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The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

Cover photo courtesy of bortescristian.

May 2019.

I have mixed feelings about the British monarchy. On the one hand much of The Royal Family’s roles and traditions seem … no longer of use… if you will. Sometimes when I see royal ceremonies and events I can’t help but feel, with no malice whatsoever, that it all looks a bit outdated in these modern times of ours. That it appears out of place, an institution that is somewhat irrelevant to large chunks of today’s society.

Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth II visiting HMS Ocean, March 2015.

However, I am certainly no abolitionist. When you look at our Queen, it’s hard not to have at least some degree of respect for her achievements. For the times she’s lived through and the great shoulders she’s brushed with. Whatever you may think of her as a personality, there is no doubting that she’s lived an exceptional life. A life of duty.  Moreover, I think The Royal Family’s rich and colourful history has played a huge role in drawing in tourists from across the globe.

Waiting for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

I could write so much more on this subject. But really it’s just a prelude to my visit to Buckingham Palace a few years back. Not into the palace, of course, as that’s a tricky thing to pull off. Rather, I wanted to see The Changing of the Guard, something I hadn’t done since my mum and dad took me as a kid.

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

Tourists outside Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

My memories of that childhood visit are very thin. Therefore, I thought I’d go back and see what I make of it all as an adult. To learn a bit more about this iconic world-famous tradition that stretches back over 360 years. The handover takes place every day, weather permitting, at 11:00. Hence I thought I was being clever by rolling up an hour beforehand to get a good spot. Silly, silly me.

Waiting for the Changing of The Guard Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

If you really want to secure a prime position, you’ll have to get here way earlier than that. When I arrived that morning I found the crowds already deeply set in. In fact, the line of patiently waiting tourists ran all the way down The Mall, the long road that connects the palace’s western end to Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch.

Blacksmith statue with scroll and hammer Victoria Memorial Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

Determined to get closer to the action, I picked my way through the masses towards Victoria Memorial, which faces the palace’s main gates. This elegant bronze and marble memorial wasn’t simply busy, but seemingly occupied by chattering tourists of varying nationalities.

Thomas Brock English sculptor.

Sir Thomas Brock (1847-1922).

Unsure of my next move, I took a moment to appreciate the memorial. Unveiled on the 16th of May 1911, the English sculptor Thomas Brock created the piece in honour of Queen Victoria. Its central pylon, made from Pentelic marble, props up the stunning gilded bronze sculpture Victoria, the Goddess of Victory.

The Victoria Memorial.

Blacksmith statue of Manufacture The Victoria Memorial in London

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

A number of dramatic bronze figures guard the four corners of the memorial. Accompanied by lions, three of the statues represent Peace, Progress and Agriculture. The fourth, pictured above, is of a blacksmith holding a hammer and scroll. He represents Manufacture

See the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

With another twenty minutes until showtime, I entertained myself by discreetly sneaking closer to the front rows behind the security barriers. This proved easier than expected, especially by targeting those pockets of people who were too busy playing with their smart phones to notice me slinking between them.

Friendly policeman Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

Eventually, I squeezed myself into a half-decent spot. Amusingly, a policeman had been tracking my movements and jokingly called me out on it. “I know what you’re up to!” he chuckled. I was totally busted, though we both had a good laugh about it and he gamely posed for the above photograph.

Stuck behind the crowds during The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

I was quite unprepared for the chaos that broke out once the distant sound of the marching band floated over the assembled crowd. Suddenly, the bubble of bodies I found myself within shifted, as people jostled and pushed forward. Soon enough the music grew louder, complimented by the rhythmic thump of boots on stone.

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

A sea of mobile phones Changing of the Guard Buckingham Palace

A sea of phones.

Yup, The Changing of the Guard had begun! Unfortunately, my view of the whole thing was somewhat limited because, despite my height, I had no clear path of vision through the rolling sea of mobile phones. Ah, nuts.

Oh well, it gives me a chance to give you some history I suppose. Basically, a unit of foot soldiers called The Queen’s Guard protects Buckingham Palace. They’ve been looking after The Royal Family and their various palaces since 1660. Instantly recognisable for their red tunics and bearskin hats, the Queen’s Guard soldier has become one of London’s most cherished icons.

Queen's Guard soldier Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

The Changing of the Guard is every bit as simple as it sounds. In short, the ceremony sees a New Guard of soldiers arrive to relieve the current soldiers (Old Guard) from their duty.

To spice things up, a full brass regimental marching band from the nearby Wellington Barracks comes with The New Guard. Having failed miserably to get decent photographs, I did at least manage to raise my own phone high into the air and capture a video of the soldiers and band entering the palace.

Tourists really have to be quick to get their photos and videos. Indeed it takes just a few minutes for them to march by and enter the compound’s North Gate.

After that only visitors pressed up against the palace railings can see what’s going on. For the rest of us, across the road by Victoria Memorial, it was a case of simply listening. It’s basically lots of barked orders and a few short bugle blasts as The Old Guard steps off and The New Guard steps on.

