Monday, April 11, 2011

Travelogue: Tower of London

I first visited the Tower of London about 20 years ago during a business trip in which I had a weekend in London. The business colleague with whom I visited the Tower wasn't particularly interested in English history and was depending on me to pick the most interesting things for us to do that weekend. I felt rushed, stressed to make sure she didn't feel bored (I was 20 years younger then and still felt responsible for other people's good time, I guess!), and self-conscious. So, this time around, visiting the Tower at leisure and with family members who fully appreciate and somewhat share my interest in English history was a number 1 priority for the trip in March that I have already blogged about a bit here.

To prep for the visit, I reread Edward Rutherford's wonderful London, reread the history of the Tower books that I had picked up during my visit in 1991, and studied the maps and diagrams of the buildings. Somehow it was important to me to be able to know that names of the various towers and walls and which monarch was responsible for the building of each. Another one of those nerdtastic activities that my daughter likes to tease me about! I tell her she's inherited those nerdtastic genes...

On to the Tower... We arrived by boat, having taken one of those river cruises with tour guide from Westminster Pier. It was wonderful.

We arrived early afternoon on Sunday and looked for the cafeteria immediately as we were hungry for lunch. The only negative about the visit to the Tower was the food--it was all really bland and very pedestrian. Should have probably figured out a better place to have lunch than on the grounds, but I can't think of everything. Anyway, lunch out of the way, we did the audio tour, which was just great.

My favorite building was by far the White Tower. I liked the exhibits of armour and especially the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist. By some stroke of luck, I was in there by myself for a few minutes, and the sun was streaming through the windows, and it was transporting.

I also loved seeing the guarderobe in the White Tower and enjoyed remembering the scene in Rutherford's London when Osric gets his revenge on Ralph Silversleeves for the years of torment Ralph inflicted on Osric during the building of the Tower. In this case, revenge wasn't so much sweet as satisfying.

My kids enjoyed the Crown Jewels more than I did. Not that the videos of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation weren't interesting, and the jewels themselves beautiful...but I'm just not that much of a gems person. I like architecture better. My princess is a gems person.

Tower Green, were Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and a few others were executed, was relatively peaceful. Sadly the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where Anne is buried, was not open the afternoon we were there. I asked one of the guards why and was told it is often closed due to private parties touring it. So, it look like I will have to make a third visit to the Tower to visit this chapel.

I absolutely loved seeing the remains of the Roman wall. There are a couple of places outside the Tower where it crops up as well. It's very moving to see a trace of life from 2000 years ago that isn't behind a glass case in a museum exhibit.

Love the trebuchet. Must get one for the yard.


  1. I need a trebuchet in my yard too! And definitely go back for St Peter ad Vincula. It was my favorite part of the Tower of London. (I skipped the Crown Jewels.)

  2. Oh, I think I could spend the entire day here with you!

  3. I still haven't been to The Tower! Something to do with I could do it anytime, so I haven't yet. And something to do with the huge crowds queueing whenever we stray near there. But it is on my to do list.

  4. Tracy - something about shoemakers' children going barefoot comes to mind! We were there on a pleasant Sunday at the end of May and didn't find the crowds overwhelming--I think a non-summer Monday morning might be just about perfect.

  5. I'm sure you're right :) - it's just when we're in London with the kids they have no wish to visit the Tower, though they'll agree to visit other sights, and when I'm in London on my own I tend to head to art galleries (which you couldn't pay my kids to set foot in!).

  6. I love your London photos. A place I someday hope to visit.

  7. I've been there several times now and each time I'm impressed by my reaction. So much history is linked to that stony series of building, so many gloomy and bloody events. But I can't resist going each time I can. By the way, Jane, who did you vote for as the killer of the two young princes in the Tower? Not Richard III, I hope. ;-)

  8. MG - I absolutely voted for HVII as responsible for the deaths of the young Princes in the Tower. I cannot believe kind, gentle RIII could commit such a crime!

  9. I just got back from a Bath & London visit last week. I took my 18 yr old niece for a bit of a history lesson. I tried to get into the Chapel and was told it was only open to tour groups. I don't know if that is a permanent rule or not.