The craggy walls and drained moat of the Tower of London make for a peculiar contrast with the urban buildings of the City nearby.
The ancient fortress is still holding its ground after 12 centuries as a symbol of royal power, refuge and punishment.
The large, modern ticket office near the entrance and the hefty £20 entry fee are evidence that it still exerts authority – albeit as one of London’s most popular tourist attractions.
To get there, jump on the District Line to Tower Hill and leg it over to the entrance as soon as you can. You’ll beat the crowds and get an undisturbed close-up of the eye-boggling bling of the crown jewels, housed in the Waterloo Barracks.
Head back to the main entrance for a free outdoor tour presented in entertainingly military style by a Yeoman Warrior, or ‘Beefeater’, who regales the crowd with tales about the buildings, executions, and prisoners as he leads you up to Tower Green and the chapel where Henry VIII’s more unfortunate Queens are buried.
Head up the steps off Water Lane to explore St Thomas’, Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers which make up the delightful Medieval Palace.
Here, you can wander through cozy rooms and get a sense of the interiors where Henry III and Edward I lived and breathed.
The White Tower is the heart and origin of the rest of the fortress. This impressive symbol of a new type of kingship in the 11th century is now a store house for a dizzying amount of aristocratic armour and weaponry – including Henry VIII’s notorious codpiece – as well as exotic historic royal gifts from around the world.
Although torture was never an ‘official’ activity at the Tower it certainly went on within its more shadowy sound-proofed corners and an exhibition of some of the eye watering apparatus is on display in the Lower Wakefield Tower.
For doomed Anne Boleyn in 1536, Beauchamp Tower provided a room with a view…of her execution site on Tower Green.
Hubby Henry VIII thoughtfully had her done away with in front of the elegant housing he previously built for her on the green when they were first set to marry.
Unfortunately adultery charges meant her fate was sealed as surely as the Tower’s if one of its six ravens were to fly away…
The Bloody Tower gained its name for the 15th century disappearance of Richard III’s nephews but it also housed what looked like very comfortable lodgings for Elizabethan night Sir Walter Raleigh who went from hero to zero according to Royal whims and intrigues of the day.
You can easily spend three or four hours wandering around and revelling in all the grim details, made all the more atmospheric by drizzly British weather.
Unlike the Tower’s unfortunates who floated by boat through Traitors Gate and never
came out again, you can simply walk out of Water Lane onto a riverside promenade dominated by the arches of Tower Bridge, and views of the futuristic Mayor’s office and sky-piercing Shard, jolting you back to the 21st century.
But head over the bridge and your eye will be drawn back to the Tower, in all its glory, surrounded by modern life but steadfastly safeguarding its potent past.