Saturday, May 12, 2012

London on $98 a Day – The Ceremony of the Keys

David and I had to order the tickets months ago, and we felt quite special as two of the only forty or so people admitted at 9:30 sharp last Thursday night through the West Gate of the Tower of London. But, despite our anticipation (We worried so about being late that we arrived 45 minutes early.), the Ceremony of the Keys (No photos allowed.) was something of a disappointment.

Maybe it was because it took us half an hour on the tube to reach the area or maybe it was the bitter wind that kept us cold even though we were dry for a change—no rain—or perhaps it was sharing the ceremony with a hundred other people who suddenly arrived from the sidelines right before the climactic moment. But whatever it was, David and I enjoyed our trip to the Tower the next day much more than we did the Ceremony.

The Ceremony of the Keys is the process of locking up the castle doors for the night that's been going on in exactly the same way for the past 700 years. The process involves marching by six or seven guards, an exchanging of a lantern, and some yelling of commands, but that's it. Our yeoman warder, who explained the process to us, gave us a bit of history by saying the Ceremony had only been delayed once for five minutes when London was being bombed by the Germans in World War II; I guess that demonstrates, as nothing else does, Britain's dedication to ritual.

I was much more interested in learning about the life of the Beefeaters. In order to qualify for service at the Tower, a man must have served honorably in the British military for over twenty years and have been honorably discharged. He and his family live within the grounds of the Tower. Our guide said that he loved living here, along with the 37 other Beefeater families, because he had a seventeen-year-old. Living here, he always knew where his son was at night!

I've been thinking about the lives of the Beefeater families ever since. Can you imagine growing up within the walls of a castle where kings and queens once lived, passing the tree every day where public executions were held, and knowing that the crown jewels were just around the corner from your house? Truly, what a fairy tale upbringing that would be!

Practicalities -
Check this website for details about ordering your free Ceremony of the Keys tickets.

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