The day after History, Sight, Quiet Piers asked me to dinner. We went to a lovely Italian restaurant in Tunbridge Wells and made plans for ‘take-away’ on Tuesday. By some point we decided to go to the Tower of London the following Saturday (October 3rd).
We took the train from Tonbridge to London Bridge. Tonbridge is a short train ride from central London and it solved the whole parking dilemma. We walked along the Thames until we could see Tower Bridge. One of the perks of having a boyfriend who is into photography is he’s very willing to take pictures of you!
We did the Tower Experience and climbed the numerous steps (my google skills are failing me – couldn’t find out how many, but it was LOTS!) to the walkways between the towers. Apparently, the walkways were closed in 1910 because pickpockets and prostitutes plied their trade there. There was a really interesting exhibit on the history of the bridge. There were many designs preposed and the eventual winning design went through many changes before finally becoming the icon we know and love today. 40,000 people cross Tower Bridge every day. There’s a 20 mph speed limit due to concerns about preservation of the bridge.
Just across the bridge is the famous Tower of London. The first part, White Tower, was built in 1078 by William the Conquer (of 1066 fame). Over the years it has been added to. It has two concentric walls. The moat between the two walls is lower than the river and did not flush out with the tides as was intended and became a cesspool. The phrase ‘off to the tower’ meaning imprisonment came from the large number of important prisoners being housed here, including Elizabeth I (while she was a princess). Most public executions took place just a short distance away on what is known as Tower Hill, however 6 people were executed within the walls of the Tower. These include Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.
The Crown Jewels have been housed here since 1303. I have no proof that I saw them since you can’t take pictures inside the Jewel house. I found this interesting tidbit on Wikipedia:
They were temporarily taken out of the Tower during World War II and reportedly were secretly kept in the basement vaults of the Sun Life Insurance company in Montreal, Canada, along with the gold bullion of the Bank of England.
They are well protected, no surprise there, and I saw my first sentry in the famous uniform. At first I thought it was a mannequin (as did Piers), but on closer inspection he turned out to be real. We even watched him ‘strut his stuff.’ I do not have the concentration required for that job!
I think the highlight of the day (other than the company!) was the Yeoman Warder’s tour. This was Piers’s non-negotiable of the day and he was so right! We learned so much in a short hour about the history, the stories behind the names, and all the little tidbits that made walking around the tower so much more interesting. So, if you should come to visit me, I may insist on taking you to the Tower of London and going on a tour with a ‘Beefeater.’ That’s a nickname for the Yoemans. Back in the day, they were well fed due to the importance of their job, guarding royalty, and the common man was not, hence the name.
After spending 3 hours at the Tower and not seeing it all, we set off on one of the walks from my book ’24 Great Walks in London.’ We did the ‘Wanderings and Wizards’ one. I had asked Piers if he was a Harry Potter fan which led him to believe I was going to take him on a wild goose chase looking for all the London spots that were used in the films. Imagine his relief when I read him the following description from the book:
This eventful walk begins alongside the Tower of London and twists its way through a fascinating warren of streets steeped in history. On this walk you’ll visit the principal site where public beheadings took place for more than 400 years and encounter a sinister-looking gate topped by stone skulls. The walk takes in the church where, after the ravages of the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys gazed down from the tower and witnessed a scene of utter desolation. It passes modern office blocks – behind which creepy passageways recall days gone by – and the gleaming modernity of the Lloyd’s Insurance building. And, if that isn’t magical enough, you will also stroll through the beautiful Victorian market that is the location for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. The final section of the walk takes you into a labyrinth of old alleyways through which you literally walk back in time. Here you will pass venerable old City eating houses, including the one where the infamous so-called Hellfire Club was founded, as you explore the alleyways where Charles Dickens began his most ghostly of tales A Christmas Carol.
Unfortunately, it seems that the events in Deathly Hallows were too much for Ollivander and I couldn’t find his shop to buy my wand (I’m still hoping for late admission in to Hogwarts). Also, my camera battery gave up the ghost in the market.
To finish the day, we had a great meal in an Italian restaurant near Coventry Garden and Charing Cross station. It was a wonderful date!