On Tradition: Foot Guards, Ghosts and the Queen

23 Nov

Tradition is a curious thing. Some cling to it with all their might, others feel compelled to break free. Unlike other European countries, England has held on to its royalty even as it gradually became a democracy. There was no equivalent of the storming of the Bastille. No royal heads rolled here and the Royal Family is still beloved by the British and their goings-on make the news worldwide.

Before we arrived, my Scottish co-worker Heather suggested a traditional English pub, the Grenadier. She said it would be hard to find, and my Google maps agreed, but we took on the challenge anyway. Heather was right. But we kept calm and carried on until we happened upon the little alley tucked behind the Luxembourg embassy, not far from Buckingham Palace. The Grenadier was indeed a find.

Built in 1720 as the Officers Mess for the first Royal Regiment of foot guards, also known as Grenadiers, it was frequented by the Duke of Wellington and King George the IV. For those not up on history (like me), the Duke of Wellington was the General who defeated Napoleon. What else I did not know was that the pub was haunted. Apparently, a young Grenadier was caught cheating at cards and the other soldiers gave him a such a severe beating that he died after seeking refuge in the pub’s cellar.

I’m happy to say our meals were fine, the beers were traditional English brews and there were no ghost sightings or other paranormal incidents. No “solemn, silent spectres were seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms” or “unseen hands rattle tables and chairs” or “low sighing moans heard emanating from the depths of the cellar.” I’m glad I didn’t know about the ghosts until after we left.

The next day we visited Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards, along with several hundred other visitors. Much of the ceremony was over my head, but the pomp and circumstance–bearskin caps and plumed metal helmets and the marching regimental band–was intriguing, but IMHO a bit overrated. A lot of standing around for a minimal view.

We didn’t realize that the ceremony was dragging on longer than advertised because the Queen was heading out for a state meeting, interrupting the ceremony. The bobby stationed next to us gave us a quick warning “this would be good time for your camera” and out rolled the Queen in her Bentley with her entourage of motorcycle police. Even though she rolled right past me, I would never have known except for the noise from the crowd of women, which bore a striking resemblance to Angry Birds. If there was a royal wave, I missed it.

Where do you stand on tradition? Are queens and foot guards and elaborate ceremonies still meaningful for you? Or are they ghosts of a bygone era?

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Travel


3 responses to “On Tradition: Foot Guards, Ghosts and the Queen

  1. simonnurse

    November 25, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Lovely article Ladyfleur. As a Brit – and in answer to your question – I’d be happy for most of these traditions to slowly retreat into memory, though I do appreciate their fine crowd pulling abilities. Looks like you picked an appropriate pub to sample British ales, but how do they compare to their American cousins? (there are some GREAT micro breweries popping up stateside).

  2. ladyfleur

    November 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks, Simon. The Grenadier was a real find and I owe my buddy Heather for this one. As for an ale comparison, you can definitely taste where the American microbreweries got their heritage.

    But as with other traditions that cross over the pond, the American ales tend to be a little bolder with additional undercurrent flavors. The local ale connaisseurs can sound like wine snobs: “fruity, with a smooth finish” or “chocolate and coffee tones.”

  3. simonnurse

    November 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

    …and for Chocolate and coffee tones, find a bottle or two of ‘Old Tom’ and head for duty free on the return leg. Lovely and very strong!

    Enjoy the rest of your trip. I’m heading off to locate a medicinal bottle of Anchor Porter (my local beer shop sells SF ales!) ahead of cross tomorrow.


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