Adventures in London.

Crowds gather for the Changing of the Guard Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.

And then the band started up again and The Old Guard began marching out of The Palace and up The Mall. This signalled the beginning of more madness as the assembled crowds shifted position to catch the action.

In one mad moment, a few overexcited Spanish tourists actually ducked under the barriers to cross the road for a better angle of the band, who were rapidly marching towards them. A policeman quickly stepped in to speed them up, while one of the soldiers fired off a warning shout: “Make way for the Queen’s Guard!”

While I was hardly bowled over by The Changing of the Guard, it is nevertheless a charming experience that everyone should see at least once in their lives. If you’re organised and patient enough to come really early and stand around for a few hours, it will no doubt be a better experience right up close to the action.

Visit London Buckingham Palace.

The Mall on a quiet sunny afternoon. Much more my cup of tea.

If you’re planning to catch the ceremony, it really pays to check the day’s times in advance. Indeed you might find that the public handover is cancelled due to heavy rain. Or that the times have changed due to city/royal events.

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  • Little Miss Traveller

    How times have changed as I was there about three weeks ago and it was still very quiet albeit much busier than a few months earlier obviously due to a lack of foreign tourists. Definitely a must see for any first time visitors to London and a pleasant place to pass through between the Royal parks for everyone else. Another great read Leighton!

    December 4, 2021 - 2:20 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, I imagine witnessing this today would be a whole other (and better) experience. Hope you’re having a good weekend Marion.

      December 4, 2021 - 3:12 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    I remember this crowded event from 1977, when we first saw it and I use that term loosely. It was indeed exciting for a couple of newlyweds from Canada, but the crush of people was a bit of a downer. Since then, we have been back at various times for the much smaller relieving of the guard ceremony inside the compound. We were right up at the fence and had a good laugh at the pomp and ceremony. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan

    December 4, 2021 - 2:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by Allan. Up by the fence is where it’s at, as I learned that day. In the unlikely event I ever go again, I’ll be aiming for a spot there.

      December 4, 2021 - 3:14 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Glad that you had decent weather. It’s hard for me to imagine the mindset of the members of the guard who obviously drill conscientiously for their roles. It’s almost like a grand stage production and everyone plays their part for the entertainment of the masses who enjoy their moment of proximity to “greatness.” I agree that the Queen plays her role well as a quietly dignified monarch. She exudes royalty and tradition and the weight of honor representing her people. Can’t say that I think as much of her children but Prince William seems to have inherited her sense of duty and obligation to England. Hope I live to see him crowned.

    December 4, 2021 - 3:14 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think there’s a fair chance you will, Memo. The Queen has had a rough year on many fronts and indeed cancelling public appointments due to ill health is something she’s hardly ever done over the years. I hope her final years are kind to her, she’s earned it.

      December 4, 2021 - 3:19 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    I’m neither a monarchist nor abolitionist, somewhere in the middle, but I thought I’d love to see changing of the guards again. I was 12 years old when I saw it before and it was pouring rain. The rain is about all I remember. Your experience though with massive crowds is a bit of a turn off. I like how you were caught sneaking forward in the line and only laughed at by the police. Great story Leighton, Maggie

    December 4, 2021 - 4:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Sounds like we have similar views on Queen and country. From what I hear, now would be a good time to see The Changing of the Guard. Something to thank Omicron for I suppose.

      December 4, 2021 - 5:05 pm Reply
  • Nic

    I always take friends and family visiting London to see the change of the guard, not because I enjoy it, but precisely because there is a great fascination with the royal family from abroad. I also find monarchy out of date and I have very strong opinions about it 😅 But it is undeniable that is one of the reasons why so many tourists want to visit London. My mum always asks me for souvenirs from the royal family, particularly with the face of the Queen and well… I’ve been too embarrassed to buy such a thing 😅 I do quite like to visit the palaces and learn about the history of the family. In my opinion, the history of the British royal family is way too interesting, and I have always looked up to queens such as Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, my historical female idols😁

    December 4, 2021 - 7:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      This whole monarchy thing is a bit complex I guess ha ha. Although not for many, who tend to see such things in black and white. Thanks for reading Nic and for leaving your thoughts on the thread.

      December 4, 2021 - 8:22 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    My goodness, so many people (well, obviously pre-Covid)! And once again you were the sneaky one … and it almost paid off … at least you got to see the band (and a whole lot of cellphones 😁)!

    December 4, 2021 - 8:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I am the king of sneak, as you well know. Though on this occasion it didn’t get me prime seats. Ah well, there’s always next time and maybe Sladja and I will catch the show next year if we are in the area and the stars align.

      December 4, 2021 - 8:19 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    Similar to you, I failed to arrive early and get a good spot for the Changing of the Guard when I was in London in 2015. The crowds are no joke! If I were to return, I don’t think I’d choose to try again, especially since waiting hours before the ceremony does not appeal to me, I’d rather use that extra time to see other parts of London!

