Thursday, October 4, 2012
Most memorable highlight of my London trip:
*The Ceremony of the Keys, Tower of London. This is known as the oldest, longest-running ceremony in the world, and it is positively fabulous. Since 1280, every single night without fail -- even during the Plague, the Fire, and the Blitz -- a man known as the Gentleman Porter (or Chief Yeoman Warder) walks down the cobbled lane between the inner and outer walls of the Tower of London carrying a lit, brass lantern at precisely 9:53 p.m. (the only time he was a little late was when on 29 December, 1940, when a bomb fell so close that the Tower warders fell off their feet, and they wrote a letter of apology to the King for lighting the lamp three minutes late; the King replied that he understood).
When the Gentleman Porter reaches a certain spot down the lane, a sentry calls out, "Halt! Who comes there?" And the Porter replies, "The keys!" "Whose keys?" asks the sentry. And the Porter says, "Queen Elizabeth's keys." And I won't spoil the rest of the ceremony but will only say that it is dark, a little spooky, dramatic, a little corny, and thrilling all at the same time and you positively have to attend it.
The tickets (shown above) are free but you must reserve in advance, at least several months ahead if you're visiting in the summer months (I wrote in February for tickets in August): see details at Historic Royal Palaces.