speech with reems and reems of detailed history, but there were also plenty of gags about Scottish traitors and sending our sewage over to France, ho ho ho. Then he walks you through the Bell Tower and spends another ten minutes telling you about some of the poor prisoners who lost their heads. After that he marches you up to Traitor's Gate and takes you inside St. Thomas's Tower.
You get to see the Royal quarters, Edward III's room, and the exact spot where Henry VI was murdered (forgive me if I get my kings mixed up... I'm pretty sure it was number six). Then you climb some winding stairs to the Wakefield Tower and along the elevated walkway to Lanthorn. This is probably the best viewing spot on the whole tour, with a fantastic view of the White Tower and Tower Bridge. Both of them were lit up in floodlights and I wish you better luck with the weather than I had (I was thoroughly soaked by this point, and my shoes were starting to squidge with water).
Then it's back down to ground level for a walk around the armouries building and hospital block. Our guide proudly pointed out the window where he lives here (on the top floor of the old hospital block) and I will happily admit to a pang of jealously.
You get a good view of the White Tower at ground level now, and the Waterloo Block where the Crown Jewels are kept — but you can't go inside either of them. That is why you really need to come back during the day. I wouldn't recommend just doing the Twilight Tour on its own because you miss out two of the daytime highlights.
After that comes another great bit, and one of my favourites, when he takes you into the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. This place is usually closed to the public, and is only accessible on one of these tours (and the equivalent tour during the day). It's just a small little church inside, but the glory is buried in the floor, because underneath the flagstones are the burial sites of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and the Earl of Essex.
And that's it! After that he walks you to the door and boots you out the tower.
So is it worth doing? Well... If I'm honest I think I would rather just go during the day. The Twilight Tour is basically the same as a Yeoman Warder Tour, but you'll also get to go inside the White Tower and see the Crown Jewels (and visit the gift shop and restaurants too, which are all shut at night). And as atmospheric as the Twilight Tour is, it didn't give me the goosebumps like the Ceremony of the Keys did. So my advice is this: go during the day, do a Yeoman Warder Tour, and apply for some free tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys as well. Then you'll be getting the best out of the tower.
Guest – What time does the twilight tour start please?
Craig – It starts at 7 PM and ends at 8.30 PM You'll have to be quick though, because there's only two tours left this month and then it stops again until winter
I’ve been here before…
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