At 7am, the Tower of London is peaceful — no tour groups, just distant traffic noise, and if you believe the legends, a ghost or three.
Except in one corner, where there’s a large, luxurious wood-and-wire enclosure that contains some very hungry ravens, hopping and croaking as they spot Christopher Skaife approaching with breakfast.
Skaife is the Ravenmaster — one of the Tower’s famous uniformed yeoman warders, his particular job is to take care of the seven resident ravens. Because of course, as legend has it, if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it will crumble to dust and a great harm will come to England.
Luckily, Skaife tells me, these particular ravens are disinclined to leave; they want to stay where the food is.”What would you like,” he coos to them, “would you like some mice?
“Breakfast of champions: A plastic bin full of slightly gory mice and a choice rat or two. Skaife says the ravens often bury their food and come back to it later — and they’re particularly partial to eating all the tasty soft bits of a rat, leaving just the head and hide, which he refers to with delighted disgust as a “rat-skin rug.
“He’s been on the job for a while by the time I turn up, making sure yesterday’s tours and events haven’t left any dangerous debris around the Tower that might harm his charges.
And he’s trying to explain his precise morning routine to me, but we keep getting interrupted by hungry ravens.