The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London

The first behind-the-scenes account of life with the legendary ravens at the world’s eeriest monumentThe ravens at the Tower of London are of mighty importance: rumor has it that if a raven from the Tower should ever leave, the city will fall.The title of Ravenmaster, therefore, is a serious title indeed, and after decades of serving the Queen, Yeoman Warder Christopher Sk...

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Title:The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London
Author:Christopher Skaife
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The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London Reviews

  • Trish

    I've been a fan of ravens for a long time and always detested their bad reputation thanks to silly old superstitions that seem to mostly derive from their physical appearance and the fact that they are omnivores. Especially the latter seems only yet another sign of their extreme intelligence because all of us who've paid attention in biology know that highly specialized (picky) animals are much more likely to die out (yes, I'm also talking about you, sabre-toothed tigers).

    It all began with Sir D

    I've been a fan of ravens for a long time and always detested their bad reputation thanks to silly old superstitions that seem to mostly derive from their physical appearance and the fact that they are omnivores. Especially the latter seems only yet another sign of their extreme intelligence because all of us who've paid attention in biology know that highly specialized (picky) animals are much more likely to die out (yes, I'm also talking about you, sabre-toothed tigers).

    It all began with Sir David Attenborough, as is often the case. Yes, I adore the man and always will. He is the prime example of a human not caring about looks but ability and he was the one telling me (through one of his BBC programmes) about the intelligence tests (Kerplunk games) for ravens that most of them seem to ace every time.

    Then, some time ago, I somehow heard about the Ravenmaster on Twitter. I didn't know anything about the man or his job but the tweet had the picture of a gorgeous raven so I clicked and scrolled - and became addicted to the man's updates. Through his photographs and little videos I got to share his enthusiasm and see some of the quirky birds almost every day.

    My plan had been to see London eventually, the plans having been thwarted by a lack of money for a long time, and those plans only got invigorated by the prospect of meeting these special corvids personally when visiting the historic site! And this year my dream finally came true. I had the money and didn't care that I'd had to go on vacation on my own, I could do this! Thus, I booked tickets and made plans and got really excited.

    Imagine my delight, therefore, when I heard that the man was going to publish a book about his life at the Tower and the ravens there! So when I was in London this past week, I had to get a copy before making my way to the Tower and I did. It wasn't the edition I had originally wanted but I didn't care (unusual for me). Packed and ready to go, I got there early and went on one of the apparently famous Yeoman Warder tours (like an idiot I hadn't known much about the Tower in advance except for some juicy historical bits).

    Following the sarcastic "elderly and rude" (his words) Yeoman Warder and listening to his take on the history of the fortress was delightful. Afterwards, I met a raven posing for tourists when exiting the exhibition of the crown jewels. I took some pictures, moved on. After walking through yet another exhibition (the Fusiliers Museum), I made my way to the raven enclose, heart set on meeting the Ravenmaster and getting my book signed. And he was there! I only noticed by a complete coincidence despite his uniform. I chatted him up and ...

    However, like a complete idiot, despite him being so nice and friendly and us chatting for a few solid minutes about everything from the ravens themselves to our shared admiration for Sir David Attenborough, I forgot to ask for a feather - because it is mentioned in the book that the Ravenmaster sometimes has some that he hands out. *doh*

    He had to leave, however, because despite it being his day off, he had to watch some students who were researching and filming the ravens' behavioral patterns and talking to some journalists (I was lucky he was there at all)!

    Thus, I made my way to yet more interesting sights around the Tower (there is no shortage of those), tried kicking myself for not having remembered to ask about the feather, kept watching the birds and even entered the gift shop where I got a cute raven pin and pencil with a raven on top. I was contemplating my chances of finding him again when I noticed him while walking the battlements and made a split-second decision to stalk the poor man. So I descended the stairs, keeping an eye on the Ravenmaster and the reporters filming him, waited in front of the enclosure where Poppy (youngest member of the raven staff) promptly entertained me when a student entered her enclosure and tried to take one of her toys away (yes, pure Schadenfreude, but the woman deserved it - she wanted to take a toy away!), which prompted the cheeky bird to show her who the boss was and chasing her out. Yes, I chuckled, I may have even laughed loudly (no, I'm not sorry) because even the bird looked at me. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

    The Ravenmaster then walked down and out of the enclosure with the journalists, I followed (yes, I know, but I wanted a feather!), waited until the journalists had said goodbye for what must have been the fourth time - and then I made my move! If you ever read this, Ravenmaster, I really am sorry. *lol*

    Anyway, I found the courage to chat him up again, inquired about the feather an lo and behold, I didn't get one but TWO!!!

