After two unsuccessful attempts to visit Windsor Castle I finally managed to get to visit the castle last week. The first time I had booked on line and unfortunately I became ill the morning of the visit, the second time we actually got to Windsor along with the rest of the world so it seemed. The queues were enormous and stretched right down into the town. Last week I did not tempt fate again or book on line so we just turned up. The queue to go in took approximately 45 minutes to get to the ticket office and stretched back along the road.
A little background information.
Windsor Castle is one of the oldest inhabited castles in Europe and you cannot fail to notice it if you are driving along the M4 motorway or taking off from Heathrow airport with the frequent planes flying right over the top of it. This is the preferred home of the Queen and you may be lucky enough to see her driving around Windsor on her way to the Castle.
The castle was built in the 11th Century by William the Conqueror as part of the defences around London to protect the river Thames and the outskirts of London against invasion. Most of the defence castles were built along the same lines with an outer fortified wall and an inner tower built on a motte (mound) which was a man made hill surrounded by a bailey which was a fenced in yard. In total the area covers approximately 13 acres within the castle walls. The castle is built on top of a hill 30 meters above the river Thames and basically consists of three parts, the lower, middle and upper wards. The lower ward acts like an initial defence and contains a thick outer wall which acts as the initial defence. The middle ward contains the castle keep known as the round tower which can be seen for miles around. It is built on an elevated mound surrounded by a moat. The moat had been dug out and the chalk used to raise the hill even higher to fifty metres. The round tower is built on top of the manmade hill and not only affords fantastic views which stretches for miles around but acts as a last means of defence for the inhabitants. Much of the castle was built of wood but over the centuries it was fortified and built of stone. The upper ward contains the state and living quarters of the monarch.
The lower ward.
The lower ward contains a large inner courtyard and King Henry VIII gate is where you exit the castle following your visit. It is here where the beautiful church of St. George is situated. Many members of the Royal Family have been interred there. It is also the mother church of the Knights of the Garter a service is held here every year led by the Queen who leads the knights from the upper ward of the castle down to St. Georges chapel for the service of thanksgiving. There is also accommodation which is still used today to house some of the poor knights a lesser order of chivalry who maintain the order of St. George and step in for the Knights of the Garter. At the lower end are chapter houses for the clergy of St. George and the oldest part of the castle is found here including the curfew tower which forms part of the outer defence wall.
The middle ward.
As previously stated the middle ward contains the castle keep. It was originally a wooden building which offered a final line of defence for the king. Over the years it was rebuilt and a stone building was erected. It was again added to in the latter part of the 19th century and the height extended. It currently houses many of the Royal archives.
The upper ward.
The upper ward is where the Royal residence is found and consists of a large quadrangle surrounded by the state rooms on one side and the private apartments on the other including the accommodation of the Royal family. Many state occasions are held here especially when the Queen is hosting visits by heads of states of other countries. St. George's hall is usually where state banquets are held for foreign heads of state.
The outer parklands.
The grounds of Windsor castle are quite extensive and stretch out for miles around. It includes the long walk, a tree lined avenue that stretches for 3 miles, many small cottages inhabited by castle employees. There are a couple of farms and Frogmore house another Royal residence. There is also the burial place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert Frogmore Mausoleum at Frogmore which is only open to the public on a couple of occasions a year however this year restoration work is taking place.
I would first advise you to make sure you are wearing comfortable and sturdy shoes as there is quite a lot of walking to do. After buying our ticket from the ticket office we entered the grounds of the castle approaching King Henry tower and the closed off gate to the Quadrangle. On the way to reach this there is the Jubilee garden where there is a small bandstand and nice little garden which was presented to the Queen on her golden Jubilee.
There are some nice views of the accommodation on the outer walls of the lower ward of the castle and of course the towering round tower. Looking through the gated entrance you can see into the Quadrangle which is closed off to the public. At the nearest end to the gate there is a bronze statue of King Charles II on horseback dating from the 1600's. The quadrangle is quite large and contains a lawned area in the middle. The covered main entrance to the castles state apartments looks quite grand and imposing. Visitors would alight from their vehicles under cover of the archway and the procession they were travelling in would drive off around the perimeter of the courtyard.
I could picture the disastrous fire that struck Windsor castle back in 1992 and see the lawn covered with fire hoses and precious pieces of art work as flames and smoke bellowed fifty foot out of the roof of the state apartments. It was fortunate that so many items were removed just the day before and some of the remaining articles were able to be removed by the staff, soldiers and others including Prince Andrew who happened to be at the castle at the time doing some research in the library. Although much of the State apartments were involved in the fire 80% of the castle was actually damage involving 100 rooms. It has now thankfully been restored.
