Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tourist times - the Tower of London

As a thank you for collecting with the Poppy Appeal over the last couple of years I was invited along with about 30 other people to a guided tour of the Tower of London last Monday. We all met at the Westgate that had a brilliant view of Tower Bridge & I managed to time it right with a red double decker bus going over it - a typical touristy shot if there ever was one!
At about 7:15 we were met by a Beefeater who took us round telling us all the gruesome tales from the past that had gone on there. Who'd been beheaded cos of what & when & other stories that may or may not have been true. It's quite a spooky place if you believe everything they tell you!
It was brilliant going back there cos I've not been since I was about 7 & I actually remembered & understood more this time! The gate below is Traitor's Gate & if you look closely at the bottom right image you can just about see a raven. This was a naughty Raven called Merlin who wouldn't go in her cage for the night. The tale goes that if the Ravens ever leave the Tower then the Kingdom will fall, so no wonder they keep them in cages over night!
Once our tour had finished we went to the Yeoman Warder's Club for a buffet & drinks at their lovely bar. I hadn't realised the Beefeaters actually live inside the Tower compound so it's like their own little village & that's their local pub. It was lovely to be part of this special life that they lead.
At 9:30pm we were led outside to see the Key Ceremony. It's been going for around 700yrs with never a day off, come rain or shine it happens. It only ran late once during the blitz when the man carrying the keys was knocked off his feet but he brushed himself off & carried on, completing the ceremony only 6min late.
I'm so pleased I got to see this piece of history happening, it felt to special to see it & you could almost imagine them doing this all those years ago in the dark without streetlamps. One Beefeater carries the keys (that have been blessed by the Queen) & has 4 soldiers around him (3 are armed, the other holds a lantern). He closes & locks the main gate, followed by an inner gate, when they reach the bloody tower another soldier asks "who goes there?" & a few more questions follow before they're allowed to walk through the archway to be greeted by another 6 soldiers. After the Beefeater takes the keys inside the last post is played. This tune normally makes me well up at the best of times but with this atmosphere, the fact it was Gordon's 90th & I was wearing Buck's bracelet I must admit I shed a little tear. It was beautiful. Afterwards we headed back to the bar for a few speeches & a raffle before I had to leave this magical world behind & catch the tube along with all the normal people!
Being a Londoner I hardly ever do these touristy things anymore & I wish I made more time for them but if anyone has a spare evening in this fair city I'd really recommend the Key Ceremony for sure. Three cheers for the Royal British Legion!

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