    But that isn't the end of this glorious tale, nope. I was so incredibly happy after leaving the food preparation rooms where he kept dead chicks and the afore-mentioned feathers that I had to sit down. I opted for one of the benches around White Tower, hoping for a good shot of one of the ravens. And suddenly there was Poppy! She was walking from left to right and left again behind my bench, probably trying to scare me so I'd drop some food. Alas, I had deliberately nothing on me. Instead, I turned around, facing her and started talking to her. Yes, I talk to animals, I don't care what you think about that. But here is the amazing thing: she cocked her head, hopped onto the litter bin and from there onto my bench next to me AND STARTING CHATTING BACK (no idea what else to call it)!!! She came so close, I could have easily stroked her feathers but of course I didn't. I wasn't scared or anything, I just figured she wouldn't like that (imagine if even only a quarter of all tourists tried that, how annoyed she would have to be). So I sat there, eyeing her, talking, listening to her sounds. Then I took the picture below (yes, she was definitely posing when she wasn't cleaning her beak) and then she took off.

    Nothing - and I mean NOTHING - could compare to that during my vacation. I wasn't walking, I was floating for the rest of the day.

    Tonight, I finally finished this compelling, funny and insightful book that gave me historical information as much as some great insight into the Ravenmaster's military career and the mischief of these extraordinary birds. I am no longer surprised that they actually are working the crowds (two of them did after my encounter with Poppy, first performing for one side, then turning around and doing the routine on the other, it was glorious to watch).

    From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU, Ravenmaster, for a book that isn't only entertaining (though it definitely is) but also moving and THANK YOU for spending some of your precious (free) time with this fan and being so generous to her.

    And THANK YOU, Poppy, for not doing to me what you did to that female student (she totally deserved it). ;)

    P.S.: This hardcover edition has nearly 300 pages, by the way, not only 208 as Goodreads claims.

  • Wendy

    I have been a fan of ravens and crows my entire life. When I met the ravens at the Tower I fell in love. Ordering this book was a no-brainer! WAITING FOR IT TO GET ACROSS THE POND was a bummer. All the UK reviews on social media just reminded me how far away I am. Once it was in my hands I devoured it. Great read. Charming, thoughtful and absolutely enjoyable.

  • Trish

    Some might have already seen

    .

    As mentioned before, this edition here is actually the one I wanted because the cover is much more beautiful, showing raven Merlina as well as the Ravenmaster and the Tower, hinting at the history theme that also permeates this great story along with the anecdotes about Christopher Skaife's life and his many adventures with the ravens.

    Thus, although I already have the red UK edition, I had to have this one as well. When it finally arrived toda

    Some might have already seen

    .

    As mentioned before, this edition here is actually the one I wanted because the cover is much more beautiful, showing raven Merlina as well as the Ravenmaster and the Tower, hinting at the history theme that also permeates this great story along with the anecdotes about Christopher Skaife's life and his many adventures with the ravens.

    Thus, although I already have the red UK edition, I had to have this one as well. When it finally arrived today, I discovered that the cover wasn't the only thing different about this! The US/CA version also features colour photographs unlike the UK's b/w ones and there are more photographs overall. Oh, and there's a historical map of the Tower in the front and back (you know you can always get me with maps).

    (Yes, this is a group photo with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.)

    (The bottom one is quite important for three reasons.

    )

    So while I love my red edition because I bought it in London and the author signed it (for the full adventure, read my original review linked to above), this one is a little bit special in its own way and I'd actually encourage readers to get this one for the extra images.

    For anyone interested: there is not just a visual difference between the two Yeoman Warder uniforms. Christopher Skaife did explain it, making him wearing "the other one" in the picture shown above as well as on the cover even more hilarious. *lol*["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Barbara

    A wonderful story narrated by the author. Skaife convinces readers that ravens are indeed fascinating. Like the best of books that are memoirs centered on people and animals, the readers will come to respect and even love these creatures. Skaife is no nonsense, down-to-earth, but authoritative. Before his job at the Tower of London, he was in the British Army and credits that experience with developing his love of routine, order, and not least of all, love of his country. He served in Northern I

    A wonderful story narrated by the author. Skaife convinces readers that ravens are indeed fascinating. Like the best of books that are memoirs centered on people and animals, the readers will come to respect and even love these creatures. Skaife is no nonsense, down-to-earth, but authoritative. Before his job at the Tower of London, he was in the British Army and credits that experience with developing his love of routine, order, and not least of all, love of his country. He served in Northern Ireland and provides a brief view of what the very young often teenaged soldiers felt and experienced in that environment. I visited the Tower in 1993 in early morning, the best time to avoid the overwhelming crowds, and the ravens were the highlight (not the Crown Jewels). Even if you haven't been there, read this book!