We walked along the internal road past the garrison buildings and arms storage rooms below the round tower to reach a large square area in front of it. Looking over the wall of the moat it has been transformed into a floral garden with rose shrubs and other flower beds. The mound is covered in grass and shrubs up to the beginning of the stone walls of the round tower. The round tower looks very majestic and proud. At certain times of the year you are able to take a tour of the round tower up onto its roof but apparently it is not advisable if you suffer from claustrophobia or have a fear of heights. It was closed while we were there.
We then continued across the courtyard through an archway leading onto the North terrace overlooking the town below and the River Thames. We then went to the entrance to the State rooms. There was a separate queue for Queen Marys Dolls house which was very long indeed. I suggested we went in the state apartments first and could come out later to see the doll's house.
Prior to mounting the grand staircase we entered the undercroft where there is a large vaulted room currently displaying art painted by different members of the Royal family going back to Queen Victoria's reign. There are watercolours by both her and her husband Prince Albert and also some from Prince Philip and Prince Charles. There are many pieces of works here so expect to spend at least half an hour here.
The Grand staircase.
Entering through the main entrance up the grand staircase it certainly was beautiful and one sight that would leave you quite in awe and impressed. The public enter through this doorway from the North side whereas visiting heads of state enter from the Main entrance on the south side in the quadrangle. On either side of the staircase there were two mounted horses of knights in armour. High above your head the ceiling had glass which made the stairway quite light plus the wood was of light oak which also made it look quite welcoming. The first room you enter is the arms room and as the name suggests there are various weapons fixed in patterns around the walls including swords, muskets, knives and other ancient looking pistols. There are also two small sedans on display that belonged to Queen Charlotte. She employed four men that were at her beck and call to take her to wherever she needed to go in the Sedan. They had been sold off after her death but Queen Victoria bought them again and they are preserved here for everyone to see.
The Waterloo Chamber.
The next room we entered was the Waterloo chamber which is absolutely stunning. It was originally a courtyard but by adding a roof it was transformed into a very large hall and made into a beautiful dining room. The walls are covered with wood halfway up the walls and paintings dotted around this great chamber. The upper area is decked out in gold leaf that looks almost like damask wall paper and the roofing is supported by carved wood. It is a stunning room. The carpet on the floor was made by prisoners in Agra Jail for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. It is the largest seamless carpet in the world and weighs 2 tons. Thankfully it was rescued during the fire but it took 50 men to lift it. The centerpiece of the room is the dining table which can seat 60 people. It also doubles up as the table used for banquets in St. Georges hall and once extended can seat 160 people. The Queen has lunch here with the Knights of the Garter following the Service in St. Georges Chapel.
The Kings private quarters.
You then enter the Kings apartment which consists of five rooms. Including
* The Anti-throne room.
* The king's drawing room.
* The king's bedchamber
* The king's dressing room
* The king's closet.
Each of these rooms are very ornately decorated and only the most important people would have been allowed access and being granted an audience with the King in these apartments.
The drawing room is decorated with an olive green damask wall paper and the custom started by Queen Victoria was to have the name after an artist whose paintings were on display. This room has been called the Rubens room.
The bedchamber furnished with King Charles II's four poster bed. The walls are covered in crimson damask paper and a large oil painting over the fire place. The plaster ceiling is really quite ornately decorated with a circular centre piece showing an ornate cross with a crown from which hangs a crystal chandelier. Off this room is a tiny closet room which is where it is believed the King actually slept rather than in this room.The king's Dressing room as far as I can remember appeared nicely decorated but was rather dark in appearance. I cannot recall much about this room.
The Queens apartments.
Moving on to the Queens apartment which includes -
* The Queens drawing room
* The kings dining room
* The Queens ballroom
* The Queens audience Chamber
* The Queens Presence Chamber
* The Queens guard Chamber
The Queens drawing room is quite formal looking with red and gold damask wall paper. The ceiling is plastered and decorated with gold leaf. It was covered with old masters at one time and was called the picture gallery but these have been moved around to make it more formal looking. It then leads on to the Kings dining room which could be accessed by both the King and Queen. This room looks quite formal and imposing with a lot of panelling and a dark mural ceiling. In the canter of the room is a marble fire place over which there is a very ornately wooden carved decoration that is food orientated. The room is currently empty except for some small crockery units and a red carpet.
The Queens Ballroom is quite a large oblong shaped room with air force blue damask and silver paper. There is a solid silver table which is on one side of the room. Apparently there used to be six of them but often with Silver it was melted down and sold when times were hard. On the walls are paintings of five of Charles II children. There are two massive crystal chandeliers equally spaced down the centre of the room.
