A unique opportunity

The power of the Internet is a curious thing. During the Diamond Jubliee celebrations I'd decided to go to show my support to Her Majesty and join the crowds on the Tuesday by Westminster Abbey before her appearance on the Balcony, a grand finale to a very special few days. I hate crowds and so nipped up the side streets from Pimlico and stumbled across the Horse Guards and Band of the Blues and Royals waiting for Her Majesty to finish lunch by the Abbey and thought what a great photo opportunity.

I went home (just in time to watch the balcony scene on tv) and thought that was that. However the band saw the picture on my Flickr account and suggested I tweeted it to them their twitter account.
This in turn led to tips for best place to see them during the Trooping the Colour the following week. Fantastic I thought, some more great shots. But then I was invited to go the barracks! Amazing! Luckily for me ceremonial events happen throughout the week so I could visit on a Saturday (as I work 9-5, Mon to Fri)

And so my friend Sophie and I arrived dutifully at 9am to be met by Fraser who had made the initial contact on Flickr. The barracks are a stones throw (or one street) away from Harrods and house an amazing 240 horses and backs on to Hyde Park which is they use for exercises

The stables are on three levels with another level underneath to deal with what I can only imagine be a colossal amount of manure - no wonder the Queen's roses look so good!
The horses, as well as the soldiers have to look their best. This horse has just had it's markings chalked to make them stand out. You can also just make out where the horses details have been etched onto the hooves so you know which horse is which.
Now I think I've remembered correctly that this is Achilles, one of the drum horses. Drum horses are named after Gods whilst the regular horses are named alphabetically per season - a bit like hurricanes I suppose...
The tack rooms were amazing though the saddles, dating back many years, were built for comfort, they were incredibly hard!
And here are the stables - three floors of them with the streets of London so close by.

The Band are actually based in Windsor but come up to London on a regular basis for ceremonial duties. They weren't going to be mounted for the changing of the guard so while we waited for Fraser to get his uniform on we had  the opportunity to watch the Horseguards get ready. Now I'm used to seeing the Horseguards on Parade or on guard so it was odd to see them getting ready to go out.

In order to avoid getting their boots scuffed they are put on once they have mounted. I found this very fascinating so apologies for my obsession with feet!

Here the soldiers are preparing to mount so have the regular boots on with their uniform.
And here are their boots - they looked quite alien on their own.
And here is someone waiting for their boots to arrive
And they need a helping hand to get them on.
There was final polishing of the uniforms for both the men....
and the horses
and helmets passed up
ready for roll call followed by final inspection.
We had been invited to join the band as they travelled by coach from the Hyde Park Barracks to Wellington Barracks to start their march. I had seen a coach load of Beefeaters a few weeks ago and that thought that was surreal so being on a coach with a band in ceremonial dress was even weirder. But was a great atmosphere there was - everyone was so welcoming and that was great banter!

Annoyingly I only took one picture whilst on the coach which was a real missed opportunity.
Here the band are waiting to march from Wellington Barracks up to Clarence House to start the parade.
Their drum was amazing - depicts so much history and such vibrant colours.

And quickly they were in formation and ready for the off.

And so our visit was almost over as we watched the band leave Wellington Barracks to march up to Clarence House to start their march down the Mall. I must admit I did have to stand my ground for my view against what felts like a wave of tourists. Due to road works on the Mall (I'm assuming in preparation of the Olympics) there were few places for great views. But we stood firm and got fantastic views.
But you must admit they look great and I can confirm they sound amazing. I never thought I could get so enthusiastic about military music but listening to them in context they make the skin goose pimply and make me proud to be British!
It was a real honour and priviledge to be invited to see behind the scenes. I had a fantastic morning and hope to be able to photograph them again soon. Thanks to the Band, Barracks, Martin and especially Fraser for making us feel so welcome and giving us such unbelievable access.

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