A day in…Windsor

By | Category: Travel destinations

 

the castle seen from inside the grounds

the castle seen from inside the grounds

Windsor Castle is the largest and most long lived-in castle in the world. So go the usual travel stories about the castle so why should I be any different? But there are lots of other things about this castle that make a visit – despite the prices charged- worthwhile.

For a start most of us are used to seeing castles in some state of disrepair. Windsor looks immaculate. The stones look clean, wood is varnished, brass plates are polished, grass is mown to an even length and only the noise of the overhead planes from Heathrow and the tourists disturb what seems an idyllic toy castle. But then it should be immaculate since it is lived in for most of the year

I thought parking for three hours would be enough to see the castle, the chapel of St George and the town.  I barely made the castle and the chapel before the time ran out. So from that point of view,  the entry fee of £18.50 to see this attraction cum home cum heritage icon doesn’t come across as excessive once you have viewed all that’s there.

That the castle is a big attraction is obvious from the coaches and the queues as well as the fact that there are eight ticket booths and a snaking line like you find at airports to lead you to the counters. But although there must have been thousands there on this July Wednesday the only place in which we had to queue any time was to get in and see the doll’s house of Queen Mary. That probably took ten minutes or so. You troop around the four sides of the house in a line and wonder at the furniture and the accuracy of the rooms. Is it as luxurious as Buckingham Palace?

Windsor CastleAs you walk around the outside you signs that an earlier Elizabeth lived here; there are plaques dating to 1583 reminding you that monarchs lived here before the Spanish Armada when they were monarchs of just England and well before the UK was even thought of. Old cannon still adorn the battlements although they would have been of little use two hundred years ago let alone today given the state of some. It all just confirms how far back, this site has been inhabited.

Even in the green spaces you’ll come across the links to monarchy. The Royal Windsor Maze in The Goswells is not quite the usual maze that you might see at Hampton Court, another royal residence. There are six chess pieces in the paving slabs and yes, they include a king and queen amongst them. The idea is that you start from the entrance where the pawn is until you reach the castle but you cannot turn

back but must always go forward and you must always go past the chess pieces.

Royal Windsor shopsThe various restaurants and shopping avenues are something not to be missed – and that in itself is hard as they can be found around every corner!  Above the entrance to Windsor Royal Shopping is the date 1897, reminding us of another queen who also celebrated her diamond jubilee. The Royal Station Shopping area is perfect for anyone looking to do some shopping, be it actual shopping or just having a look around. The complex itself and the surrounding streets are lined with all sorts of shops, so one can shop to their heart’s desire is they so please.

If you aren’t much of a shopaholic, there is always the Windsor Great Park for anyone who enjoys a long walk or a bit of sightseeing. The park itself is quite a distance, stretching from the distant plains of the city to nearly the gates of the keep, so it is always a good option to take for those who prefer to avoid going by car or bus.

Apart from the Castle and the Great Park, one of the other big attractions is the flower show or, to give its proper name, Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society which is the oldest in the country. Although the society was founded 122 years ago the summer show only began 109 years ago. One the pre-eminent flower show in England eclipsing Chelsea , this year’s summer show takes place in a few days’ time – 19th July – when tens of thousands will gather in the chapter gardens of St George’s school. It is also a lot cheaper than Chelsea costing just £4. And who knows who might turn up.

the Guildhall

the Guildhall

But with those royal connections stretching back centuries, the town is dominated by the fact which is, of course, reinforced by the size of the castle. Yet it is possible to get into the one-way system and lose sight of the castle until its forbidding structure rears up as you turn a corner.  And it is forbidding just because of its size in comparison to the smaller roads and buildings around it. Nobody can really look over this residence!

So at the Guildhall which is barely five minutes’ walk from the castle entrance are two stained-glass windows that were placed there during the Queen’s diamond jubilee two years ago. The windows contain roundels of hand-painted glass depicting images of the four main royal residences: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral.  These join the other mementos of royal heritage that are scattered throughout the town.

Without the castle and that royal connection what would Windsor be like? The river would certainly be an attraction to visitors and today, there are boats providing tours along its banks. You can walk along the riverside (one station is even called Windsor Riverside) and – if you felt suitably fit – wind up in Runnymede on the eastern side of the town.

runneymede memorial

Runnymede memorial

As any schoolboy knows, there is where King John met the barons and signed Magna Carta in 1215. Visit the site today and you will see the impact that this has had on the world. The memorial was paid for by the American Bar Association not us and can be found hidden in a field near a roadside café.  An oak tree was planted in the 1980’s and that is shored up by soil brought back from Jamestown in the US state of Virginia to signify the importance that Magna Carta has in American tradition.  What contribution we have made to honouring this significant historical fact is limited to a few rather dreary looking signs. When the 800th anniversary is celebrated next year, signage might be a bit more obvious. Not far away is the perpetual memorial to john F Kennedy, the US president assassinated 51 years ago. This the UK paid for and the land on which it stands was gifted to the American people.

The fact that Windsor is so close to London means that overseas visitors frequently put the town on the list things they have to do when they visit ur countries. Local schools and those from surrounding counties also are high on the list of visitor numbers but, for most of us, we tend to take overseas relatives there but would we visit Windsor otherwise? If you do, prepare to feed the parking meters. There is more to see and do than you might think.

For more about Windsor, click here.

 

 

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