Second of 3 entries about our recent English adventure
The day after the wedding in the castle, we headed down to London.
I owed Sara this part of our trip since I had the opportunity to spend a few days in London back in 2012 (just before the Olympics) for a work contract. That time, I stayed up on Tower Hill and my morning “commute” to the worksite was a walk across the Tower Bridge. Meanwhile, Sara, still stateside, was suffering severe pangs of travel envy.
You see, she’s been a lifelong fan of British history, most specifically the reign of the Tudors, and knows many tales from the Tower — but she didn’t get to come with me to London that time. So, I had been warned not to return without her, and I knew that meant the one spot we definitely had to visit while across the pond for the wedding was the fabled Tower of London.
After our train ride down to London, we arrived at our hotel near the Tower rather exhausted late in the afternoon, so we napped a bit before heading out.
Sara could hardly stop grinning in stunned amazement at simply being there as we strolled around the outside of the Tower grounds, passing the infamous Traitor’s Gate, and across the Tower Bridge along with all the other wandering tourists and regular Londoners simply heading to the other side of the Thames.
On our way back, we stopped in at the Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub (which I had visited back in 2012) for pints & dinner. While I decided to get my dose of fish & chips (fancied up as “Battered Flounder” on the menu but taken down by our waitress as “Fish & Chips”) here, Sara scored the real “catch of the day” by ordering one of their signature meat pies, an exquisitely delicious pork-and-apple-chutney delight.
Note to self: when a restaurant touts a specialty (“Pies & Ales”) — order it.
The next day, we headed out to fulfill Sara’s longtime dream of visiting all those places within the Tower walls she knew by heart.
Buying our tickets produced an interesting moment when the fellow behind the window gestured back to the posted price list and asked, “Any concessions?” Baffled by his question about food & drink (I thought), I said no, but he patiently asked again. Then, the woman behind us pointed out the reduced price for seniors over 60. What we knew as a “discount” was the “concession” he’d been trying to point out, which saved us about 15 pounds. He had simply been too tactful to mention our obvious age as the reason for his inquiry but we gladly saved the money once we understood.
The tour guides are all Yeoman Warders — also known as Beefeaters (though not the quiet type). Well, our fellow relished his role and begin joking and bantering with the crowd quickly, threatening to leave if we didn’t start responding better to his jokes. When he spotted my Alaska Railroad cap, he called out something about that though I couldn’t quite make it out enough to respond.
In addition to describing key points as we wandered into the Tower complex itself with its various historical buildings, he also explained that all the staff, himself included, actually live in the Tower. Since this has been the case for centuries, staff sometimes live in some of the same quarters that once housed renowned historical figures — he had occupied the former quarters of Sir Isaac Newton for several years.
Another interesting item he mentioned: the staff are literally locked in the Tower each night at 12. Oh, there is a single gate where passage in & out can be had after midnight — with the watchword (password), still handed down daily by the Queen.
Traitor’s Gate was one of the main focal points early in the tour, and Sara got to use her historical knowledge to answer one of our guide’s historical questions to the crowd. Still, seeing such places herself had her almost spinning, just looking around at the various individual towers and walls. As we strolled the grounds, our guide pointed out several of the main buildings, such as the Waterloo Block (now housing the Crown Jewels), the White Tower and the Queen’s Quarters (where she rarely stays but remains off-limits and guarded).
By the time we went inside the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vinicula and our guide pointed out where the final remains of Anne Boleyn lie buried in an unmarked grave under the altar, Sara was a goner for sure. As the crowd drifted off after the tour, we lingered several minutes. “Anne Boleyn was framed,” Sara said in passing. “I always wanted to say that here!”
Outside, we stopped briefly at the poignant memorial by the “Scaffold Site,” where the names of several of the more prominent individuals executed nearby on the Tower green, either by hanging or beheading, are etched around the edge.
We also went up and walked atop a portion of the inner wall to take a look from those former fortifications, imagining archers defending against invaders of any kind.
Another aspect of our visit that we enjoyed were the various re-enactors who would interact with members of the crowd, telling tales or re-enacting scenes.
I suppose we could easily have spent more time there. We passed on seeing the Crown Jewels or going inside the White Tower.
Instead, we contented ourselves with enjoying what we did at our own pace, and “escaping” the Tower even as the hordes of people grew larger through the afternoon.