If you have an extra day in London after you’ve shopped Oxford Street, had high tea at the Goring Hotel (and spent all your money there!), dined out in Covent Garden, stood outside Buckingham Palace taking selfies and hoping the queen would be driven out, then a day trip to Windsor will top off your stay nicely.
Take the train from Paddington (details below) and once there shop in the quaint village of Windsor, which is also home to Eton College (where princes William and Harry went to school) and of course, that castle. And frankly it’s the castle you’ve come for.
Happily you can wander through at your own pace and don’t need to book in advance. We rocked up and paid our £21.20 per adult (£12.30 for children) at the book shop and off we went, wandering through the grounds and taking photographs. You can’t take any photos inside Windsor Castle (and they have staff watching you in every room), but if you buy one of the little souvenir books, it has much better shots than I’d be able to take.
The history here is astounding for those of us from the Antipodes or America. The castle was built nearly 1000 years ago in the 11th century after the Norman invasion and is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, sitting on five hectares of land, filled with priceless, uninsurable artefacts and is the favourite weekend residence of the Queen. If the flag is flying she’s indoors!
Here are some of the highlights of Windsor Castle:
Queen Mary’s doll house – for little girls (and those of us who still remember being little girls) this is the most gob-smacking highlight of all. And in fact inspired me to create my own 4-story doll house as a 20-something after living in London for five years. I then embarked on a lifetime of collecting miniatures and still have it in my house today!
But Queen Mary’s doll house was built by the leading architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for the little princess in the early 1920s, and is the largest and most intricate in the world. (There is another amazing doll house in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC, just FYI for doll house fanatics – and that is the one I modelled mine on). Queen Mary’s is huge but at a tiny scale of 1:12, and the house is filled with one-off specially commissioned pieces from leading artists and craftsmen of the day. Things like 170 miniature books provided by authors, box sprung beds with mattresses stuffed with horse hair and a safe gifted by Chubb with teeny working locks. Stare in wonder at the minute detail of the library, wine cellar and the facilities, including running water and electricity. I would allow an hour to walk around all four sides of this alone – and another 2 for the whole castle 😀
St George’s Chapel – this is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in May 2018. It is open Monday – Saturday and closes at 4pm for visitors for the evening service at 5pm. It is a breathtaking building of gothic architecture and if those walls and stained glass windows could talk, how incredible would the tales they tell be.
It is the home of the Order of the Garter (established in 1348 as an order of chivalry founded by Edward III and dedicated to the image of St George, the patron saint of England) and houses the tombs of ten sovereigns including Henry VIII.
The State Rooms – these 19 rooms are where the Queen’s hosts the big fancy events and it’s open to tourists for ten weeks over summer and a handful of dates in winter. However they will be closed in 2018 for refurbishment. We got to look through them and hear stories about the armoury on the walls that have been collected for hundreds of years by royal households and gifted from leaders from all parts of the world. I hope you get to see them, they’re so ornate, right down to the floor rugs.
The fire – I was in London when fire broke out in Windsor Castle in November 1992. Prince Andrew was in residence at the time as multiple fire engines lodged into the castle grounds and it spread rapidly, burning for a full day. I remember seeing him on TV watching his house and Britain’s history burn. It was traumatic for everyone!
But another great thing about walking through the castle is that staff are positioned in each room (to make sure you don’t touch or take photos) and they are also incredibly knowledgeable and often they’re historians in their own right. I got talking to the guy in the new wing and he told me how they managed to save so much of the priceless artworks with one guy even burning his hands as he managed to get the fourth painting down. Since that fire and the £36 million repair bill, the Queen opened up Buckingham Palace to tourists to raise money and agreed to pay taxes on her income (as she should), which no monarch has done since the 1930s.
How to get to Windsor from London
Take the train from Paddington Station to Windsor & Eton Central. It takes around half an hour, with a change of trains in Slough and tickets cost £10.50 or £18 if you want to sit in first class.
When we left the castle we found the King and Castle Pub just across the road which served good old English pub grub and as luck would have it, high tea. That was me sorted.