On a Thursday morning, my father and I took the train to Windsor.
The train is quite expensive compared to the length of the journey.
Indeed, the train from London Paddington to Slough takes 14 minutes.
And the train from Slough to Windsor takes only 6 minutes and must be one of the shortest train lines in the world.
We arrived at Windsor train station at 10:56 am, went to the hotel to leave our bags and were in the castle at 11:15 am. Yes, Windsor is a small town.
Windsor Castle was build by William the Conqueror during the second part of the 11th century. He chose the site, high above the river Thames and on the edge of the Saxon hunting ground, to guard the western approaches to the capital.
Over the years, it has been altered and refurbished by successive monarchs. Some were great builders, strengthening the castle against uprising and rebellion; others living in more peaceful times, created a palatial Royal residence.
Nowadays, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world as it has been the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1 000 years. It’s an official residence of the Majesty The Queen, where she spends most of the weekends.
An audio guide is including in the admission price. It provides really interesting information about the castle’s history by taking you through the Castle Precincts, the State Apartments and St George’s Chapel. The comments are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and Mandarin.
Unfortunately, pictures are only allowed in the Castle Precincts. However, I managed to find a short video that will be an introduction to the visit and some pictures.
We followed the way among the fortifications to the Lower Ward.
From there,we had a nice view over the Round Tower, which holds the Royal Archives.
If the Royal Standard flies, it means that the Queen is in residence. But if the Union flag flies, it signals that the Queen is not present.
So, on Thursday afternoon, The Queen was not in the castle.
We first went to St George Chapel.
It’s one of the most beautiful chapels that I’ve ever seen.
The building was started by Edward IV in 1475 and took 50 years to construct.
Ten monarchs are buried in the chapel, including Edward IV himself, Henri VIII with his favourite wife Jane Seymour, Charles I, George V and Queen Mary and George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
It’s also the Chapel of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest and world’s oldest order of chivalry founded by Edward III in 1348.
Various legends account for the origin of the Order. The most popular involves the “Countess of Salisbury” (either Edward’s future daughter-in-law or her former mother-in-law). While she was dancing at a court ball at Calais, her garter is said to have slipped from her leg. When the surrounding courtiers sniggered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming: “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, (“Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it”). The phrase has become the motto of the Order.
Only The Sovereign and The Prince of Wales and 24 knights/ladies may be in the order at any one time. When on knight/lady dies, another is appointed. It’s awarded at the Sovereign’s pleasure as his or her personal gift, on recipients from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms.
The order also includes supernumerary knights and ladies (members of the British Royal Family and foreign monarchs) who do not count for the limit of 24.
|Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Order vestments and accoutrements
Then, we went to see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the largest and most famous doll’s house in the world. It was built for Queen Mary (George V’s wife) by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Luytens between 1921 and 1924 as a gift from the nation to thank her for her public loyalty during the First World War.
The house is filled with thousands of objects made by leading artists, designers and craftsmen, nearly all on the tiny scale of 1:12. No detail was forgotten. The Doll’s House even includes electricity, running cold and hot water, flushing lavatories and working lifts!
After that, we saw on exhibition about the Treasures from the Royal Archives.
It’s a temporary exhibition, running until Wednesday, 21 January 2015. I found it very interesting. Among the archives that I remember, there were a letter from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria during their engagement, a letter of condolence from President Lincoln to Queen Victoria, an account from Princess Elizabeth relating the coronation of her parents (King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) and a message from Queen Elizabeth II to her mother for there 100th birthday.
Then, we finally entered into the State Apartments, which were opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1847.
I visited so many castles in my life that I tend to mix them up. But I think that I will remember The Grand Vestibule, which has an amazing collection of weapons, and St George’s Hall, which was being set up for a charity banquet on the same evening that the Queen was going to attend.
|The Grand Vestibule
|St George’s Hall
If the audio-guide hadn’t mentioned that there was a huge fire in 1992, I would never have noticed it. The castle suffered sever damage in the fire and was fully repaired within the next few years at a cost of £36.5 million. The funds were raised thanks to the opening of Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time.
|St George’s Hall
As you can imagine, it takes quite a long time to visit all those places.
Before leaving, don’t forget to make your ticket stamped if you’re staying in Windsor more than a day or leave not too far, as it will allow you to come back for free during one year.