  • Billie

    Narrated by the author, with whom I now want to hang out and have a drink.

  • Diane S ☔

    I found every aspect of this book incredibly well done. From the personal tone it is written in, to all the interesting information it imparts. We get to know the Ravenmaster, his time in the military, and what it takes to get this position in the tower. We learn about the Ravens, not only the stories that surround their being at the tower, but an up close look at their habitats, and even their personalities. One of their favorite snacks are dog bones soaked in blood. Well, they are carnivores,

    I found every aspect of this book incredibly well done. From the personal tone it is written in, to all the interesting information it imparts. We get to know the Ravenmaster, his time in the military, and what it takes to get this position in the tower. We learn about the Ravens, not only the stories that surround their being at the tower, but an up close look at their habitats, and even their personalities. One of their favorite snacks are dog bones soaked in blood. Well, they are carnivores, after all.

    All the superstitions associated with Ravens, from the heralders of death, to one of my favorite parts, the connection between the esteemed Charles Dickens and his use of Ravens in his novels. The most famous being the Raven Grip in Barnsby Rudge. As the author notes, "I may have a rather partial view, but to my mind Dickens counts as a genius not because of his prolific output, nor because of his famous public performances and his great public works, but because he gets every single detail about Ravens right!"

    Of course the famous inhabitants of the Tower, and stories associated with them and the tower itself are included. In fact, for a book without a large number of pages, there is much information s d entertainment to be found. I enjoyed every moment of my reading experience, but then again this is the season for the macabre.

  • Bettie☯
  • Nostalgia Reader

    4.5 stars.

    This will be a very brief review, not for lack of interest in the book, but rather because it was relatively short itself.

    Skaife is a delightful storyteller, and this memoir weaves the perfect mixture of facts about caring for the ravens at the Tower, personal history, and Tower factoids. I never felt like the raven-memoir aspect of it was ever sacrificed for the personal history aspect. Skaife frames the book around his daily routine with the birds, with chapters veering off to talk a

    4.5 stars.

    This will be a very brief review, not for lack of interest in the book, but rather because it was relatively short itself.

    Skaife is a delightful storyteller, and this memoir weaves the perfect mixture of facts about caring for the ravens at the Tower, personal history, and Tower factoids. I never felt like the raven-memoir aspect of it was ever sacrificed for the personal history aspect. Skaife frames the book around his daily routine with the birds, with chapters veering off to talk about the history of the ravens, their species as a whole, a variety of reminisces about his personal history and how he got to work at the Tower, and, of course, the routine itself of caring for the ravens. All around it was both informative and amusing read. I had wished it was a bit longer, or more substantial in some some aspects, but it also worked perfect as a short book due to the wide variety of topics covered.

    Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the Tower of London or ravens!

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

    (Cross posted on

    .)

  • K.J. Charles

    I vividly remember the day of Brexit. Nobody knew what the hell was going on and the pound fell off a cliff and we saw the leading Brexiteers looking nauseous and terrified as they realised their actions had catastrophic consequences, and the Prime Minister's resignation only made it to #3 on the news agenda. It was chaotic and terrifying in the days when that wasn't standard practice. I was on Twitter of course, and there I saw a tweet from the Ravenmaster with a picture of the Tower ravens tha

    I vividly remember the day of Brexit. Nobody knew what the hell was going on and the pound fell off a cliff and we saw the leading Brexiteers looking nauseous and terrified as they realised their actions had catastrophic consequences, and the Prime Minister's resignation only made it to #3 on the news agenda. It was chaotic and terrifying in the days when that wasn't standard practice. I was on Twitter of course, and there I saw a tweet from the Ravenmaster with a picture of the Tower ravens that read, simply, "We are still here."

    I welled up. It meant a lot.

    This is a marvellous book about a bizarre job. Mr Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and in charge of the Tower ravens because if they ever leave the Tower, the country will fall. He actually shows that to be a relatively recent myth, but that doesn't make it any less true IMO: it's deeply embedded in the national consciousness and every story has to start somewhere.

    This is very much a book of stories, one of those reads that feels like you're in the pub with a really interesting bloke. Chatty, discursive, a lot about the life that brought him to this point, and loads about the ravens he adores. You learn about raven flight feathers and bird distribution globally and raven myths and Army drumming and what it was like to be on Army duty in South Armagh or Belize and how the Warders cope with the visiting public (taking the mickey, basically), and it's all just a really interesting slice of human life. I'm now desperate to go to the Tower again, tourist trap that it is, just to check out the birds. A lovely book.

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