Family day out at The Tower of London
How one family kept their heads on a trip to the Tower of London. By James Garner
As part of our series of family days out, my wife Libby and I decided to take our one year old son, Dominik to the Tower of London as part of his first birthday celebrations. We were gripped by the BBC/HBO series 'The Tudors' and were therefore keen to see the Tower in real life - and Libby secretly hoped to see Jonathan Rhys-Jones there too.
After deciding to avoid the London underground (not the easiest with a pushchair) we got off the train at London Bridge, walked along Tooley Street and over Tower Bridge - just over 20 minutes, and a pleasant walk. As we crossed over Tower Bridge, the spectacular Tower came into view. A complete contrast to the modern buildings around it, and if you half-closed your eyes and tried to ignore the traffic, you could almost be transported back in time. As we approached the ticket booths the credit crisis was not apparent - among the accents were Germans, Italians and Americans all paying £16.50 per ticket. (Save a pound and beat the queues by buying online beforehand.)
As we entered by the Middle Gate, we were astounded by the appearance of the buildings - they have obviously been lovingly looked after over the decades and appeared to be in remarkable condition, given some parts of it are almost 1,000 years old. We were also surprised at the size - would a day be enough, we asked ourselves.
We decided not to join a Yeoman's Tour so we could go at baby pace, but on eavesdropping one of the smartly clad guides, this would have definitely enhanced the visit had we not had a little person in tow.
We explored the iconic White Tower and saw a huge assortment of weaponry, wondering how anyone ever moved, let alone fought, dressed in a suit of armour... Walking around the Medieval Palace gave an idea of daily life for the lucky few not being imprisoned. Wakefield Tower grimly displayed instruments of torture, which I preferred to my squeamish wife - interesting though spine-chilling. Centuries old graffiti-etched walls in the Beauchamp Tower were astonishing testament to the courage of those awaiting death.
The Bloody Tower invited the tourist to consider the truth around the famous disappearance of two child princes - would it or could it happen nowadays? The Scaffold Site was surreal: we just could not imagine historical figures losing their life so abruptly on that very spot, so calm today. And of course gazing at the intricate Crown Jewels was another highlight, especially with introductory footage of the Queen's Coronation whetting the appetite by showing which jewels to look out for - so it was a shame to be rushed through on floor conveyor belts (although it's understandable that lingering time has to be limited).
Due to the age of the Tower of London, disabled and pushchair access was not easy on the whole, so we often needed to carry Dominik in his pushchair or take him out of it. In some cases we had to visit rooms and towers separately while one of us 'guarded' the pushchair. I agree that historic monuments should be faithfully preserved, but some minimal alterations such as ramps or even secure 'pushchair parking' areas could make the access less complicated.
More prosaically, the self-service and buffet-style café was large, clean and well laid out. A number of highchairs were available and there was a microwave for public use, enabling us to heat up Dominik's food easily. There were also perfectly adequate nappy change facilities. Facts I discovered during our visit:
Traitors' Gate (actually called 'St Thomas's Tower') was used for the coronation for Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII. Three years later she was back through the same gate but for a less joyful celebration...
The Krays and Rudolf Hess were imprisoned in the Tower
There are actually seven not six ravens - there is one spare
The tower was used by armed forces as recently as World War II and there was an execution there in 1941 (not from a beheading, but a firing squad)
There was a Royal Menagerie there until 1830. The animals were mostly gifts from other monarchs in Europe, including three leopards from Frederick II (Holy Roman Emperor in the 13th century), which were actually lions and the ancestors of the three lions that still appear on the England football team's shirts today
Before our family day trip, we both had childhood memories and therefore expectations of visiting the Tower (seeing the Crown Jewels and Traitors' Gate, and hearing The Princes in the Tower story) but found we were very pleasantly surprised at how much vaster and more fascinating our repeat visit was. A thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all.
If you enjoyed that, try these...
Great family days out in London - many are free