Tower of London review
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The Tower of London is #8 in my London Bucket List
A bit of bad weather is good. If you can't visit the Tower of London at night then try and come here when it's wet. And I mean proper wet: getting drenched wet. Rain like grey paint that clears the crowds and shows you what it was like 1,000 years ago when the only visitors were prisoners.
There are only three places in London where I genuinely dread the crowds: the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and the Tower of London. When you walk up to the front there'll be hundreds of them grouping up, queueing up, milling around with maps, taking photos of the moat, the boats, the bridge, their kids -- there's enough of them to storm the place. After passing under the portcullis they'll finally fan out down Water Lane and give the map a quick flick, pick up an audioguide, and head towards Traitor's Gate.
If you thought that you had a hard time getting inside then spare a thought for the poor prisoners who got boated through this barricade. Imagine dragging your shackled feet through that muddy scummy water and up the stone stairs with just the fiery lights of the Bloody Tower up ahead. This is why you need to come at night (on a Twilight Tour) because it's just full of fallen leaves and floating feathers this morning, plus a silver shimmer of good luck pennies that the tourists have chucked in.
Here's the next thing that you need to know about visiting the Tower: there's a hell of a lot of walking involved. It's like a mini-city inside and if you struggle with stairs then you won't be able to get inside most of the towers because there aren't any lifts (they didn't do disabled access in those days) -- they're all winding stone stairs that are quite steep and creepy like a castle turret. It's tough on the knees, tough on the feet, and I wouldn't plan on doing any dancing in the evening. It's the kind of place you'll still be feeling when you wake up the next day.
Across the cobbled path is the Bloody Tower portcullis, but before you head through there you should ascend the stairs to St Thomas's Tower and enter the medieval lodgings of Edward I (Hammer of the Scots). This will eventually lead you round the entire curtain wall to the other side of the grounds, so you can do the Bloody Tower on the way back.
There's hardly anything left of Edward's interiors anymore, just the bare brick and heavy timbers of the roof, but they've taken a guess at what his bedchamber was like and put in a fireplace and a four-poster bed (it looks like a Robin Hood movie). It gets better when you reach the chapel in the Wakefield Tower. This is where Henry VI was murdered during the War of the Roses. You'll get used to history like this as you walk around the Tower because every room seems to be the scene of an historical event. After that you'll troop up some more stone stairs for a great photo of the Norman Keep. You'll get a decent one of Tower Bridge as well.
Further along the battlements is the Martin Tower. This is where you'll find the first of the Crown Jewels... but minus the jewels. It's just the frames of Victoria's crown and a couple of George's, but all the diamonds have been taken out and placed in other pieces -- you'll see the real ones later.
The next tower has a lousy little exhibition about the Royal menagerie. They used to keep some lions and tigers chained up by the drawbridge and they tell you a few amusing stories about the visitors having their limbs ripped off. Apparently they used to bring a cat or a dog with them like we'd bring a bag of peanuts, and chuck them into the pit to feed the beasts. That's how they had their fun in those days. By the early 1800s the animals were too much hassle so they shifted them into the newly built London Zoo.
After a couple more towers you'll find yourself at the back of the chapel by the Devereux Tower. You'll have walked right round the Norman Keep and be standing at the chopping block on Tower Green where Henry VIII divorced his wives. And by divorce I mean divide. Once their heads were successfully severed from their necks they bundled them under the altar in the building behind. If you want to see inside the chapel then you'll have to go on a Yeoman Warder Tour (read my separate review).
Can you see a huge queue outside the Waterloo Barracks? That's where they keep the Crown Jewels. Alas, there's probably another huge queue inside as well because it doesn't end at the door -- they send it looping through a series of interior rooms and every time you think you're getting closer to the end it bends around another corner. But stick with it because the Jewels are well worth seeing (and I say that as a bloke who has no interest in jewellery). People think it's just the Imperial State crown on show but there's a collection of crowns dating back a couple of hundred years, plus all the Coronation gear as well: the flags, bugles, maces, sceptres, golden bowls and goblets. Let me put it this way: you will be impressed. You will want a crown of your own. You will hint at your husband to buy you one for your birthday. Luckily they've got a little gift shop outside that sells replicas (they really do!).
By the time you've come out and rubbed the sparkle from your eyes you'll probably want a cup of tea because you've been walking around for two hours now... and you've still got the Bloody Tower and White Tower to go. My knees are killing me so I'm definitely having one. You can do whatever you want, but I'm having a sit down for ten minutes. The best cafe is in the New Armouries building.
Okay, tea break over... let's get the White Tower over and done with before I drop dead. This was the Norman keep that William the Conqueror built when he visited England in 1066. Inside is a big exhibition about arms and armour. Alongside all the guns and muskets and rifles, swords, daggers, cannon barrels and cannonballs they've got the silver suits that English kings wore into battle.
The Bloody Tower is where Richard III had the little princes smothered in their sleep... allegedly (you have to add the word 'allegedly' otherwise you'll have the Richard III Society on your case). I don't know why the historians are still arguing about it because it seems like an open and shut case to me. He definitely did it, and if I was in his shoes then I probably would have killed them as well (don't tell anybody I said that).
The Bloody Tower is also where James I locked up Walter Raleigh for thirteen years. You can see his books and his desk and it's quite a plush little room apart from one thing: the huge portcullis in the corner. Do you remember that portcullis you saw by Traitor's Gate? Well the top half of it is inside Walter Raleigh's room. Imagine having that colossal thing winched down every time you were trying to go to sleep. [Note: They normally have an exhibition of torture equipment downstairs but it was closed today.]
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I’ve been here more than once…