Visiting Westminster Abbey

>>  Friday, February 28, 2014

We went into London to visit Westminster Abbey this half-term.

We've gone a few times before but never made it in, either being too late in the day or given up when we've seen the queues.

We decided a wet half-term was the time to go, we were right.

We arrived at 11am, precisely by Big Ben's chime.  There was no queue at all.  We just walked up to the door.  Just the way I like it.

It is pricey - £18 for an adult and £8 for Cog.  It stings a bit when there is so much free stuff to do in London, and it's a church but hey-ho and it does include the audio guide which was very good.

Your local priest can apply for a free pass for a limited number of parishioners each year, if you are a church regular you could try down that route.  I think I might if I planned to go again.

You can't take photos inside the Abbey, there are many tombs to see.  I was rather pleased we had watched and read the White Queen with fervour.  I know that historical fiction isn't the best way to learn history, but at least we knew our Henrys and Elizabeths.  Margaret Beaufort is in there with Mary Queen of Scots.  Edward VI, Elizabeth I too.  But it was just as interesting to walk round and go 'Gosh there's Newton, blimey that's Faraday, there's Northumberland and Sussex'.  The Architecture is wonderful, obviously.  I was interested to see the hole in the wall caused by a bomb in the war and Cromwell's pre 'being dug up' grave.  The Coronation chair.  There is a lot of stuff to see and above all for me, the grave of the unknown soldier.   Such a moving story of his origin, I wrote about it before.

Many years ago I managed to wander in through a back door of the Abbey, I was looking around the Deans Court Yard and followed a camera crew's cable in through a door.  I had a lovely wander around on my own before finally deciding I really shouldn't be there and leaving.  But on my way out, the tomb stone of Captain James Cook caught my eye, I've never forgotten it and I found it again in the cloisters on this visit.

As always when Cog and I have these days out, there were costumed characters walking around.  I have no idea why!
The oldest door in Britain is in the Abbey, it pre-dates the Norman Conquest apparently.  I seemed to just keep on stumbling over bits and bobs like this.  I think doing a proper Guided tour would be very interesting.  I stood listening for a while to a guy talking to a lady about two 13th century doors put on 'after the robbery' and about the wooden chests the clergy robes were kept in.  I would have liked to have asked questions but it wasn't my tour!
The Chapter House was lovely and bright.  The relatively new glass made me smile.  It was very "woz ere".  The Doomsday book was here.  A copy of the Magna Carta was here.  If you want to actually see a copy of the Magna Carta, you can in Lincoln.  I recommend that for a day out too.

This window made me think of Elizabeth Woodville hiding in Sanctuary in the Abbey.  Actually it was taken in the Cellarium Cafe at the Abbey.  It was ok for a cup of tea and a slice a cake and the service was good but it was expensive and the sandwiches we had were dreadful.  There are so many good places to eat in London, I wouldn't waste my time here again.  There are good clean toilets there though.
Like so many historical buildings, the Abbey has been added to over the years but it's all been done in beautiful harmony.

If you are after a religious experience, I didn't find it at Westminster Abbey.  Cog said it didn't feel like a church.  I didn't even spot the Tabernacle.  I'm going to take her to Canterbury so she can feel the difference in a Cathedral that holds so many prayers within it's walls it bounces through you.

But for historical voyeurism Westminster Abbey is true gold and thoroughly worth a visit.

The official site for vistor information, opening times and prices is here.


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