on April 23, 2011
This is London's original royal fortress by the Thames. It is over 900 years old and contains the Crown Jewels. It is guarded by Beefeaters or Yeomen of the Guard as they are formally known and is a World Heritage site. It is also considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world. It was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has been enlarged and modified by various sovereigns. Today, it is one of the world's most spectacular fortresses.The Tower of London has macabre associations with legendary figres imprisoned and/or executed here. Centuries after the last head rolled on Tower Hill, a shivery atmosphere of impending gloom lingers over the Tower's walls. People say it is the most haunted spot in England - headless bodies, body less heads, phantom soldiers, icy blasts, clanking chains - you name them, the Tower has got them. Every stone of the Tower of London tells a story - usually a gory one.The sprawling fortified compound is like its own small city, with a walled moat outside and a spacious, grassy keep inside. At the centre is the oldest part - the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror to keep London's native Saxon population in check.For centuries the Tower of London was a royal residence. One section, fronting onto the river, recreates the era of Edward I with reproduction furnishings, including the throne of Edward I. When James I took over from Elizabeth I in 1608, the royal family moved out. This was understandable, as over the years, the Tower had come to be the country's most important prison.There are lots of grim and spooky things to see and find out throughout the Tower. On the walls of Beauchamp Tower, you can still read the last messages scratched by despairing prisoners. According to legend, two little princes - the sons and heirs of Edward VI - were murdered by henchmen of Richard III in the Bloody Tower. In the lower part of the Bell Tower, you can tour a whitewashed cell where it is believed Sir Thomas More lived for the last 14 months of his life. Sir Walter Raleigh spent 13 years here when he was out of favour with Elizabeth I.Many prisoners arrived by boat through the spiked iron portcullis of Traitor's Gate and were publicly executed in the central courtyard on Tower Green. A plaque there commemorates the executn of two of Henry VIII's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard, as well as the Nine Day Queen - Lady Jane Grey.The Tower was also a great place to store weapons and treasures. The White Tower today holds the Armouries, with an impressive display of weapons and armour. In the Jewel House, you will find the Tower's greatest attraction - the Crown Jewels. These are some of the world's most precious stones, set into robes, swords, sceptres and crowns. You can see the Imperial State Crown - the most famous crown on earth, made for Queen Victoria in 1837. It is worn by Queen Elizabeth II when she opens Parliament. The Imperial State Crown contains the Black Prince's Ruby - worn by Henry V at Agincourt, as well as 3,000 other jewels.You will have to stand in a long queue to catch a glimpse of the crown as you go past on a moving walkway. The wait is well worth it. The queue also moves fairly quickly, and at various places you are shown films of the Queen's coronation, the State Opening of Parliament etc. so you see when the jewels are worn. The jewels are in glass cases and you go past on a moving walkway, but you can go back on the walkway as many times as you like. There is also a raised area where you can view them from a higher spot. You are not allowed to take photographs.When you arrive at the Tower of London, head for the Welcome Centre where you will get information, maps etc for what to see and do.Join one of the Beefeater Tours which begin near the main entrance every 30 minutes - this is a must-do. They last one hour and visitors are regaled with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, torture and execution. You can leave at any point if it is too much for your children. The Beefeaters are all retired Sergeant Majors from the British Army, and as well as providing guided tours, the provide ceremonial security. Our Beefeater had a dry and witty sense of humour and really made the history come alive.Watch out for the Crown Jewel Guardsmen - real life soldiers from various regiments in the army, who open the Tower with a special ceremony at 9am and at 2:50pm they collect the secret password to get into the Tower after dark.Be sure to look out for the ravens. There are 6 of them, plus 2 spares. They are registered as official Tower residents. According to legend, the Tower will stand as long as these black birds remain, so, to be on the safe side, one of each of their wings is clipped. The ravens live next to the Wakefield Tower. They are the only animals left at the Tower - kings and queens used to keep much larger animals here, including lions and elephants.The entrance cost is £17 for adults and £9.50 for children. We bought our tickets on the internet and saved £5.00 - it also means you do not need to queue at the ticket offices. Opening hours are 9:00-17:30. Arrive as early as you can. The tube stop is Tower Hill. We arrived at 10:30 and left around 4pm and managed to see just about everything.
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