Shady goings on at the Tower on a trip to London

Peter Hutcheon and Amy take in the views at Westminster
Peter Hutcheon and Amy take in the views at Westminster

I’d only been in London for around two hours when I spotted four famous faces.

I’ll admit I was a little star struck when comedian Alexander Armstrong drifted past us in Stansted airport.

Erin and Amy pictured with one of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London.

Erin and Amy pictured with one of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London.

Next in line was former Labour leader Neil Kinnock who we spotted rushing out of the Houses of Parliament, ITN news reporter Tom Bradby (the one with the rosy cheeks) and finally TV presenter Laurence Llewelyn Bowen filming a segment for television.

But that’s the thing about London, you never know who you’re going to meet around the next corner.

There was definitely a real sense of occasion as we strolled around Westminster just days before the British Royal Wedding last week. Walking past Buckingham Palace and along the Mall, the preparations for the big day were well underway.

And with no shortage of shops selling memorabilia for the day which ranged from T-shirts, ash trays, mugs and even customised Kate’n Wills tea bags - it wasn’t hard to get caught up in the buzz.

Queues of people waited patiently outside Westminster Abbey the day we arrived - hoping to get a chance to get a glimpse of the long aisle Kate Middleton would walk down on her big day.

But with a hefty £16 entry fee - we decided to give the visit to the Abbey a miss.

Our base for our stay was at the Norfolk Plaza Hotel, just a stone’s throw from Paddington Station. The hotel isn’t exactly the Ritz but it’s clean and there’s no better base for travelling, especially when you’re with a small child.

Our first trip was to possibly the city’s most famous landmark.

We decided to beat the queues on this one and didn’t turn up to the London Eye until after 6.30 p.m. when we were also treated to a 4D film (which is basically a 3D film where they chuck water at you). However it was good fun and afterwards we came out and joined the very fast-moving queue.

Actually mounting the London Eye is a feat not for the faint-hearted. The capsules don’t stop and you have to hop on and off while they are still moving.

Still the view from the London Eye is simply breathtaking and there’s no better way to see London, I would particularly recommend taking the London Eye trip on your first day as you get a real feel of where all the famous landmarks are.

Next morning we again made the trip back to the Eye, this time for the 10.45 a.m. London Eye river cruise. This excursion was by far one of my favourites.

While the sun shone for the whole trip there was a refreshing breeze along the Thames that morning.

Our initial journey took us as far as Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. We then turned and cruised right up the Thames under London’s most famous bridges including Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the city’s infamous wobbly Millennium bridge.

Our tour guide filled us in on the history of the many buildings on the river bank including the famous Oxo Factory and the spectacular Butler’s Wharf with its multi-million pound apartments.

We also learned much of London’s history as he pointed out some of the buildings that survived that Great Fire of London - and the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

It hardly felt like any time has passed before we were back at the pier under the London Eye ready to disembark.

Just time for a quick coffee and Danish before we jumped back on the Underground and made our way to the Tower of London.

The sight of the Tower that you meet as you make your way up from the Tube is simply breathtaking.

And with the castle steeped in hundreds of years of British history, you know you’re about to go into a place that’s vey special.

At the gate we were met by a Beefeater called Shady - who was a fantastic tour guide for us. Dressed in the traditional red uniform of the Beefeater, Shady, who lives at the tower with the other Beefeaters, filled us in with all the information about the history of the Tower.

He also told us about the superstition behind the Tower and how legend has it that if the black ravens of the Tower ever leave, the building will crumble to pieces. It’s for this reason the Tower now engages the services of a raven master who ensures the birds who guard the Tower are well fed and kept. (In fact one of the birds was getting a check up from the vet when we were there).

For me, the highlight of the visit was the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula - which is also the burial place of beheaded queens Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

There’s a real sense of respect for this chapel. You can only go in if you are accompanied by a Beefeater, who will insist you remove your hat and switch your phones off.

You can’t actually get up to the graves but there is a real feeling that these two wives of Henry VIII are now finally at peace after their gruesome deaths at the Bloody Tower.

During your visit to the Tower you also have the chance to see some of the magnificent Crown Jewels on display. The braver visitor can also visit the underground rooms and see some of the instruments of torture on display including the rack and the infamous block and axe.

All-in-all we spent around four hours at the Tower, and afterwards spent some time in the gift shop where families have the chance to pick up souvenirs.

For our third day in London, we decided to take things easier and took a visit to the Science Museum.

The good thing about the museum is that it’s free, however a lot of the science went over my head and that of my seven year-old daughter. I’m sure there’s plenty of science lovers who would have enjoyed the museum more than me, but it was definitely was not a highlight of my trip.

Just a stroll from the Science Museum you can visit Kensington Gardens which takes you past the Royal Albert Hall. If you can manage the steep walk up the hill you also pass Kensington Palace and Princess Diana’s Memorial Playground which provided a fun few hours for our daughter.

We also took the opportunity on our visit to take in a West End Show and opted to see Phantom of the Opera.

Booking on the morning of the show, our seats were not great in top balcony but any visit to London would not be complete without this event. Have your drinks in the bar across the street though - unless you want to pay £9.05 for a glass for wine at Her Majesty’s Theatre which they tried to charge us.

London can be highly recommended for couples and families. Make sure you bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes and be prepared to use the Underground system which makes getting about all the easier.

You’ll find plenty of nice places to eat. We particularly liked our stay in the Paddington area and had a lovely meal in a bar called Sawyer’s.

Four days in London is only enough to sratch the surface - there’s so much else to see and do.