Back in November, Shelly and I got a private tour of the inside of the Clock Tower aka Big Ben. You won’t find this free tour in any guidebook. You need to be a UK resident and arrange the tour through your MP. So, we took advantage of our temporary resident status and our Richmond address, and lined up a tour.
It’s a 90-minute tour that starts across the street from Parliament and the Clock Tower, once you pass through security and get your picture taken. After crossing the street in a tunnel below, you get to the Clock Tower door and you hear the lecture: To get to the top, it’s 334 steps up and 334 steps down. The tour guides are serious: If you don’t think you’re in shape to walk up, then you shouldn’t. Bad knees or hearts should look at it from below.
Sure, 334 steps, no big deal if you’re in shape, but taking them on small, worn down steps, set in a tight spiral, without windows to look out of, makes for a dizzying and heart-thumping climb.
If you must know details, the Parliament website has a good amount of info including animation, sound, and a video. And the clock strikes 12. (Upon listening to this clip I can’t help but think of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells.) We were there when it hit 12 and had to wear ear plugs. The view from the belfry is spectacular and open air, which means no windows to protect you and just a lot of cold air blowing through.
The cool thing is once you’ve climbed up, listened to and seen the icon from inside, looking at it from the outside or in pictures, takes on a different dimension. One of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Not coincidently, the chime is the same as Shelly’s grandparents’ clock that had the place of honor on our mantle in Oakland for years. Because it too rings on the hour, that cool little clock got unplugged a lot.