BEYOND THESE CASTLE WALLS: Beating the drum for wonderful Windsor
By Michael Baginski
Crowned by its famous castle – Queen Elizabeth’s home (more so these days than Buckingham Palace) – Windsor is a perfect day out from busy London and, by it’s very nature, the quintessential British getaway.
But once the royal residence (and its astonishing art collection, in particular) has been checked off the day’s must-do list, there is plenty to preoccupy around town – or more precisely, the officially designated Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead – beyond the castle walls that offers visitors a rich mix of history, culture, heritage, and just plain fun.
Small and walkable, Windsor is filled with historic buildings, like the lovely Windsor parish church and 400-year-old Market House (otherwise known as “the crooked house”), which looks like it could topple over at any time, plus boutique stores and (of course) souvenir outlets in the shopping areas of Peascod Street.
And there is no shortage of dining venues and historic pubs, like The Two Brewers, a charming respite at the gate to the entrance of Windsor Great Park.
The park – another checklist item – encompasses 2,000 hectares of green space including hills, valleys, lakes, ponds, meadows, and woodlands. Also, the famed “long walk” (photo below), which stretches 3.8 km from the castle gates to the foot of the statue of King George III (The Copper Horse) – about a 45-minute walk each way. History buffs will note that King Henry VIII waited on Snow Hill for news of the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Also within the park is beautiful Savill Garden, one of Britain’s greatest ornamental gardens, featuring 14 hectares of woodland and distinctive interlocking gardens including the Hidden Gardens, Spring Wood, the Summer Wood, The Glades, Autumn Wood, and the Winter Beds, renowned for their collection of native and exotic plant species.
Visitors can also see the town aboard a sightseeing cruise on the River Thames, or stroll the scenic river path, which offers spots of serenity away from the summer crowds and the added spectacle of encountering the town’s many local (and lovely) swans. Numerous coffee shops, bars, and brasseries also line the waterfront.
A great place to start the walk, and for an overview (and photos) of the river, is from Windsor Bridge in the centre of town.
Meanwhile, it’s a short hop across a bridge to Eton, renowned for its College (where Princes William and Harry went to school); and further along the Thames, Cookham village houses the Stanley Spencer Gallery; Bray is famous for its cuisine having no fewer than three Michelin-starred restaurants; and Maidenhead is worth a trip to its Heritage Centre where adrenaline junkies can fly a Spitfire simulator.
Visitors can take guided walks that cross the picturesque pedestrian bridge from Windsor to Eton; hop on a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour, which takes in charming Datchet; or stop at the Royal Farm Shop in Old Windsor.
Specialist interests can also be accommodated – for example, there is a tiny chocolate factory in Windsor where visitors can make their own bon bons, and a brewery that offers tours, and naturally, samples of its ales. Plus, there is a range of racing events at Windsor and nearby Ascot racecourses.
And for evenings, the Theatre Royal Windsor has a full calendar of plays and its annual pantomime.
For the wee ones, LEGOLAND boasts both rides and requisite LEGO-built creations, as well as new Escape Room experiences.
Of course, everything in Windsor comes back to the castle (photo above), the oldest, inhabited one in the world. Founded in Norman times by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle acts as a Royal residence for the Queen and has been home to 39 monarchs during its illustrious history. The Royal Standard flying from the Castle’s Round Tower indicates that the Queen is in residence. A daily changing of the guard (banner photo) ceremony occurs at the entrance to the castle daily at 10:45 a.m. (except Sundays) from May to July and three times a week the rest of the year (dates vary)
Within the castle, St. George’s Chapel stands high, literally. The 500-year-old Gothic masterpiece is the final resting place of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII and Charles I, and more recently served as the spectacular setting for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. A highlight (look up!) is the remarkable stone ceiling.
With so much to do in Windsor between castle and community – not least taking in Queen’s Platinum Jubilee events (celebrating Elizabeth’s 70th anniversary of ascending to the British throne) continuing throughout 2022 – its easy to spend a few days in and around Windsor.
The town is also located close to Heathrow (for early flights) and can also be used as a touring base for trips into London – or in the opposite direction on a popular tourism route that includes Stonehenge and Bath.
Regular train service from London Waterloo or Paddington stations (the latter via Slough) takes less than an hour and arrives within walking distance of the centre of town.
First published at Travel Industry Today