A kestrel swoops down, glides just above the uplighters, the shadow of crenelations behind them. The lights show off its creamy feathers, flecked in brown, its precise beak, and then it has flown beyond sight again. There was a fundamental quiet to the moment, only the murmur of voices in our crowd of fifty, but no other people beyond them.
Our birthday party of six people were in the hush of the Tower of London at night for the Ceremony of the Keys. Swarmed in the daytime, the Tower is tranquil at night, a small village of fortified residences in the heart of a sprawling metropolis. The Yeoman Warders live there with their families, children, and grandchildren. Soldiers stationed there live in residence too. The numbers are not large, given the scale of the place, and so it is an island of peace when the crowds have gone.
Our guide had about fifteen minutes to give us touristic commentary on the Tower and the towers around Water Lane before the ceremony began with the appearance of four soldiers on ceremonial duty, armed for the security of the Tower. The Senior Warder, hat marked with ribbon, collected his guard for the locking of the Tower's main gate. They returned to the scripted call-and-response, another soldier on duty letting pass the Queen's keys. Then we flooded up the slope for the final interchange with yet another yet of soldiers, and, while the bells struck 10 pm, the trumpeting of Last Post. Night had fallen, but the last light not yet gone from the sky. The ceremony was complete.
The Ceremony happens nightly at the Tower of London, and has done for around 700 years, apparently. Tickets are free (donation requested, but it was a mystery as to how to give one). Ticket requests are limited to groups of six, and the overall group limited to 50. Requests must be made 2-3 months in advance.