Friday, 7 March 2008

Scaffolding, Stairs & Suits of Armour

Most visitors head straight to see the Crown Jewels but I was happy to wait a while longer before seeing them again. I made my solitary way to the White Tower - the oldest of all the towers - which is currently being cleaned and conserved externally. It was originally white washed to intimidate foreign invaders and terrify Londoners but this pollution-stained grubby brownish building remains impressive and iconic. Unfortunately, the temporary scaffolding rather ruins the photo opportunity… so I didn’t bother!

The White Tower houses the Armouries. I happily admit that I speeded around the displays and, where possible, skipped whole sections! I am emphatically unenthusiastic about swords, guns and suits of armour. But don’t let me put you off as anyone who has a slight interest in matters of munitions (mostly little boys and big boys I would imagine!) will love this tower more than any other! My attention was tickled slightly by the “Hands on History” section where you can touch and try out some weapons. Alas, my fleeting enthusiasm vanished when a pushy mother pushed me out of the way so that little Johnny could have a go – I considered pistols at twenty paces but didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere!

One display worth mentioning is the Guinness World Record holder for the Tallest Suit of Armour. Standing at 6ft 8 inches and dating back to around 1540, this “giant” suit of armour is displayed next to a “dwarf” (their word, not mine!) suit of armour which is a miniature 3ft 1.5 inches. Surprisingly, there are no prizes for the small one which just goes to show that size really does matter!

It’s no secret that the Tower of London, with its many stairs and uneven floor surfaces, is generally not wheelchair friendly. But with so much to look at and discover without going inside, mobility problems shouldn’t impede your enjoyment at this World Heritage Site. In fact, there is free wheelchair hire available (but careful on the cobblestones!). The Jewel House is completely accessible for all visitors as are the New Armouries CafĂ© and various toilet facilities.

I should reveal now that, because of my shameful indifference to weaponry, I started counting stairs whilst in the White Tower! I will reveal the results of my massive stair count at a later date – I bet you can’t wait for those statistics!

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