Thursday, 6 March 2008

Vegetarian Beefeaters

“It’ll be worth the wait…” that is how I finished my last post and it was one of the first things I heard a woman say to a child as I arrived at the Tower of London. Yes, the place I said I wouldn’t go to was, in fact, my first sightseeing stop in London. It’s 25 years since my last visit and, I thought it would be interesting to see it through adult eyes. Obviously the buildings themselves haven’t changed but the surrounding area has become superbly razzle-dazzle with wide walkways, bright lighting, shops, bars and signposts to other local places of interest.

With the London Pass in my hand I didn’t need to go to the ticket office but, out of curiosity, I went to see what I was missing! There are machines as well as a traditional ticket office and, being mid-week and midday the queues were not as long as they would be at weekends or on school holidays but still long enough to make me thankful I had fast-track entry!

London Pass holders enter the Tower of London through the Middle Drawbridge Entrance; your pass is entered into a device which, to me, looks just like a chip & pin credit card machine. You then have your bag searched by security- two very handsome guys who laughed at my suggestion of a quick all over body search (I can’t imagine why!).

I’m not going to write historic facts about the Tower of London- if you don’t already know the basics then you’ll find out plenty when you get there. But there are a few things I’d like to share.

I started off on a free Beefeater tour but I soon upset our guide by asking if any of the Beefeaters were vegetarians! I thought this was quite funny but he was not amused… apparently they don’t like being called by their nickname (their official title is Yeoman Warder) and he has probably heard that joke a million times before. First tip when visiting the Tower of London: Do not upset the Yeoman Warders – they look like sweet old men but remember that beneath the snazzy costume/uniform and dramatic story-telling, these men have served a minimum of 22 years in the armed forces and most have fought for Queen and Country. Don’t mess with these guys!!! He never answered my question so I assume the subject of vegetarianism among the Beefeaters is taboo!

As it was a cold day, most of the Yeoman Warders were wearing black cloaks over their “undress” (black and red outfit worn on normal days rather than their famous red and gold ceremonial uniforms), which made them difficult to distinguish from the regular tour guides who also wear black with a splash of red. A few months ago the first female Beefeater/Yeoman Warder was appointed and I was on a mission to find and photograph her. The lack of distinguishing clues made my mission harder than expected but if I found her then maybe she would be more forthcoming about her eating habits!

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