on April 19, 2013
To watch the Changing of the Guard was something our 9 year old son specifically wanted to do on our trip to London. We agreed wholeheartedly - no visit to London is really complete anyway, without a look at Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the queen. Buckingham Palace is a wonderful building in a beautiful location. It is imposing but you can't get too close, it is very heavily guarded. We love to peek through the gilded gates and imagine what goes on inside. It is one of a few working royal palaces left in the world, so is something special. One fact we learned from our son - it has 775 rooms!The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place on alternate days in winter, and every day during the main summer season. There is a website with confirmation of which dates it is happening at Buckingham Palace. It takes place at 11.30 am, however the crowds start to gather an hour (and sometimes more) before that time. There is no ceremony if it is raining. The ceremony finishes at midday.The process involves the old guard changing place with the new guard. Sentries, dressed in traditional uniforms hand over to the next watch. This is accompanied by the sounds of a military band playing music ranging from traditional military marches to more modern compositions. You will know if the queen is in residence if you look at the sentries in front of the building. When she is there, there are 4 sentries. When the queen is away from the Palace, then there are 2.We had watched the Changing of the Guard some years before when our son was much younger. We remembered the large crowds around the Palace, lots of hanging around waiting, and not really getting too much of a view.This time we had quite a different experience. I had found somewhere on the internet, tips from a London tour guide about how and where to watch the Changing of the Guard. We more or less followed what he recommended and found it really worked for us. It meant now standing around for over an hour at the gates of the Palace and actually getting a much better view of everything.We stood in St James Park at the junction of Marlborough Road. There was no-one around when we got there about 10.50 am - our son played around with a ball in the park, and was quite happy to wait for 15 minutes. Lots of tour groups started to line the road at just before 11 - so we took our place at the edge of the road too. At 11.00 the guards marched out of St James Palace, right in front of us and up the Mall - we got a perfect view.The guide recommended rushing through St James Park to the other side. We ran diagonally - very breathlessly to the other side of the park, thinking there would be a big crowd there at Wellington Barracks and Birdcage Walk. There were a few and lots of crash barriers lining the street, but again we easily got a space right at the side of the road. We didn't really need to run, a brisk walk would still have got us there in plenty of time. All of a sudden though, vast crowds of people with tour guides started to appear. We felt quite smug standing right at the front.At about 11.25 the guards again marched straight past us - this group had a wonderful marching band leading them, again we got a front row view. We walked with the band towards Buckingham Palace, but kept a way back from the Palace on the other side of the road. We actually got a bit of a view of them marching inside the courtyard.We watched until the Household Cavalry arrived, then walked back towards the Southbank. We had a great view, I definitely recommend doing this if you want to see the guards closely and not have to wait around for ages.
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