Years ago I read on a fellow home educator's blog about a visit up to the top of Big Ben. I had never realised that it was something you could actually do, at the time Ruben was too young so I put it at the back of my mind for when he was old enough. Last year I contacted my local MP to try and organise a trip, it took 8 months altogether from my initial email to actually going on the tour but it was well worth the wait! Children need to be aged 11 and over and be able to climb the 334 stone steps-something that worried me quite a lot as Piper has a fear of spiral staircases and Ruben and I are not very good with heights.
Our tour was booked for 4pm, so after a rather lazily, long buffet breakfast at our hotel and the opportunity to have a bit of a lie-in too we headed off for a little walk around Trafalgar Square. It is always cool to see the Lions and as Piper was wearing one of our new Handmade in the Hellmouth Pepe t-shirts I took advantage for a photo of her modelling it next to the stones.
Cordelia meanwhile was busy climbing up-she was lucky as there was a guard who was telling people NOT to climb up. But she sneaked up, like the rebel that she is, and we got to hear all about a Dan & Phil (Youtubers!) video of something similar.
We had a walk past the National Gallery and saw this really cool flower display, I think its stunning. We have been in the gallery once before and weren't going to go in today but as we were walking past the side entrance Hubby spotted some portraits from artist he liked so we decided to pop in.
We ended up in a part that we don't normally go in and had a really great visit. Piper loves history and she knew so much about the people in the pictures-it was like having a private tour guide. A job I think would suit her perfectly as she is so funny and knowledgeable. We even saw some paintings of suffragettes which was cool after Piper and I watched the film recently. I studied the suffragettes for my A Level history so was able to explain some things too. Some of the people from the paintings we connected with history local to our area too. I love joining up the dots!
We spent much longer than we had ever spent here before and then headed off towards Hamley's as per Ruben's request. Here he is in a giant packaging box...
It was really hot but we managed to find a lovely spot for a late picnic lunch just down from the Houses of Parliament, a really pretty little park. The girls and Ruben sat in the shade and read books whilst eating. We had tried not to do too much walking and save our legs for the trip but its pretty impossible in London as there is always so much to see!
We had to have all our bags-and bodies!- scanned in reception, in a building that looks incredibly similar to Sheffield's Winter Gardens. I'm sure it must be the same architect! It was a bit nerve wracking to be honest and unfortunately Piper's anxiety kicked in. I tried to reassure her and she did so well to manage it once we had started the tour. There aren't any photo's unfortunately as you are not allowed any phones, camera's or bags for security reasons. But you can see some photo's of the stairs if you google it.
I have to admit to not looking up to the top as I knew it would really scare me and I was starting to feel quite anxious anyway with Piper feeling so anxious. The first climb up the steps which was around 140ish was really tough, we stayed at the back of our group, which was only small anyway, so we could keep a close eye on Piper. She was pretty panicking by this point and I was convinced we wouldn't make it any further up. We had chance for a rest in one of the rooms and a quick chat about the history of the Elizabeth Tower. Then another ascent up, thankfully not as many steps this time before another break in one of the rooms where we were also given ear pugs for later. Piper did so well to keep going. Ruben and Cordelia were flying up with no problems climbing or re the height, which especially surprised me as Ruben had been quite worried about the height.
Standing behind the clock face was such an awesome experience. I felt a bit sick to be honest! I was so pleased to have made it that far up too and it felt quite exhilarating to be stood behind Big Ben's four clock faces. I was so proud of Piper for pushing through her panic and anxiety, and thought to myself it doesn't matter if we go any further now because this is pretty cool in itself! But she wanted to keep going and after another rest in the room where the mechanics for the clock were we headed up the next lot of stairs in time to hear the chimes of 5pm.
The view from the bell room is just amazing. It is breathtaking how you can see all the way around and so far out. In Hubby's properly Yorkshire-tightness he said "We've saved ourselves £90 seeing the view from here instead of paying for the London Eye"-you can take the man out of Yorkshire...
I really can't explain hearing the chimes go off whilst you are stood watching, the bell itself is so huge and to think it has been there for so many years and how it would even get up there just by man power alone! The chimes just ring through your entire body. It was a memory none of us will ever forget I'm sure.
The journey back down the stairs wasn't too bad and we were very lucky that our guide offered to take us across the road into Westminster Hall. It wasn't part of our tour so was such a nice surprise. From the UK Parliament website:
Westminster Hall is the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate. What makes it such an astonishing building is not simply its great size and the magnificence of its roof, but its central role in British history. In and around the Hall, grew up the major institutions of the British state: Parliament, the law courts and various government offices.
It is the only part of what was the original Westminster Palace to survive, the trial of Charles the first was here, Winston Churchill's lying-in-state was here attracting over 1 million visitors as well as the Queen Mother and George V. We stood on the same spot where the current Queen, Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela had delivered speech's previously.
The beautiful ceiling!!
We were then so fortunate to end up in the House of Commons!!! We only stayed for 10-15 minutes to watch as we didn't have much time left before heading back to catch our coach unfortunately but we could have also gone in to the House of Lords which would have been amazing. As it was we were more than happy to have seen so much extra that we hadn't expected.
You can find out more about booking a trip yourself here: Booking a tour of Big Ben