Surprisingly for me the Queens Audience chamber was very dark although looks quite a formal room there was a very dark ceiling with a mural depicting Queen Catherine Braganza in a chariot. To me at a certain angle in two of her paintings she has the appearance of having a five O'clock shadow. This room leads onto the Queens Presence chamber which was essentially used as a waiting room for her visitors. You leave the Queens apartment via the Queens Guard room where soldiers would be stationed to stop anyone attempting to enter the Queens Quarters.
St. Georges Hall.
The largest room in the Castle is St. Georges Hall. Most of the interior work had been completely burned during the fire which started just off the hall at the opposite end in a small anti-chamber after an arc lamp had been inadvertently left on. The fire raced through the castle at a rate of speed. The whole roof of St. Georges hall succumbed to the intense heat from the fire finally collapsing. Much of the wood panelling burnt away leaving but a shell. Around the room are shields of the Knights of the Garter. Each person had his name etched on the wood panelling with his name and a family coat of arms above it. There are some blank shields on display that represent those that have been shamed and their order has been removed from them.
The Queen holds magnificent banquets here when a visiting head of state visits the country. The table that is used is the table from the Waterloo room which extends to seat 160 people. It takes an army of people to lay the table which is so big that staff actually walk up and down the table wearing special covers over their feet ensuring everything is in place right down to measuring with rulers spaces between the plates, cutlery and glassware especially when you consider there may be several courses and several types of wine for the meal. Not only this there will be grand floral displays and much table decorations gold or silverware, candelabras and condiment sets.
At the far end of the hall there is a knight on horseback wearing a suit of armour. It was his role to ride into the palace of Westminster and three times throw down a gauntlet to anyone who challenged the New King and his authority. It is over the entrance to the Lantern Lobby where the fire started. This room was originally the private chapel of Queen Victoria but after the fire it has been transformed into the Lantern room. It is quite beautiful with a central marble design in the centre of what looks like an Octagonal room. It is made from English marble and the centre Red Cross is made from marble from the Duke of Devonshire's estate in Derbyshire.
The Semi State apartments.
After visiting these rooms you are led into the spectacular semi state apartments created for George IV. Although the rooms were damaged during the fire most of the furniture had already been removed as they were going to rewire the apartments. They consist of
* The green Drawing room.
* The Crimson Drawing room.
* The state dining room.
* The Octagonal dining room
* The China corridor
* The Grand reception room
* The Garter throne room.
These rooms are really ornately decorated with rich colours, gilt and gold leaf after all they are built to impress foreign dignitaries and visiting heads of state. The Green Drawing room is quite large and contains lots of beautiful chairs and little coffee tables. It is quite useful to be able to sit in smaller groups in this room whilst entertaining. The walls and furniture are inlaid with Green damask whilst the frames are covered in gold. Unfortunately the beautiful carpet that was designed for this room and was displayed during the Great exhibition in 1851 was damaged by the water from the fire. It is in such a delicate state now that you are not permitted to walk on it and during our visit some of it was rolled up to prevent you walking on it.
The next room you come into is the Crimson Drawing room which suffered terrible damage during the fire. The roof burnt and so did the floor. The roof was a steel roof which buckled forcing the potential collapse of the walls. It has been completely rebuilt and furnished as it originally was. There is a black marble fireplace in the centre of the room which survived the fire but the chandelier was completely ruined. Either side of the fire place are paintings of The Queen mother and the Queens father. The ceilings are gilt covered with a central chandelier. It is a very regal looking room.
The state dining room is where the queen entertains guests and friends who either have lunch here or for those lucky enough to stay the night will have dinner here. The room was completely destroyed in the fire but has been restored to its former glory after studying original photos and paintings of the room. The dining table looks quite formal although less so than when an official banquet takes place in St. Georges hall. The table seats around about 22 people.
The Octagon dining room is used as a small private dining room by close members of the Royal Family when they are in residence.
After the state dining room you walk along a long corridor called the China corridor where dinner services are set out in glass cabinets. The largest dinner service you can see is called the Manchester service which is a turquoise colour. There are different sets of Sevres porcelain around the room.
You now enter the Grand reception room which is very large and is really ornate and ostentatious with crimson drapes chandelier's gold ceilings and walls with inlaid tapestries hanging from the walls. At the end of the room is a very large green Malachite urn which was given to Tsar Nicholas I from Russia in 1939. This room was badly damaged in the fire and so was the urn that needed lengthy restoration. The parquet flooring largely survived the fire and those pieces that were singed were turned over and it looks fine.
