As I was going through photos from 2014 on my computer, I realized I had let something slip through the cracks. Obviously not everything we do gets blogged about, but the important stuff usually does, and I’m pretty sure this one qualifies. On a gorgeous, sunny weekend last August, we joined the masses to watch the world-famous Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, and somehow I forgot to blog about it.
In hindsight, going on a weekend, during tourist season, on a beautiful day was probably setting us up for even more crowds then usual, but for once I didn’t mind. Part of the excitement of seeing the Changing of the Guard was the lead-up, so getting there an hour early to secure my (seriously excellent) spot on the Victoria Monument round-about was totally worth it. I wedged myself in the front row against the fence and guarded my position like a feral cat protecting her newborn kittens. (Be prepared to hold your ground if it’s busy. No one has any regard for personal space and they will edge you out if you let them!)
Surrounding us were visitors from all over the world. In our videos, I can pick out at least five different languages being spoken. I got to know the girl standing on my right, a very friendly girl from the Hague, better than I know my own kin, I believe. There’s not much to do while you’re waiting, so be prepared to chat, otherwise it could be an awfully dull hour. We also met people from the next state over in the US, but I can say with almost complete confidence there wasn’t a single Brit within speaking range of us. Even though this is an event more popular with tourists than locals, we’ve discovered that most of the time the touristy stuff is still worth doing, regardless of how it may be shunned by the “travel like a local” crowd, and the Changing of the Guard is no exception.
After waiting what felt much longer than an hour for the procession to begin, the police on horseback arrived and took their place in front of the gates – our signal that it was almost time. Then we heard the music, faint at first, but growing louder. At this point, there was a visible shift in the crowd as everyone, seemingly at the same time, turned their heads to the left and began craning their necks every which way to try to catch the first glimpse of the guards arriving from St. James’s Palace.
The first to arrive was the band, followed by the infantry, and then the soldiers on horseback. Those last guys got me tickled. I mean, the tall, fuzzy hats are hilarious, of course, but they’re such a ubiquitous part of British royal culture that they no longer seem that out-of-place to me. But the soldiers on horseback wearing shiny breastplates and hats with bright red ponytail tassels looked more like they just rode off the set of an episode of Game of Thrones than a 21st century royal processional. I like it, though – way to keep the history alive, guys!
After all of the guards entering via the North and South Gates had joined the guards already inside the palace grounds, the gates were shut. Exactly what went on behind the gates at this point, I’m not sure. This is where having a position right up against the palace gates would have been nice. I plan to take my parents to see this when they come to London next week, so maybe we’ll be lucky enough to secure good spots where we can check out what goes on behind the gates.
What I do know is that after some time passed, the soldiers in the band got in formation in front of the main gate (which had yet to be used) and began to play. The first songs were traditional marching songs, all beautiful, but then a familiar tune started filtering out through the gates. I swear they must have known I was going to be there because they played Grease by Frankie Valli from my all-time favorite musical. I sang along with every word, much to the displeasure of all my new friends, I’m sure. Someone mentioned they always break from tradition and play songs from popular culture when the Queen isn’t residing in the palace, but I’m not sure how accurate that is. If that’s true, I’m glad she wasn’t home that day.
Notice the foreboding sky behind the palace in that last photo? Those clouds looked more like Tennessee during tornado season than the dull, gray rain clouds we’re used to in London. I was expecting the bottom to fall out and us to get drenched in the mad dash for cover, but it held off until the end of the ceremony, thank goodness. That’s London for you. At 8:00 there might not be a cloud in the sky, but by 8:03 you can bet good money you’ll be wishing you had your umbrella.
When the band had completed their songs, the main gates were opened wide and the band exited the grounds followed by the soldiers who had just been relieved of their duties. We also got an added bonus on the day we visited of seeing the “Junior Guard” leaving the grounds – a group of much younger, future guards playing their instruments and marching behind the real deal.
From the first strains of music to the last piper leaving the palace, the whole ceremony lasted just under an hour. Combined with the hour or more wait before everything began and the lack of space to move around, it was just long enough for me to begin losing feeling in my feet. It was worth it, though, and I can’t wait to go back and see it again. I struggled balancing my compulsion to take photos with actually watching the procession and, after watching some of Cory’s videos later, realized I’d probably have seen a lot more if I hadn’t been watching so much of it from behind my camera. This was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in London yet, so my excessive picture-taking was probably justified, but next time I’ll be capturing more with my eyes than my camera!
For more information about the ins and outs of the Changing of the Guard procession and ceremony, check out this site. The official schedule is posted here. In my opinion, the best spot for photography would be on the Victoria Monument round-about (for the procession) or against the gates to the palace along the front (for the ceremony). It just depends on what you want to photograph more. My only tips are to get there at least an hour early and wear comfortable shoes! If you go during the months of August or September, you can combine seeing the Changing of the Guard with a visit to the palace itself!
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