Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Ceremony of the Keys

It's night…..about 2145 hrs. All I can hear are the sounds of the river traffic on the Thames, planes coming into Heathrow (of which there seem to be a lot) and the sounds of the Queen's Guards (the guys with the bear skin hats) marching purposefully towards us from the left. The party consists of the Chief Yeoman, four Queen's Guards (armed) and our guide.

I'm standing in front of the gate to the Bloody Tower; Traitor's Gate is behind me. I'm within the compound of the Tower of London. What I'm about to watch is one the oldest ceremonies in the world……The ceremony of the Keys (the securing of the main gates of the Tower).

Suddenly….to the right, the other guard has assumed the on-guard position, bayonet drawn and shouts out his warning that echoes across the stones (the guys doing the shouting was Scottish so imagine this in a thick Scottish accent):

Sentry: HALT !!!!! Who goes there ??

The party come to a halt…….six pairs of feet come to attention.

Chief Yeoman: The keys.

S: Whose keys??

CY: Queen Elizabeth's keys

S: Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All's well.

At the end of the exchange, the party makes its way through the gate & into the fortress (with us following closely behind). At the top of the stairs is another armed party of Guards. The guards all presents arms, and the Chief Yeoman raises his hat, proclaiming:

CY: God preserve Queen Elizabeth.

S: Amen!

He then takes the keys in for safekeeping, while the Last Post is sounded.

That's the ceremony, one that has been repeated continuously, at the same time, for over 700 yrs.

We were told by our guide that there have been only two instances in living memory where the ceremony was late: once during The Blitz when a number of bombs exploded near the party. The party was knocked unconscious for a brief period of time. When they came to, they dusted themselves down and continued with the ceremony….eight minutes late.

The Tower apparently holds a letter from the Officer of the Guard apologising to King George VI that the ceremony was late and a reply from the King which says that the Officer is not to be punished as it was due to enemy action that the Ceremony of The Keys was late.

The second time was recently (in 2003) when a young officer of the Grenadier Guards serving on a gap year commission, fell asleep at his post whilst acting as Escort of the Key. He fell asleep in front of the television we're told. I don't want to know what sort of reprimand he received.


I can't say that I've had many culinary experiences so far (it is the UK after all). I can say that I'm already sick of the English breakfast. I did manage to track down Antonio Carluccio's restaurant (“Neal Street Restaurant”) and shop (“Carluccio's”) in Covent Garden. The shop was great……the smell of the deli, the freshly cooked bread. Yum !!!

I'm currently in the village of Penpedairheol in Wales, staying with friends. It sits on the southern borders of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The area around is really beautiful. We went to the local “Tesco's” yesterday & to give you an idea of what it's like……something as simple as the view over the carpark: green (yes….it is raining here), rolling hills with Welsh villages dotted all over the place. I could stand there & stare at it all day.

Well…..that's it from me for the moment. I'm off to explore a bit of Wales.

Stay tuned for more postings.



Blogger Falcon said...

Halt! Who goes there?"

"It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot. King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England!"

"Pull the other one!"

12:56 pm  

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