Last day in the UK
Last day in the UK before flying home tomorrow.
I had stopped at the Earl’s Court Tavern for tea when I arrived back in London. It was lovely to be greeted by the bar staff, who remembered me from my visit over two weeks prior. It’s one of the highlights of the trip, meeting such wonderful people along the way.
Waking the next morning I felt the confines of my small Cromwell Hotel room in Earl’s Court, particularly after the luxury of the Maldron Hotel in Cardiff. It was a miserable day, with some areas of the UK receiving a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. I set off very early on the underground to Tower Hill station. I didn’t want to get caught in any crowds at the Tower of London and was looking forward to the weather putting off a big rush of tourists.
I arrived at Tower Hill just after the Tower of London opened, around 9.30 am. The rain was persistently steady, although not heavy. Looking at the photos I was happy that not too many of them were ruined by the rain and gloom.
I paid for my entry, and the tourist guide book, which cost me £24.95, the dearest entry fee of my whole trip. I should have known that this wasn’t a good sign, but I really wanted to see Traitors Gate and the ravens.
The Tower of London castle was erected in 1066 (the year of the battle of Hastings). The White Tower, which gives the castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose.
The palace early in its history was a royal residence and has several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls. It also has a large moat which is now grassed. The castle was expanded a few times, mainly under Kings Richard the Lion heart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. These are names that we read about, and until now, have never really thought of in real terms. I’m looking at stones and steps that kings have walked, many kings over centuries. Wow! It’s truly mind blowing stuff.
I took my guide book and wandered into the tower grounds. I was delighted to find Traitors Gate straight away. The part this gate played in history is amazing. The most influential prisoners were taken to the Tower, rather than the Fleet prison, where they were more likely to die from disease. People such as Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh would have entered the castle through this gate. Some of them, like Elizabeth I were released, but many others met their untimely end on the executions block at Tower Hill.
I spent a bit of time at the gate, thinking of the people who had entered through here and what they must have felt. Most would have found little hope of survival I imagine.
I decided not to see the crown jewels. There were about three tour groups clambering to get to the building that housed the jewels. Having seen the Scottish crown jewels, I turned instead to the raven rookery.
Ravens are huge compared to our crows. I’m not sure what I expected, but there were half a dozen ravens in cages and a very small display board providing some facts. I’m sure they are allowed to fly free as two of them were not in cages. I’m not sure why, but I was slightly deflated at seeing them.
Moving on, I passed not one, but two cafe/souvenir shops, which bespoke the overall tourist feel of the place. It’s something I really don’t like when it overrides the historic ambience.
I found the dungeon/torture chamber display and thought it would be worth a good look. The display was two very small rooms with a couple of torture devices, one of which was the rack. I found the dungeon/torture chamber display and thought it would be worth a good look.
The display was two very small rooms with a couple of torture devices, one of which was the rack, also known as the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter. The other device was a contraption that contracted the body rather than stretched it. This was called the Scavenger's Daughter. They were both used in the era of Henry VIII.
I found it almost unbelievable how cruel people could be, all in the name of religion or the king. The sign did say that torture was not used for any long period in UK history. That’s okay, except for those that were tortured.
The weather became worse and I ended my tour, not really fussed about seeing anything more of the Tower. The castle is very well preserved, magnificently so, but it’s geared up for the tourist to spend money on tea/coffee and souvenirs and that’s not for me. Very pricey and disappointing.
I headed out towards the Thames and walked along the riverbank, which was a lovely stroll. The weather broke every now and then and it was only spitting lightly as I walked.
The Thames is a busy place with all sorts of river craft using the wide thoroughfare. The view up and down the Thames is fabulous and it’s the one places where you can feel the wide open space in front of you. London has 10 million people, plus the thousands of tourists, which is no exaggeration. Australia has 20 million in the whole country. No wonder I was beginning to feel a lack of personal space.
