Fancy me being educated as I sat in the Boatman Pub by the River Thames and read William Woodsworth’s words on its wall.
How richly glows the waters breast
Before us, tinged with evening hues,
While, facing thus the crimson west,
The boat her silent course pursues!
And see how dark the backwards stream
A little moment past so smiling
And still, perhaps, with faithless gleam
Some other loiterers beguiling
Such view the youthful Bard allure;
But, heedless of the following gloom,
He deems their colours shall endure
Till peace go with him to the tomb
– And let him nurse his fond deceit,
And what if he must die in sorrow!
Who would not cherish dreams so sweet
Though grief and pain may come tomorrow
The beer helped wash down the good food as well. At the end of another day meandering and educating myself it’s always good to take stock of what I’ve seen. I’ve appreciated what I’ve learnt. History is a fascinating marker as we look to create our current and future lives. History never appealed to me at school – perhaps poor teaching and so many different historical eras were the issues. Of course, it could have been me to blame. I opted instead for geography and maybe links with travel was my thought process although I cannot recall having one!! I sometimes wonder how school may have been different had I made other choices than those made or shown the same enthusiasm as I have now.
I’ve been to Windsor countless times, yet I never tire of this place. My love affair with this town is perhaps shared by Her Majesty the Queen. Windsor’s evolution over time has been a result of its ideal strategic location. William the Conqueror first built a castle here as part of his western defences of London. Windsor was one of the 9 castles built around London to protect it from its enemies. Another of these 9 castles was the Tower of London. It is a day’s march between the two which was critical. William the Conqueror first built a motte and bailey structure. The castle now is no reflection of that former initial design. It is now an architectural masterpiece that takes centre stage and maybe takes your breath away upon first sight. A visit to the castle is a must, avoiding the coach loads of people. This is a difficult task but with unlimited visits for one year after the date of purchase on your ticket you will hopefully get a good visit should you return. Whenever you look at Windsor Castle (be that from the High Street or the river or wherever you choose in town) you see its dominating position. It has an ideal strategic position and its shadow is cast over the town. An exploration of the new town is a must and shouldn’t be ignored. This leads onto an enquiring nature of Windsor’s development as there is an old and new Windsor. The two towns are miles apart and downstream of each other with Old Windsor now a peaceful village along the river.
The castle is the oldest occupied royal residence in Britain. The castle has developed over its 1000 years of history from the time it was built by William the Conqueror in 1070 through many adaptions and alterations by different monarchs to surviving the great fire of 1992. King George V’s affection with Windsor resulted in his family’s surname change in 1917. His granddaughter, our current queen carries on the Windsor dynasty through to this day. A castle ticket allows access to the state apartments and St George’s Chapel. The state apartments boast a wealth of opulent furnishings and displays of artwork from the royal collection. Walking around these state apartments is at times mind blowing, the level of detail and beauty in each room being incredible. Modern life’s desire to capture everything on camera is strictly forbidden inside which I feel adds to its incredible charm. I would love to spend time capturing images of the ceilings that you see here, the angelic pieces of paintwork along with a room full of chivalric shields to name but a few. There are numerous amounts of weaponry displayed, all in pristine order. Also residing in the state apartments is the Queen Mary doll house. A truly remarkable and jaw dropping toy built by Sir Edwin Lutyens – it really must be seen to be believed.
After leaving the state apartments you walk around the iconic round tower. The tower is the centre piece of the castle and is home to the Royal Archives and photography collection. For a couple of months of the year you can pay extra for a tour which takes you to the top for incredible views of the castle, chapel and the town. When you leave the tower, you make your way into one of the finest churches of the land. Its incredible beauty was displayed in two recent, royal weddings that took place here. The chapel is the burial place of ten monarchs and if rumours are true then this will be 11 one day.
Whistle stop tours may drag punters by the bus load from London on crazy agendas, but I feel you could spend an age here exploring the history of the castle which is woven together with our rich national history. It is such a symbol of past Britain. When you can finally drag yourself away from the castle there is an abundance of pubs in which to enjoy a pint with the perfect view. Its amongst these pubs you find you will find Instagram’s favourite part of Windsor. The wonky house. Also known as Market Cross house, the following was taken from a visit inside:
Market Cross House leans quite a lot,
for eleven reigns it has stood on this plot.
No one knows why it tilts to one side.
could be the wood that never dried.
We like to think it’s a characterful tilt,
from 1718, when it was re-built.
From here walk under the arches of the Windsor and Royal Borough museum housed in the Guildhall, past the church of St John the Baptist on your left and one of the oldest post boxes of the land (dark green not normal red). Around the corner is a charming pub resting in front of the imperious gates that are the beginning of The Long Walk. Those not on a short trip should take the time to walk it as for some distance as you will get the best view Windsor Castle. Go the end of the walk (some miles) and you will get the iconic long distance view just like many have done down the centuries since Charles II formed the Long Walk. A copper statue of King George III upon a horse sits on top of the hill at the end of the walk and the statue has been made so that he looks back towards the castle. Is there a finer view in the land? Along the walk one passes through the royal deer park, and if the deer ‘play ball’ they provide great photographic opportunities.
After completing the walk return to the town and you’ll find an array of shops and eateries. Exploring the town will inevitably lead you to one of the two railway stations in the town. These brought further wealth to the town during Victorian times. The two stations are terminii. This proves that the railways and industrial revolution made its way to Windsor but there is no other further evidence to support this. Windsor’s wealth perhaps lies with its royal pardon in 1276. This meant that it didn’t have to pay any taxes to the crown. In 1840 a few years before the arrival of the railways Queen Victoria took up residence here and set about works on redevelopment of the castle. This brought a drastic change to the town, as it moved away from its sleepy medieval market past into a centrepiece of an empire. Heads of state were greeted and entertained here; a tradition that has long been continued to this day.
Windsor without the Thames is like bread without butter. Back in the day the Thames would have been the main travel link between here and London. A boat trip sheds light on the ideal strategic location of the castle. Much pleasure can be had from any pool of water. Sadly, not in ownership of a boat I had to forego cruising along in my own vessel. I have done the tourist boat trips, but these are normally a damp squib. Instead I would recommend a free walk along the riverbanks on either side (the Eton side gives the better view of the castle) and witness the huge number of swans, but not to be distracted from the picturesque view.
So, as I sit and enjoy a refreshing pint, I try and understand William’s words and appreciate a real warmth for Windsor and try to work out why visitors to these shores don’t plan longer to visit this royal town.