Sunday, 16 March 2014

Tower of London

Last weekend we were lucky to have some glorious warm Spring weather, and we decided we really needed to get cracking on our UK bucket list (I really need to think of a better name than that, as we are not about to kick the bucket, but just to emigrate from the UK…)

We haven’t really finished compiling our ‘bucketlist’ yet, (although we’ve discussed it a lot) but it’s never too soon to start ticking things off!

We’re still living a relatively easy journey from London, so we decided to start with a London-centric section to our list, and for the first ‘tick’ on our list we headed to the Tower of London, a major tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Tower of London is pretty expensive to visit - if you buy the tickets when you arrive then it’s £22 for adults, £11 for children under 16 or £59 for a family ticket. Under-5s were free. You can however save a considerable amount by buying the ticket online beforehand (we just got ours the night before, and saved about £10). The deals do vary though, so it’s best to do a thorough Google search to compare prices if you want the best deal.

Something that has always put me off visiting before (besides the price!) has been the size of the queue to get in, but I would actually say that this can be somewhat deceptive. The queue when we arrived was pretty big, but it actually went down really quickly and we were soon inside.

The Tower of London was begun by William the Conqueror in 1066 during the Norman conquest of England, and its significance for as a symbol of Norman power, as an example of Norman military architecture that spread across England, and as a model example of a Medieval fortress palace earn it its status as a UNESCO heritage site. For lots more detail about this, take a look at the UNESCO website’s page about it here.

Within the Tower, a main attraction is the exhibition of the Crown Jewels. I was a bit sad that you weren’t allowed to take any photos in there – I do love to have photographic souvenirs to remind me of experiences – but they were still pretty impressive to view.

During the 1600s, after the execution of Charles I when Oliver Cromwell was leading the Republicans to dissolve the Monarchy, the Crown Jewels were mostly destroyed. This means that the present Crown Jewels date from after this time – all except one item, the oldest in the collection.

This item is the delightfully banal sounding Coronation Spoon. I find it quite amusing that a humble spoon should have such great significance, but this silver-gilt spoon is over 800 years old, and was sold off rather than destroyed along with the rest of the Crown Jewels. It has been re-gilded through the years, but this remarkable survivor still plays a role in Coronations, used for carrying the holy oil that anoints the new monarch.

Besides this oldest item, of course the main attractions are the jewelled Jewels. A selection of crowns and sceptres and the like, enhanced with glittering diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds – every sparkling gem you would expect. One crown even has pearls dangling from it, two of which are said to have come from earrings belonging to Queen Elizabeth I!

The crowns of monarchs and princes really are spectacular, but one that leaped out at me was actually a very small, relatively simple affair: the mourning crown of Queen Victoria. This miniature crown, set with diamonds, was designed and made for her to be worn with her mourning veil. It is the small crown she wears in some of the most familiar portrayals of her, and to see it for real felt quite special. I have a bit of a fascination with the Victorian era, so seeing this little crown felt almost like a mini pilgrimage.

Moving on from the jewels, we went into the White Tower. This is the oldest- and probably most iconic – part of the Tower of London, built tostrike fear and submission into the unruly citizens of London”. 

The White Tower

The Tower houses some great displays, including the Royal Armouries Collection and the 300 year old exhibition, the Line of Kings.

The Line of Kings is billed as the ‘longest running tourist exhibition in the World’, established as it was 300 years ago, after the restoration of the monarchy. This display served to demonstrate to the people the continuity of the monarchy and the King’s right to rule. It’s a pretty good exhibition, with good information available about what’s what. I particularly enjoyed reading about the artists who produced the wooden horse statues upon which the ‘Kings’ were mounted, and seeing the size and shape of the armour of Henry VIII! Photos were allowed in here :)

You can read more at the Historic Royal Palaces’ website here.

Further up in the White Tower, at the entrance to the Royal Armouries collection, was this fantastic dragon made from various bits of arms and ammunition (being Welsh I'm a sucker for dragons)

The exhibitions in the White Tower take a while to get through if you stop to read everything, so after that and a quick walk around some of the walls we were more than ready for a cuppa! We debated leaving and going somewhere for a late lunch, but with an afternoon appointment to get to we weren’t sure we had the time, so with trepidation we headed to the onsite café within the Tower walls.

I am always pretty convinced that UK attractions will have mediocre food at best, which is overpriced and served in grotty surroundings. The Tower of London actually blew this assumption right out of the water. It was nice, and clean, and not quite as expensive as I had expected. The food was a selection of quality, British-made snacks, fresh sandwiches on delicious looking bread, British classics such as fish n chips, mouth-watering cakes… and of course our much needed tea! I also overheard a supervisor training a new staff member, and from what she was saying to him they seemed to really care about the standards of presentation and service that they were providing. If you have the budget, I do recommend popping in here for refreshments or even a meal if you visit.

We certainly didn't do everything on offer at the Tower, but it was a great place to visit - and while we don't have any kids it seemed like it would be really family-friendly too. You just might need to save up a bit for it... :/

No comments:

Post a Comment