Walking directly underneath Tower Bridge was amazing. I took a really close look at this very recognizable bridge and again, thought of the many people who had crossed over this since it was erected. I did want to walk across it, which was quite a hike, but the weather was not good. My raincoat hood constantly dripped water on my face and I decided to seek an indoor activity. I took some video of the bridge towers as we drove across it. I’ll be posting them in the next month or so when I get time to produce the clips.
I had booked a tour of the BBC studios for the afternoon and needed to print out my ticket, as well as my boarding passes for my flight home. I jumped on the train and made my way to Gloucester Road, knowing that there was an internet cafe near the station. I printed out my paperwork and then visited Garfunkels for breakfast.
Garfunkels is a chain of cafe’s that I’d seen dotted here and there. The tea was good and hot, which was needed after all that rain and cold. I had the English breakfast, small helpings of bacon, egg, tomato, baked beans and mushies. Very filling and I found that this kept me going for most of the day.
I had plenty of time to spare so I headed for the shops, something I loathe. I wanted to buy some gifts to take home but had found nothing worth buying. Most of the souvenirs were crappy plastic or run of the mill type souvenirs that junk shops would have. I didn’t want a union jack money box or a stuffed toy. I browsed around and got a few items, but was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t found that unique type of gift I would have liked to bring home. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. Like I said, I hate shopping and would rather do anything else than shop.
I jumped on the Hammersmith line train and travelled out to Wood Lane Station, which was right across the road from the BBC Studios. Visiting the ladies rest room at the train station I was amused to find a bullet hole in the window. The station looked pretty rough and this confirmed it.
The rain had stopped for a while but there was more coming over. I was glad this tour would be inside. I had booked the tour the day before but woke feeling very tired and almost cancelled it. I’m glad I didn’t.
Opened in 1960, the BBC Television Centre studio at Wood Lane has eight medium to large production studios, four small ones and a number of studios to produce the news and weather. There are a number of other BBC studios all over the UK, but here at the BBC Television Centre is where it all began.
The building itself is huge and there are over five thousand people working here. The building houses studios, a scenery block, offices, cafeterias, snack bars, coffee bars, souvenir shop, delis and tea bars. The Centre also has a travel agent, a hairdresser, a dry cleaner and a florist.
Some of the past TV programmes to come out of these studios include Fawlty Towers, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Absolutely Fabulous, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and for me, the most famous of them all, Doctor Who. Drama’s aren’t generally filmed here anymore. Dr Who, for instance is filmed in the drama village at Cardiff.
The BBC now outsource some of their departments such as make-up, wardrobe and design departments. The studios, once used for all of their productions, are now booked by a number of independent production companies, including ITV.
Our tour started outside and I was extremely excited to see the TARDIS at the front door. However, it wasn’t the same TARDIS used in the filming.
All television show sets are destroyed when no longer needed. There was an exception to this. The original Dr Who TARDIS fell apart in the 1970s and was replaced with another that was used until the final episode in 1989 made with Sylvester McCoy. That TARDIS was never destroyed. When the new series was launched in 2004 in Wales with its own new TARDIS, the old TARDIS was proudly displayed outside the audience foyer in the BBC entrance.
It has since been replaced with the new one, which looks too new, but I really didn’t care.
We went inside and started the tour in the News room. Our tour group sat in small meeting room which looked out onto the news desks. A bit like working in a fish bowl. You could see up to the next two floors when you looked up and also see what everyone was doing at their desks. The BBC employs 1200 people in the newsroom, including television and radio, at this studio. They also have freelance journalists all over the world and other studios all over the UK. This makes them the largest news network in the world.
Some of the journalists monitor trending information on social networks such as twitter and facebook. Sound exciting? No thanks, imagine the rubbish they must have to read to get to anything worthwhile. It would turn you to a drooling mass of mindless jelly if you read too much of it.
We watched one of the radio stations on a big screen as they went to air. We also tuned in to one of the 100 or more weather people as she got ready to present the weather. It was really interesting. It was fun watching her primp and preen before going on air. I guess it’s easy to forget that there are camera’s everywhere here and anyone could be watching.