    December 4, 2021 - 9:27 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It’s hard to disagree with that Rebecca. I think I’ll certainly take Sladja past the palace, as it’s an easy sight to tick off between the royal parks. But I doubt I’d make a special effort again to see the ceremony. Thanks, as ever, for your contribution.

      December 4, 2021 - 10:29 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    You have vividly captured and described the changing of the guards; great post! I’ve been to London many times, but have not yet experienced it; maybe next time.

    December 4, 2021 - 9:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey! Thanks a lot for reading and leaving a comment. For some reason your comments are coming through to my junk, so it may take me a little longer to approve and reply than I normally do. Not sure why that’s happening.

      December 4, 2021 - 10:33 pm Reply
      • Travels Through My Lens

        That is odd, but I’m glad you figured it out, thanks!

        December 4, 2021 - 10:45 pm
  • salsaworldtraveler

    I really enjoyed your videos of the changing of the guard. I’ve seen it once in person from a reasonably decent position. It is such an impressive performance for what is basically a shift change. The British do it better and bigger than most countries. After the change tourists can (or could) get pretty close to the guards to try to make them smile. They never crack a smile, sneeze or cough or say a word. That must take a lot of training and discipline.

    December 5, 2021 - 12:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey John, I remember standing right next to a guard as a kid to have my photo taken. There were people dancing all around him, taking photos, cracking jokes and pulling funny faces. Now I think the guards are all in the compound behind the railings way out of reach. Thanks for your two cents, without those videos this wouldn’t have been much of an article.

      December 5, 2021 - 9:16 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    I think I remember finding myself by chance at the time of the changing of the guard. it is indeed frustrating to see them disappear in the courtyard. I think there is also a mini changing of the guard for St James. I remember forcing the guards to change their route as the zoom gave me the impression that they were still a long way off when I was actually blocking the way.

    December 5, 2021 - 12:49 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah yes, I’ve never seen what goes down at St. James. Not have I witnessed the ceremony at Windsor. Amazing that they actually diverted their route and you didn’t get shouted at. Thanks for your contribution to the thread!

      December 5, 2021 - 9:19 am Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Great post Leighton! When I finally make it to London I’ll be all the better equipped to see these places from following along on this series. The history behind the changing of the guards was interesting to read on. I had to laugh with your picture of all the people with all their phones out- I think that could be the cover photo for just about any top tourist site. 🙂

    December 5, 2021 - 4:02 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      True dat Meg. And of course, with a wall of mobile phones in front of me, I had no choice but to add my own into the mix in order to grab some videos. Hope you had a great weekend and that it isn’t half as grey and cold as it is here in Serbia.

      December 5, 2021 - 5:02 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Such an interesting post, I didn’t know all that history. I’m like you about the Queen – I just respect her complete sacrifice of her life in so many ways for service to the monarchy and country. Whether a monarchist or not, she really is incredible and I’ll be upset when she dies. I actually hope we continue to be a monarchy – a modernised one, but I like that we have a Royal family and I think it can do a lot of good.

    December 5, 2021 - 5:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m with you all the way Han. I believe William will make a good king one day. I think he’ll carry forward his grandmother’s commitment and dignity, but also modernise along the way. Glad you enjoyed this piece and thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s really appreciated.

      December 5, 2021 - 6:05 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    It’s interesting to see things from the perspective of adults. Imagine the crowds at the Royal Weddings! I also agree with your views on the Monarchy, it is interesting but seems outdated for these times.

    December 6, 2021 - 1:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Lyssy and contributing. I just cannot get even a little excited about royal weddings. But plenty still do and the streets are always awash with people on such occasions. For me, it would be the perfect day to stay home.

      December 6, 2021 - 10:12 am Reply
      • Lyssy In The City

        I like seeing the dresses, but jeez those ceremonies last forever! I would stay home too, probably similar to people in Times Square on NYE haha.

        December 6, 2021 - 2:29 pm
  • WanderingCanadians

    I had no idea that the changing of the guard would be so popular among tourists! I love your efforts to slink through the crowds and that a policeman followed your movements and then posed for a picture. That’s awesome. I couldn’t help but laugh at all those cell phones held up.

    December 6, 2021 - 12:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed the article and it was enlightening in terms of the ceremony’s popularity. Now would be the best time of all to see it due to the huge decrease in tourists. Have a great week guys!

      December 6, 2021 - 1:53 pm Reply
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    December 6, 2021 - 4:46 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    What a crowd! I didn’t know those iconic hats were bear fur. Interesting to hear your take on the royal family. It is a curiosity to me, in the U.S., since the post is quite ceremonial these days. But my brother in Canada, originally from the States, surprisingly, is comfortable with the tradition.

    December 7, 2021 - 1:50 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Great to hear from you Ruth!

      December 7, 2021 - 8:32 am Reply

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