Wellington Barracks review
The Queen is surrounded by dangerous threats... what if Prince Charles decides to mount a coup? What if Fergie tries to gatecrash one of the family gatherings? What if Meghan Markle's mad dad turns up uninvited? The Queen needs 24-hour protection against these potential perils and that's why they've stationed three regiments of Her Majesty's Household Division a few hundred yards from her front door.
There are actually five regiments of Foot Guards (the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards) but only three of them are based at the barracks: the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards. Obviously the public aren't allowed inside because it's a military building, but they do let us stare through the railings while they practice their military drills.
The best time to visit is thirty minutes before Changing the Guard starts so you can watch the New Guard form up on the forecourt. It's not a replacement for the main parade because that one is definitely better, but if you've already seen the big one at Buckingham Palace ten thousand times then you might like to watch this preliminary bit instead. They do a similar thing outside St. James's Palace if you want to give that a go as well.
The only thing here at the moment is a tourist coach parked up by the side of the road so the driver can sit on the steps and eat his sandwiches. There's a distant trombone floating over the parade ground and a soldier kicking up dust in the sunshine, but that's about it. The railings don't start filling up until 10.15 AM, and even then there are still plenty of spaces that you can squeeze into. What you should try and do is stand in the very centre of the building, directly opposite that clock at the top, and then when it finally gets going you'll have with some Foot Guards on your left and a Corps of Drums on your right.
The first bit of action happens at 10.30 AM when the Foot Guards march out and form up in lines. We've got some very serious-looking Scots Guards today wearing long socks, sporrans and tartan kilts, with six-inch bayonets affixed to the top of their automatic rifles.
At 10.35 AM an officer starts shouting at them and they do a few spins and tricks with their guns. I'm thinking that it looks a bit dangerous twirling their guns around with those knives on top (especially when they've got kilts on) -- do they not have health and safety in the army? Five minutes later a lone drummer does a few rolls and they inch up exactly, tiptoeing to the left like they're lining up for a barn dance. Then another officer starts pecking at their clothes making sure they all look presentable for the parade.
At 10.45 AM the band marches past and stands to their right. If you have good hearing then you might be able to catch a few notes from that St. James's Palace detachment that is now marching down The Mall. (The St. James's band is part of the Old Guard. These guys at the barracks are the New Guard. When they finally meet up at the palace they'll switch over.)
At 10.50 AM the band plays one last tune as the regimental flag arrives and seven minutes later a loud drum roll will send everyone marching down the length of the parade ground towards the far gate. If you're quick then you should be able to catch them at the Spur Road as they head towards the palace. You can't go much further than that because you'll be butt up against a crowd of thousands, so I recommend walking across the park to St. James's Palace instead. If you go via the central bridge then you'll get a very pretty view of Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards across the lake, and if you make it to Stable Yard by 11.10 AM then you can watch the soldiers marching back.
Here are some more parades…
|Military events in May|
|Military events in June|
|Military events in July|