I will admit it. I hoped Windsor would live up to my expectations. Funny thing is that now I can’t even remember what those expectations were. It is honestly the most beautiful castle I have ever seen.
Fact: William the Conqueror built a defensive ring of castles around England, including Windsor in 1066, spaced some 24 miles apart. Why? That is the average marching distance of an army in one day. (There were many *lightbulb* moments for Jessica on this visit…this was the first.)
We followed a guide around the first leg of the visit (highly recommended – as is the audio guide). You learn all sorts of interesting trivia, such as: in 1992, you would have seen the above lawn strewn with furniture and precious items being saved from the fire that tore through the State Apartments. The castle was badly damaged (…sad mental picture of a heartbroken Queen here) and Buckingham Palace was opened for the first time to the public in order to raise funds for the repair. Happily, the castle has been beautifully restored – including the Gothic wooden ceiling of St George’s hall – and it is reassuring to know that such skill has not been lost.
Fact: The Queen drives a hunter-green Land Rover. That is her ride pictured above.
Another fact: W
e, I mean, Tourists had their eyes fixed on those doors throughout the day hoping to get a glimpse of Royalty as the Queen was in residence. I hope she was resting up for her big helicopter jump with James Bond.
Pictures inside Windsor are not allowed (something i have never witnessed crowds actually abide by, but in this castle, no one dared take out a camera). I have scoured the internet for some photos, but even the very few posted there are not worthy of the real thing. You will simply have to go visit and make sure to look up. I have never seen ceilings as gorgeous, treasure more beautiful or history more painstakingly preserved as at Windsor.
Some additional facts about Windsor Castle:
- Elizabeth I liked using the Castle for diplomatic functions. The many visits of foreign dignitaries served as the basis for Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor.
- Buckingham Palace was to become the new royal residence during the reign of Queen Victoria, but she was so bereaved following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, she chose to live out her remaining years in Windsor Castle, leading to Rudyard Kipling popularizing the phrase the “The Widow of Windsor”.
- Victoria preferred candlelight and as such, electricty was not introduced to the Castle until the very end of her reign.
- Queen Mary’s dollhouse is a must see at the castle. Not only is it enormous (in dollhouse terms), but it is a tiny time-capsule. All of the items inside were either commissioned or volunteered by artists, craftsmen and business leaders of the day. A tiny gramophone, complete with records, was offered to the project after tests had been run to prove it could really play.
- Some 500 people currently live and work in the Castle.
- Look up as you walk through the stone gates into the castle grounds. Many have scrapes on either side from modern fire trucks rushin into the castle during the fire of 1992. Ingenious firemen let out the wheels of the trucks so they could pass under the gates into the centre courtyards. (Windsor Castle has since built its own fire department…)
- There used to be a pub on the grounds until it was closed for rowdy behavior. Now it is the gift shop closest to the Chapel.
- Grass surrounds the outside of the castle and if you walk on it, you pay a fine. Unless – true story – you are a little kid. We anxiously watched as a little kid took off one evening and ran right up to touch the castle wall… an alarm must have gone off somewhere as we watched several heads pop over the ramparts, but they let the kid go. Nice guards at Windsor, kids. You’ll be ok.
And finally, after you have wandered all over the grounds and emerged exhausted from hours of consistent *lightbulb* moments, you can rest your feet across the street at a recent tribute to the newest addition to the Royal family:
Windsor is about a 45 minute drive away from London and is also the home of Eton College and the nearby Ascot racetracks.
On a nice day, visit the castle early in the morning to beat the biggest crowds, then meander around town for some quality shopping, buy picnic-makings from M&S and eat a leisurely lunch in the long park that leads up to the Castle. Top quality people (and dog) watching and if you are lucky, you might just see the Land Rover drive by.