Saturday, January 19, 2013

Snow and the Tower of London

It's cold here, though not quite cold enough for proper snow blankets. We were promised snow falling ALL WEEKEND, but I looked out the window this morning and the snow in the back garden is sinking sadly into the grass in patches.

Yesterday I walked along the Thames in the snow (retracing Bond's London car chase in Skyfall), past MI6 and along to Westminster. There was a team playing football on the green outside Westminster, snow floating around them. I was very glad of my thermal top, my knitted tunic, my half-mohair jersey, my blue coat, my sheepskin ugg boots, and my hat, scarf and gloves. Not sure how they were doing in their shorts and t-shirts.

From Westminster I got a Circle line train to Tower Hill, and wrapped up In preparation for the Tower. You enter via a drawbridge over the snow-white expanse of the grass moat, and walk along Water Lane, which is built on wooden pilings over the Thames. We had a short talk from one of the Yeomen Warders (aka Beefeaters) in the Chapel rather than around the grounds, because it was pretty cold outside. He told stories about the history of the Tower, and the executions that had taken place through the centuries, before informing us that the bodies had originally been buried exactly where we were sitting, with so many thrown in under the stones that the floor was higgledy-piggledy uneven. Most of them were exhumed and reburied in Queen Victoria's time, but some, including Anne Boleyn, were still under the altar.

I've become a great fan of audio-guides in my time in Europe - you can listen and look at the same time. Much of the audio-guide at the Tower takes place outside, so I was determined to stick it out through the snow with frozen fingers. I would get the full experience! I would hear and see all the Tower had to offer!

I went through the Medieval Palace above the Traitor's Gate, and saw a recreation of a King's chambers. Through a staircase and over a bridge was a beautiful octagonal room with vaulted ceilings, and up another spiral staircase I found the battlements of the inner wall. About this time, I realised I only had forty minutes left until the Tower closed, so I stopped looking at everything and made a shortlist (They tell you three hours is a 'long' time to see the Tower. In future, I think I should take all the maximum times for things and double them. I like to take my time...). So... around the battlements, and on to the Crown Jewels!

There are lots of very expensive things in the Crown Jewels, as you may think. The number of gold plates and sceptres and goblets was truly incredible, and then we came to the crowns. I hadn't quite realised that they don't generally reuse crowns - there's a new one (or two or three) for each monarch. And they all have lots of very sparkly jewels in them that glint in the light as you move slowly past on the tourist conveyor belt. There weren't that many people - I guess it's a good time to go to the Tower when it's snowing - so I was out quite quickly and heading for the White Tower, which is the big square one that you probably think of when you think of the Tower of London. It was built by William the Conqueror, and at the time was the tallest building in Europe.

The entrance to the White Tower is on the first floor and has wooden steps leading up to it - this meant that, in a siege, you could destroy the wooden steps and no one could get in. An opening in the stone wall halfway up the stairs shows where the bodies of the two Princes in the Tower were apparently found, which was quite creepy. It's strange to come across places where famous things you've learned about actually happened.

Inside is an exhibition of armoury, including a few sets of Henry VIII's. He was tall and pretty imposing, judging from his armour. There are also swords and horse armour and guns and the 'Line of Kings', which is a set of life-size models of kings and horses made in the seventeenth century. One of the sets of armour holds the world record for tallest armour, and another displayed right beside it is one of the smallest and looks like it was made for a three-year-old.

The warders began to usher us out, so I took a last few listens of my audio-guide and reluctantly gave it back. I hadn't had time for the Bloody Tower or the Queen's residence, but I didn't think the Yeomen Warders would appreciate me hiding in a tower room and exploring the rest in darkness.

It had stopped snowing, and everything was glowing in the dusk and lights. I took the DLR to Canary Wharf and admired the fairy lights and glowing paper boats floating in the water, and then was off home.


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