Living just a short train ride away from London, our capital city’s major sightseeing attractions are something I’ve perhaps taken for granted over the years.
I’ve been on the London Eye, visited London Zoo and the Natural History Museum, and even seen in the new Millennium by Big Ben, but there’s still a lengthy list on my ‘to do’ list - probably because I’ve been on the Underground more times to see Luton Town play over the years than visit the big tourist hotspots.
Last Friday, I managed to finally to tick another one off that list - and it was a biggy... the Tower of London (I didn’t count 2014 when I briefly stopped by to see the moat filled with those beautiful ceramic poppies).
On this occasion my wife and I had the kids in tow (aged 8 and 10). The big question was would the Tower capture their imagination or would it be a case of information overload as they were bombarded with historical facts at every turn?
Having read up on the Tower before our visit, our first stop was to see the Crown Jewels. I’d heard it can get very busy during the summer so it was a pleasant surprise to sail through the exhibits leading up to the main showpiece - the slow-moving conveyor belt giving you a chance to glance at the crowns belonging to various royals over the centuries.
In fact the lack of crowds meant we even had the chance to double back and go along the conveyor belt and be dazzled for a second time.
Coming out of the Jewel House we stumbled across two Ravens sitting on a railing and not at all bothered by the tourists standing within a foot of them.
It’s just as well they weren’t startled as legend has it that the Tower will fall if the number of Ravens drops below six - their wings are clipped, and there are seven of them (one spare) just for added insurance!
My children were fascinated by these birds, their peculiar habits and noises, plus their diets of raw meat and bird formula biscuits soaked in blood.
And who could fail to be drawn to the Tower of London guards who are on duty at various locations. We first encountered them near the Jewel House with their expressions emotionless, despite the predictable clamour from tourists yo get a selfie with them or to stare at them to see if they’d crack a smile.
The changing of the guard had my son transfixed as he watched intently as the guard was swapped. One yelled “make way for the Tower of London guards” before two of them marched off across the courtyard to the next post.
Next stop was the White Tower, the central imposing tower which was built by William the Conqueror during the early 1080s as an imposing message to all Londoners.
These days it houses the Royal Armouries’ collection and we also made our way up the staircase to see the magnificent dragon sculpture made out weapons, coins, scrolls, telescopes and much more.
My son had been badgering me to see the Bloody Tower so that was the next stop as he learnt all about the mysterious murder of the two young Princes. For some reason the children also seemed spellbound by the instruments of torture in the Lower Wakefield Tower, the chance to find out who was executed at the Scaffold Site (must be something to do with those Horrible Histories audio books they’re always wanting on in the car!)
There was so much to see that this is just a small selection, but needless to say all children love to explore castles and nose around their nooks and crannies as they find out where the next winding staircase will lead.
There were also also some great views as you walked along the walls between the towers - particularly of Tower Bridge.
I’m told the one-hour Beefeater tours come highly recommended. They drew huge crowds while we were there, although we didn’t loiter too long as the children’s minds started to wander and they were keen to explore by themselves in any case.
Three-and-a-half hours after arriving we were done. Our feet had taken a pounding, our minds were bursting with historical facts, and we’d had a right royal good time.