Each weather person has her own preferences for teleprompter speed, lighting, and camera position put into a computer. They go into a very small room which is fully automated. They enter their code and the studio loads her/his preferences. They then wait for the right time and present the weather against the green screen. When that’s done, they turn off the camera and computer and leave. No-one else is there to help. Not what you’d expect at all.
We moved down to one of the many studios. This was not the first time I’ve been in a studio. I have been on tv a couple of times on a kids program when I was about nine years old, and in the audience for a couple of tv shows in the eighties. I also had a tour of channel nine for school. These studios were much bigger than anything I’ve seen before.
For all those who are soccer fans, the set we entered was the ‘Match of the Day’ set. We moved over to a back lot where the old set design for ‘Blue Peter’ was housed. Blue Peter is not shown on our tv’s but it’s a hugely popular children’s show in the UK. It’s now filmed in the new studios in Salford closer to London city.
We walked through the labyrinth of passageways and entered the viewing room above one of the sets. We weren’t allowed to take photos here as they were filming. The studio below were rehearsing the show ‘8 out of 10 cats’ with Jimmy Carr. Jimmy hosted the raunchy and rude ‘Distraction’ show, which used to show lots of naughty bits on late night tv. He’s very funny.
Moving on from here another studio were taping Animal Antics, we heard some very funny dialogue between a two men, one dressed as a dog. This was a show for another network and they had hired the studios to tape it.
Walking down the corridors we passed photos of current shows, like ‘Being Human’, which I love. Also in display cases are props from shows, Dr Who amongst them.
Down a corridor where the weather is produced, one of our tour group had some fun in front of the cameras. They were put in front of the green screen and tried to read the teleprompter and direct the weather at the same time. Not as easy as it looked. We also had fun hiding parts of people with the blue screen, making one lady look like a floating head.
Toward the end of the tour we entered a small studio set up with a news desk and a three person game show panel. The tour guides had two of the tour group act as news readers. They read off the teleprompter and threw over to a couple of short news stories. It was then our turn. I was one of the volunteers to become game show players. We had to answer some very simple questions and the winner got a prize. I got beaten to the buzzer for the final question but it was fun and we all got some BBC pens for taking part.
The tour took about an hour and a half and was fascinating. We ended in the BBC shop, which didn’t have as much Dr Who things as I would have liked. There was a fantastic free standing cardboard Dalek, real life height, which was over my head. I would have bought it, but had no way of getting it back home.
I left the tour thinking that this had been a very good idea.
It was mid afternoon and I had just enough time to head back into the city and go to Baker Street, the home of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I decided that tired that I was, I wouldn’t miss my last opportunity to see something, especially since I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan since my early teen years.
I had no trouble finding 221B Baker Street. There was an old fashioned English Bobby out the front, directing the tourists in and out of the building. I bought my ticket in the souvenir shop, which I noted was very expensive but had some nice gifts.
The wait was about twenty minutes before I was allowed inside. Up some very narrow stairs to the bedroom and study of Sherlock Holmes. It had been set up exactly as the books describe. Cluttered with artefacts that Sherlock Holmes would have owned, had he been real. I could almost see him standing at the window looking down at the hansom cabs in the street, pipe in his mouth, contemplating the stranger about to enter through his front door.
I didn’t have much time to have a look as the crowd of people were swarming all over the tiny rooms. I felt that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have liked the display. I was happy. It ticked off another mental box of ‘places I must visit’ for me.
I had also planned to go on the Jack the Ripper tour that night, but the steady rain and cold would have ruined it. I added that tour to the ones to complete on my next trip to the UK.
I headed back to the hotel, grabbing a takeaway on the way. I had to pack everything properly for the flight home. I’ve had a wonderful time. Some disappointments, some unusual happenings and best of all, met some very nice people along the way. I went to bed very happy with my holiday and felt that the eight years I had planned and waited and all the time I’d taken pouring over tours and accommodation had been worth it.
My last post will be on my personal travel recommendations. Good internet sites, accommodation, places to see and any to avoid. Tour companies and simple things like travel, particularly for people on their own.