2003 Discovering Britain & Ireland – Day 29

LONDON – taking the last train 

Sunday – today is my last day of sightseeing in Britain so I have to make the most of it. Another continental breakfast and off to the tube again.  Today is yep – another Evan Evans Tour – this time of London and Buckingham Palace. I know I have seen most of London but it came with the deal so off we go. First stop is near Westminster Bridge. I have already done this so I take off for New Scotland Yard which we passed about 500 metres back. The guide says ‘where are you going?’ – I says ‘I’ve already seen where they are going – I am going this way’ – he snarls ‘make sure you are back in time’ and promptly heads off with the group.

HISTORY LESSON:New Scotland Yard (NSY) is the headquarters building of the Metropolitan Police. Commonly known as the “Met”, the force is responsible for law enforcement within Greater London, excluding the square mile of the City of London, which is covered by the City of London Police. The current New Scotland Yard building is located within Westminster. The term Scotland Yard (or New Scotland Yard, or just “the Yard”) is often used as a metonym for the Metropolitan Police, and Scotland Yard itself was named after a street in London. Scotland Yard has become internationally famous as a symbol of policing, and detectives from Scotland Yard feature in many works of crime fiction. They were frequent allies — and sometimes antagonists — of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Lestrade and of course Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot!

Having returned to the bus I am waiting for the group and the guide who are running late – but I do not say a word – I just give him a look that says it all!   Everyone is finally on board and off we go to Clarence House and St. James Palace – which I haven’t seen (surprised?) – so more photos –

We cross over the Thames and I get some more good photos of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – from a different angle this time. Yes, yes I know.

Back to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard and the place is packed.

The Guard is coming and we hear the band playing. What a spectacle. Tall black bear-skin hats and bright red jackets – they are fabulous. The Changing of the Guard is only done on certain days – so I am glad I did the work to find out what day it was.  I find a good vantage point until the police come and tell us we have to move from here as there is a security threat. They have found a parked car – with no owner in sight.

So we all move and then a while later the owner of the car turns up and is really embarrassed (idiot) and we all race back.  I am caught up in the spectacle of it and move along with them and get some good photos until I realise that I have to be back at Buckingham Palace by a certain time for our tour. Racing back through the crowds I make it just in time – I don’t think the guide was too pleased that I cut it that fine but he most probably remembered the earlier encounter and how his group was late.

He gives me a sour look which is returned with a very large smile and then gives us our tickets. He then bids us farewell as the tour finishes here and the remainder of the day is our own. Tour twit could have given us our tickets before when we were on the bus or even when we got off the bus – but no he has to wait until we are altogether so that he can hear us tell him how good he is and of course hand over a tip for his services!  Well he lucked out with me!

Head inside the Palace – of course no photos (so buy a book).  Incredible place full of history and the staircase is very grand I must say. Did I mention that I love English history?  I am as happy as the proverbial pig and I am getting dizzy just looking at everything.  After about an hour I head outside and we are allowed to take photos. It is a very elegant place and very huge and the grounds are fabulous.  On the left is a photo of the back of The Palace.  Everyone sees the front but out the back is where Her Maj entertains the guests at the garden parties. She may even walk the royal corgis out here!  What a great area. Lovely lawns and great gardens and is a very serene place. Compared to Hampton Court, this place is very austere but just the magic of it being a royal palace is enough to make my imagination talk off thinking of what it was like in previous years.

HISTORY LESSON: Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837. It evolved from a town house that was owned by the Dukes of Buckingham. George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St James’s Palace. It became known as the Queen’s House and 14 out of 15 of their children were born there. In 1762 work began on remodelling he house to the King’s requirements. In 1826 George IV decided to transform the house into a palace.

After wandering around I head off for The Royal Mews which is about 15 minutes walk down Buckingham Palace Road. Cost – ₤5.00. This is where the Royal Stables and the Royal State Coaches that are used for various occasions are housed.

HISTORY LESSON: The Mews first started in its present location in 1760 when George III moved his carriage collection and some of his horses there. It was convenient for them to be near to the house which he just purchased – today’s Buckingham Palace.

There is a riding school; two sets of State Stables with room for 54 horses and well as forage and harness rooms.   I see some of the fabulous Windsor Greys (horses) – this one’s name is Flagship.

From the stables we proceed into a special room that houses the coach that was used for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

This is the magnificent Gold State Coach. And yes, we can take photos – so off I go taking them from every angle.

HISTORY LESSON: This coach was commissioned by George III in 1762. The designs for it were approved by Sir William Chambers.  When completed it was brought to The Mews on 24 November 1762.  Eight cream horses were harnessed to it and it was duly pulled round the Mews.  It weighs almost 4 tonnes and never travels faster than walking speed.  It is gilded all over and the exterior has hand painted panels.  The interior is covered in crimson satin.  The Coach was used at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. 

I buy a book as well. I have enough books to start a library and how on earth am I going to get them all home??? I walk back up to Buckingham Palace and take some photos of The Mall and Queen Victoria Monument.

The Queen Victoria Monument outside Buckingham Palace was constructed of the finest white marble and unveiled in 1911.

The Monument was designed to be the symbolic hub of The Empire. The seated statue of Victoria facing The Mall is 13 feet high and is carved from a solid block of marble. On the sides of the pedestal are groups which represent Truth, Motherhood and Justice. Around the monument are groups in bronze symbolizing Science, Art, Peace, Progress, Naval Power, Industry and Agriculture.

I have just about had it by this stage – but not quite. On the way home I decide to go to Harrods. Just went by this place last time – so I have to go in and have a look around. What a store – it’s incredible.

The owner – Mr Fayed – has big Egyptian Sphinxes with his face – and also there is the Memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi – this is the only place in the store where you can take a photo – so I do, but it really is too crass to put here.  On a happy note the Harrods Dated Christmas Bear is on sale so I buy it. Something else to carry back home.  I also go to the famous Food Hall where they have some ‘shrimp’ or what we call prawns. They look good so decide to get some for dinner tonight. I also get some chocolates.  Now I am beat – have to get back to the hotel and pack because I am leaving tomorrow.  I get ready to have my shrimp with lemon and dill for dinner and my mouth is watering.  What a disappointment – no taste – I think they must have been frozen for 6 months – – anyway doesn’t matter – I can’t take them back!

Early shower – early to bed and I am off with the pixies almost immediately.

Highlight of the day: The breathtakingly beautiful Gold State Coach

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