We were out of the castle at 15:15 and kind of hungry.
Too late for lunch, we decided to have a cup of tea and some scones for me, a sandwich for my father. We found the perfect place in what can be the most famous house in Windsor (of course after the castle, if we count it as a house): The Crooked House.
Why this name? Because the house is really crooked!
The construction of this house dates back to 1592, but it didn’t acquire its trademark slant until 1687, when the structure was rebuilt using unseasoned green oak.
In the basement, there was a secret passage to Windsor Castle allegedly used for trysts between King Charles and a mistress, as well as for running supplies to the castle’s kitchen. But the passageway has since been sealed off.
Once in the house, you don’t really feel that it’s crooked.
As the day was still on, we decided to go in the direction of the Long Walk. From there, if you go down the way you have the best view over Windsor Castle.
But it was getting dark so we returned to town to wander in the small streets. We arrived at the river and crossed the bridge.
We continued until Eton College. It was very funny to see all those young boys with their uniform.
Eton College was founded in 1440by King Henri VI to provide free education for 70 poor boys. Today, charging up to £11 478 per term in 2014/2015 (and there are 3 terms in a year), it’s one of the most expensive boarding school in the UK. It educates over 1 300 pupils aged 13 to 18 years and most of them will join one of the two most prestigious universities in the UK: Cambridge or Oxford.
Eton has produced 19 British Prime Minister and an uncountable number of influential people in fields such as politics, art, literature, medicine (among others Ian Fleming and Hugh Laurie).
Then, we went back to our hotel. I had chosen to book at Travelodge because there are plenty in UK and I wanted to test the brand. Unlike easyHotel where we spent the previous night, the room was huge with a king size bed, the TV was free, Internet was free for 30 minutes and the bathroom had a bathtub.
After one hour of well-deserved rest, it was already time for dinner. And we were very hungry. My father wanted to eat British so we went to the pub “The Duchess of Cambridge”, thanks to the advices posted on Tripadvisor.
And we were not disappointed: the place was nice and warm, the food was generous and excellent and the service was friendly and efficient.
For starter, we ordered some melted goat cheese to share.
Then, for the main course, my father ordered a “fish & chips” and I ordered a “chicken and Windsor ham pie” accompanied with mashed potatoes and crunchy vegetables. I couldn’t finish it.
And for dessert, my father took an apple crumble and I took an Eton mess (layers of whipped cream, meringue and berries).
God! I ate too much and I had some troubles to fell asleep. But it was worth it.
I have to say that I slept very well and the bed was hard as I like. I will definitely book again in a Travelodge for an overnight stay in the countryside if the other hotels around are too expensive or too badly decorated. It was a good discovery.
Friday was an even day and we were supposed to watch the Changing of the Guard. However, the sky was threatening.
The breakfast wasn’t included in the price of the room so we decided to take it somewhere else. But the places that seemed nice were more than 5 minutes walk from our hotel and, as soon as we came out, it started to rain heavily. So we didn’t go further that the Windsor Royal Shopping, located in the train station and decided to have breakfast at Bill’s. We ordered a basket of bread & pastries, a tea and a smoothie each. It reminded me a lot of “Le Pain Quotidien” and I have to admit that I have a preference for the later.
|I liked the church chairs
Luckily for us, it stopped to rain so at 10:45, we were in the High Street, waiting for the Guards to arrive. There were not many, maybe 20 and, as the weather was still uncertain, there was no band to accompany them.
Then, we used our stamped ticket to re-enter the castle for free and watch the rest of the Changing of the Guard. I don’t know if they skipped a part or if we missed a part but it seemed to last less than 5 minutes.
Anyway… It gave us the chance to take another picture with the Round Tower and the Royal Standard as The Queen was still in residence, after the charity event from the previous night.
Then, we took a last little stroll near the Thames before going back to London.
I’ll try to come back with my boyfriend during the validity of my free pass. I’m sure he would love the castle (at least from the outside), which is an old fortress that will remind him of his fantasy books and series. And if he’s still not convinced, Legoland is only 3 miles away!
The Crooked House
51 High St
Windsor, SL4 1LR
34 King Stabe St,
Windsor SL4 1TG
The Duchess of Cambridge
3-4 Thames St
Windsor, SL4 1PL
Windsor Royal Station
Windsor, SL4 1PJ