Londoners in the Rain and the Tower of London

London must have gotten its foggy reputation from the burning of the coal in the olden times, because any time I visited London, I didn’t see the famed fog. Rain, drizzle, cloudy skies, mist, a slight haze, yes; but fog, no.

Usually, we explore cities by taking walking tours, but at this time, we could walk less than we thought we could. Despite the cold and the rain, when staying outside was nearly impossible, we enjoyed London. London in rain boasts of a different kind of splendor, especially when one is inside a taxi or a bus. The drivels of water soften the view of the street from the windows, as if looking out of something frosted but liquid at the same time. The edges of buildings, people, vehicles, street signs blur into each other and the city seems like one framed piece of art.

On one of those really rainy days, we took the bus. Since people wore bulkier clothes, the seats felt smaller, aisles tighter, and railings too slippery to hold. Once we sat down, we observed the people around us, checking their bus route maps. The tube is easier to figure out than the bus routes and even the resident Londoners carry these route maps with them.

Once the doors closed, the floor inside the bus glistened with moisture and the windows fogged up. The bus wrenched and twitched as we pulled out of the station. The driver was having difficulty stopping and starting. Yet, the people knew where they’d get off by the sheer sense of the road from the movements of the bus, as if in time travel.

On such a rainy day, when the bus slowed down at some place, we heard Bible verses penetrating the interior, reminding me of Broadway preachers in New York City. I wasn’t far off. When I wiped the window with the back of my hand, I saw a man under the eaves of a shop with a Bible confronting the passers-by. He had a megaphone in his hand. From their body language, I understood that the people were not very happy about this because the flow of the crowd parted and left this man in the middle, as if to strand him on his own island.

As each old city, London has its share of ghosts and some of these ghosts congregate in the Tower of London. Yet, the Tower didn’t start out to be a supernatural undertaking. Since erecting castles meant marking the Normans’ territory (wild animals come to mind), Norman the Conqueror ordered a castle built by the Thames during the eleventh century to provide a base for his power. The Tower, first, was a palace for the royalty. Later, it was turned into a prison and served as the backdrop for royal murders to take place.

What I saw when we walked through dim hallways and up and down the spooky stairways were not ghosts but excited yeoman warders, drumming up the tourist business with titillating ghost stories as harbingers of an entertaining though a very tiring trip.

The architecture of the buildings, the view of the Thames, and the bridge from the Tower were breathtaking, and the stories told by the warders grabbed everyone’s attention. Listening to them, I thought, “No wonder Shakespeare erupted from England. These Brits know how to ham it up.” To add to this aura, the insides of the buildings were freezing cold, and if we hadn’t dressed warmly, we’d surely have left no matter what the expense.

Our tour started from the West gate, but I wrote down what I could remember as soon as we got to the hotel, regardless of the tour’s progression. The funniest thing was the beefeater with the fur hat standing in front of his black hut without blinking and teens jumping up and down and waving, trying to make him move or blink. I don’t know who was more ridiculous, the soldier doing his duty or the crazy teens.

Not that I’ve witnessed the exact ghosts, but I still remember the bits and pieces of the ghost stories I heard in the towers. Sir Walter Raleigh’s image is supposedly visible on a wall in the Bloody Tower overlooking the Traitor’s Gate. He was held prisoner here and tortured.

At the base of the White Tower, Ann Boleyn was decapitated by a Frenchman and her ghost pays visits there. Another Countess’ ghost whose ghastly murder didn’t quite go right screams on the windy nights but especially during the night of the anniversary of her death. With her murder, the axe-man missed the mark and panicked, hacking her to pieces.

Since the Yeoman Warders live in the buildings with their families, they have become buddy buddy with the ghosts. A ghost smelling of saddle soap, a cavalryman for sure, joins the residents to celebrate their events like birthdays.

At the Martin tower where the crown jewels used to be housed, resides Mary’s ghost who opens doors and climbs stairs. If treated kindly, she’s an easy ghost to live with.

The Salt Tower is the toughest tower to be in, they say, because here Catholic clerics were incarcerated and some words were scratched on the walls by the inmates. Visitors have reported feeling pressure on their chests and not being able to breathe. I don’t know about this. Although I usually suffer from asthma in cold and damp places, I could breathe just fine.

As St. Thomas’ Tower was being built, where St. Thomas a Becket was kept and murdered, the tower kept collapsing due to bad workmanship. So the workers blamed it on St. Thomas’ ghost. We climbed to the top of the stairs in this tower and entered a very impressive room with a fireplace, candelabras, and a chest. The chest stood by a descending staircase. This used to be St. Thomas’ room.

People swear seeing many ghosts dressed in Tudor garb and Yeomen of the olden times with spears inside Traitors Gate, the most disreputable entrance to the Tower. Allegedly, the wives of Henry the VIII, after being brought down the river by barge, entered the tower from here.

The Tower of London housed lions, bears, and until recently, flightless ravens. Flightless because of a ridiculous prophecy. If the ravens flew away, it would mark the end of the royalists in Britain. So they are kept there, fell fed and well cared for but with maimed wings never to experience freedom. Maybe Poe’s “ungainly” Raven had its wings clipped by the British and he ended up “perched upon a bust of Pallas just above Poe’s chamber door” and that’s why the raven kept saying: “Nevermore.”