We got off the bus tour at the Tower (not really a tower but a big castle) of London. At the welcome center their was a replica of the crown that Colonel Blood tried to steal in the 1600's. This is the only opportunity for you to take a photograph of anything resembling the crown jewels, which is sealed in one of the buildings in the Tower of London. Admission to the castle grounds is 16 pounds. Originally, Jim and I planned on shadowing a walking tour guided by one of the Yeoman Warders (a.k.a Beefeaters). In the end, we succumbed and purchase the audio guide for 4 pounds. The guide was well worth the money because it contained good information, captivating reenactments and concise directions to help you navigate the grounds. If you are going to rent an audio guide, there is an extra headphone jack, so two people can share one unit. Jim and I did not know this until after we each rented a unit; plus I did not bring any earphones in my back pack.
As we were touring the medieval Palace built by King Edward I along the southern outer wall, we noticed an interesting children's program. I do not know if it cost anything, but you can have your children train to become knights. Their training begins as a page with Lady Beatrice teaching the youngsters the proper method of serving dinner to the Royal family. After dinner, Princess Eleanor instructs the would be knights on one of the courtly dances. Next, a knight trains the "squires" on the art of hand to hand combat. Finally after they have finished the training program, the children are knighted by King Edward I in the courtyard. For those history buffs, King Edward I was also known as Edward Longshanks, the king in the movie Braveheart. It is funny how your prospective will determine whether this King is a villain or a hero. Edward I was quite successful expanding English territories.
We continued our audio tour walking on the top of the inner wall. At various locations you can find a modern sculpture representation of the soldiers guarding the castle. There is one wielding an axe near the Salt Tower and a crossbow near the Broad Arrow Tower. Inside the Broad Arrow Tower, you can find more weapons and armor of the time. At the northeast side of the castle wall was Martin Tower, which used to hold the Crown Jewels. Instead now on display were exhibits on the making of the crown jewels. Including some interesting tidbits on the various diamonds (Cullinan diamonds from South Africa and the Kohinoor from India) used in the Crown Jewels and the royal regalia. This served as a good primer for the real deal. The Crown Jewels are held in a vault in the Waterloo Block, which is guarded by armed soldiers. To entertain the masses before they reach the vault, videos of Queen Elizabeth II coronation plus further snippets of the various regalia like the Orb would play throughout the queue. One would think all this build up will lead to a major disappointment when you see the actual Crown Jewels. I was not disappointed...awe inspired is a better description. I was especially fascinated by the metal work of the various gold dinnerware. The intricate details on the plates and bowls were amazing; unfortunately no photography was allowed.
Next, we walked to the scaffold site on the north west end of the castle grounds. There was a monument to those fortunate souls who had their lives ended by the blade of the executioner on these grounds...apparently it was an honor to be executed at the Tower of London. Next to the scaffold site was the Royal Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula where the various victims were laid to rest. Also next to the scaffold site was Beauchamp Tower, where royal prisoners were imprisoned and tortured. Unfortunately because it was close to closing time, we could not go in. We also could not enter the White Tower because it was too late. The White Tower is the center piece of the Tower of London and was constructed in the 1100's by William the Conqueror. The tower houses displays from the Royal Armory collection, which included the armour of Henry VIII. Next to the White Tower, you can see ravens kept inside a cage. According to legend, if the ravens left the Tower, the kingdom and the fortress will fall. To prevent this from happening, there is always 6-8 ravens kept on the site.
The "Tower" of London has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is definitely worth a visit, but if you want to see everything you need to start sooner than 2.