Tower of London -- Yeoman Warder Tour review
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Don't call them Beefeaters because they don't like it. (That's what I've been told -- I'm not going to test it out.) Apparently the nickname dates from the days when they couldn't afford to pay them coins so they let them eat the meat from the King's kitchens instead. The starving local Londoners didn't like that very much and hissed "beef eaters!" at them every time they passed by. Beef eaters! Boo! Hiss! Back in those days the monarch still used the Tower of London as a Royal palace, and the Yeoman Warders were his personal bodyguard. When Henry VIII moved out in 1509 he left a small detachment of them behind to guard his apartments and that's where you'll find them five hundred years later, still locking up the gates, still watching over the Crown Jewels... and doing sixty-minute walking tours every half-hour.
The tour begins at the entrance (literally right at the entrance, just after where they search your bags). You have to stand in the dry moat until the guide turns up. You'll probably see another hundred people milling around down there because it's all included within the entry cost, so the groups can be huge. And I really do mean huge. I've personally seen them swell to over 200 people. Normally I'd give something a miss if the group was this big, but I'm happy to make an exception for the Yeoman Warder Tour. I just sort of tag along at the back and peer over people's shoulders -- that is my station in life. It doesn't detract from the enjoyment at all. But if you're one of those alpha males who absolutely has to stand your family at the front of every crowd then good luck battling your way to the front.
Okay, here he comes... he's dressed up in the black and red tunic of the Yeoman Guard. The Warders are all retired soldiers and you can tell they've seen a bit of action by their total lack of nerves. Most of us would be quaking in our boots if we had to give a speech to a hundred strangers, but this guy isn't bothered in the slightest. It's as if he's the sergeant and we're the army. We're certainly big enough for an army.
He begins with a quick little speech about William the Conqueror and 1066, and then he points over the road and does a little skit about the beheadings on Tower Hill. He's got lots of gory stores and groaning jokes -- it's all very entertaining. Then he walks us down Water Lane to Traitor's Gate and shares a few more scare stories under the Bloody Tower arch. His tales are truly gruesome. He certainly loves his horror. His arms are dancing everywhere like the blood that's spurting out of an imaginary neck. His arms are the axe, chopping off the heads, then his hands are daggers slicing and dicing the sinews off the bones. This guy is living it as if he was actually there!
Then you march up the stone steps by the White Tower and look back towards the Bloody Tower portcullis, where he tells you the tale of the Two Princes.
Then it's twenty steps to Tower Green and the execution block. One of the best sections in this speech is when he goes from window to window around the towers and houses and lists all of the prisoners that once peered out... a lot of famous names have stared through those plates of glass, staring at the chopping block where they were about to meet their death.
The final part of the tour is an extra special treat because he leads you inside the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. You can't normally come in here unless you're on a Yeoman Warder Tour (I think they open it up during the final hour of each day, but who wants to wait that long?). This is where they buried the best of the bodies that were killed on Tower Hill and Tower Green.
To sum it all up, then... it's definitely worth doing (if only to see inside the Chapel). And don't worry about the crowd size because it really doesn't detract from the enjoyment at all. But whether your kid enjoys it will probably depend on which Yeoman Warder you get. If you get a funny one like I had today then it will be a laugh-a-minute. If not, then maybe it will be a bit boring for them.
What do you think?Please leave a comment
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