Friday, March 4, 2011

The Tower of London, again

I can’t wait to be locked in the Tower of London.
I was locked in there once before in April, 2005. 

No, I didn’t get my head chopped off, although some would speculate…

We came to watch The Ceremony of the Keys, the oldest ongoing military ceremony in the world- it’s been going on about 700 years.
At 2130, or 9:30 pm, exactly, seventy ticket holders crossed The Tower of London entrance; the gates shut.

Our Ceremony Yeoman Warder was Paul, dressed in matching blood red, long wool coat pants and hat.  He led us through two towers and stopped to explain that Yeomen are retired military, meticulously selected and trained: one in one hundred applicants will wear the uniform performing the Queen’s Yeoman’s duties.

Just don't call them "Beefeaters".  They get upset, and we are standing in the Tower of London....

“What are the two dumbest questions I have ever been asked?”  Paul says. 
“Does is hurt to have your head cut off?  And, which tower did Snow White live in?”

Questions are answered in good humor, but the history of this place over-shadows the lighthearted tour; terrible tortures and gruesome murders took place in this majestic stone fortress.

Paul points out towers that held Sir Walter Raleigh, Mary Queen of Scots and the last prisoner, Rudolf Hess after World War II.  There is even a room prepared for Hitler, if he had been captured.

Inner buildings were homes to kings and queens, and now the Crown Jewels are protected within this impenetrable compound.  
This is a modern military fortress with active duty military housed within these walls.

 Standing at Traitor’s Gate, precisely at 2200, or 10:00 PM, we observed living history in silence. 
Clanging keys, a candle lit glass and brass lantern and the synchronous rhythm of shoes tapping down ancient cobblestones announced the Ceremony of the Keys.

“Halt!  Who comes there?”
“The Keys”
“Whose keys?”
“The Queen’s Keys to the Tower.”

The Chief Yeoman Warder dressed in an ancient uniform, advances while carrying a large metal ring and several antique keys.  Tonight he is escorted by a Royal Air Force guardsman, holding a modern automatic weapon.  They march through Byward and Middle Towers to lock up two sets of massive black iron gates.  Then they march by us again, through Bloody Tower and stand in front of White Tower flying the British Flag. 

A bugler sounds “Evening Retreat”. 
All is well, except that we are locked in The Tower of London. 

“Everyone must be out or in by midnight, or they don’t get out or in!” Paul yells. 

Not willing to linger too long, we follow the Yeoman to the entrance, going through tiny hidden doors in the gate and then exit them sideways.

It’s a great place to visit but I’m not brave enough to stay to stay there. 
This time, I may look for a few ghosts…

I'm travelling to London with my son, Will during his spring break...  I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about during the next week.   Have a great week.  Send me an email at  

May your days not be spent in The Tower...

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