Day 2 in London: The Tower, Westminster Pier, and the Thames

As I planned this trip, I tried to focus on things I had never done before. As a student in England in 1992, I managed to cover a lot of ground, and that did include large swaths of London itself.

That said, I decided to revisit a favorite spot: the Tower of London.

I’ve always been drawn to the Tower. I have distant British royal ancestry, if the records are accurate; my last direct ancestor on the throne was Edward I, Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots. I didn’t know about this family history when I was last here, but this time around, I did. When I saw that one of the self-guided audio tours for the Tower focused on the life of Edward and his father, Henry III, I opted to do that, first.

The tour took me into a section of the complex that I don’t remember climbing before, up along the battlements on the side of grounds facing the Thames. Henry built his medieval palace construction there, away from the central White Tower. I walked up a flight of stairs along the wall and into the main receiving hall for the king, which was flanked by a tower at a corner and featured an enormous fireplace. Broad wooden beams kept the high ceilings safe under the heavy guns that would have rested on top of the roof.

The room itself lacked the luxury it would have had in the thirteenth century; its wooden floors and clean brick-and-stone walls would have been the same, but they would have been covered with carpets and tapestries against the chill. The large room adjoining the private hall, Edward I’s bedroom with small adjoining chapel, remains furnished as it might have been in his time.

It’s an odd feeling, walking in the footsteps of ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the tour, which also included re-enactors in Edward’s chambers talking to school groups about the castle’s construction. In fact, there were numerous school groups present throughout the grounds, with older students discussing the bloody history of parts of the tower and younger students enjoying the Crown Jewels, and some of the specially tailored children’s activities (including knight’s training). I’m looking forward to bringing my own children here some day.

I revisited the execution site of Ann Boleyn and the prison of Beauchamp Tower; I also revisited the study kept by Sir Walter Raleigh when he and his family were confined to the Tower under Queen Elizabeth I. I also enjoyed the peek at the ravens of the Tower, and the walk along the Thames after my visit that culminated in amazing fish and chips from Josef’s stand.

I debated my next move from there, but as I was fairly tired from walking all those battlements (and up and down miles of twisty medieval staircases–I’d forgotten the sheer number of steps that go along with exploring castles and castle-like structures), so I decided to take advantage of the pass I had to take a Thames River cruise.

This meant first taking the Tube down to Westminster Pier to collect the ticket associated with my London Explorer Pass, which was no trouble. Once at Westminster Pier, I took note of the protesters on the square near the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, and promptly turned down toward the water, instead. I collected my ticket, then headed down to the water to board the City Cruises boat.

The river cruise was definitely a first for me, and it afforded me the opportunity to take pictures from the water, which gave me some fantastic views, including a spectacular shot of the Tower featuring the Traitor’s Gate from the water. The boat took me back up the Thames to Tower Pier (I could have continued to Greenwich, but felt immeasurably tired at this point). I enjoyed the live commentary and the company of other Americans who sat with me by the front of the boat.

It was a good day.

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