The final room you enter before retracing your steps through the opposite end of the Waterloo Chamber is the Garter Throne Room.
The Garter Throne room.
It is in this room where the Queen creates the Knights of the Garter. This room is a long oblong room which has a picture of the Queen over the fireplace. It has a deep Navy blue carpet on the floor and there is a row of chairs along the centre of the room with stools along the sides of the room.. At the head of the room is a throne that was presented to Queen Victoria which is made completely of Ivory.
After visiting this room you come out into the Waterloo chamber but at the opposite end and then back down the stairs to the north terrace.
Queen Marys Dolls House.
The Queue for this had gone down quite considerably by time we came out. This is a special exhibition of a dolls house made for Queen Mary. It was not supposed to be played with as a dolls house but is more ornamental. It is supposed to have replicated a fine house somewhere in London. It is quite large and everything is made in miniature and they are actually working pieces for example the house has its own electricity supply, it has running water and even the toilets which are miniature flush too. Many items of furniture were either made by the original manufacturers or by specialist companies. The library is full of miniature books which are the printed inside. There are chandeliers, glasses, suitcases, rugs and carpets all copies of some of the things that are in the palaces. The wine cellars with miniature bottles of wine actually do contain wine and spirits too and all the trolleys work.
What is very clever is that underneath the house there is a draw which when pulled out reveals formal gardens and cars all scaled down to appear life like but in miniature form. The house was never meant to be played with but it was presented to Queen Mary who had it exhibited at different events to help raise money for her charities.
The outside of the building actually lifts up revealing the different rooms around the house. It is approximately 3 feet high. I think this little house would be any little girls dream house.
St. Georges Chapel Windsor.
St. Georges Chapel can be found in the lower ward of the castle. It is the chapel of the Knights of the Garter which is a personal gift of chivalry bestowed to people from the Monarch. It is an order steeped in history going back to 1348 and was founded by Richard III as one of two royal colleges. Members meet formally twice a year at Easter and at the end of June in the Garter room of Windsor castle. New members are created in the Throne room of the Garter room. They then follow in procession through the grounds of Windsor castle to the chapel to attend a service headed by the Monarch. It has been known by several names. Originally it was St. Edward the confessor chapel then the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Edward the Confessor and St. George the Martyr.. The services had been suspended in the 1805 and only started again in 1948 to mark its 600th anniversary of its founding.
There are approximately 26 Knights in the order of the Garter plus more that are known as poor knights who stand in for those unable to attend. Each member is allocated a seat in the choir where their name is placed on the rear of the seat. Their shield is displayed above the choir. When a member of the order of the Garter dies the vacancy is filled with a new member appointed from a list drawn up from the members of the garter. If any member becomes a disgraced member they are stripped of the order and their shield is torn down which is unceremoniously kicked out of the church until it reaches the outer moat of the castle where it would have been kicked out and left in a ditch. This has not happened since the 1700's
St. Georges Chapel.
The chapel contains the remains of many of the Monarchs and members of the Royal family of the United Kingdom. Most recently the Internment of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margarets ashes were also interred in the small side chapel of King George VI the Queens Father.
Entering the chapel through the main entrance for the public you are immediately standing in the south side aisle of the church. The inside appears quite bright due to the high ceiling of the building and all the stain glass windows of portraits of Popes, Kings and princes around the sides of the chapel dating from around the 1500's. There are large pillars stretching up to the vaulted ceiling that fans out giving a beautiful honeycombed visual effect. There are colourful bosses that hide the joints of heraldic shields, portcullis, flowers and dragons. To enter the choir it has a magnificent stone entrance which the Knights enter to reach their stalls. There is a covered oriel stall to the left of the altar built by Henry VIII so that his Queen Catherine of Aragon could observe the ceremony without being seen. The effect is simply stunning. From the walls above the choir hang heraldic flags covered with coats of arms adding to the visual appeal of the great nave.
There are several side chapels dedicated to members of the Royal family some are quite grand but the majority of the internments are inside the Royal vault. I expected to see grand sarcophagi in memory of the Kings and Queens of England but was surprised to see that they are really quite simple tombs. There are a few that are what I expected and they include the tomb of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck. Marble statues of them lying down as if asleep are on the top. I wrongly assumed most of the tombs would look like this. I was very surprised to see a simple plain black slab in the middle of the floor of the choir announcing the burial vault of Henry VIII and Jayne Seymour. It also contains the remains of Charles I who was executed and brought to the Chapel for internment plus an infant child of Queen Anne.
There is a very grand chapel as you are making your way out of St. Georges which contains the tomb of the youngest son of Queen Victoria the Duke of Clarence, her favourite son. Originally it was built by King Henry VII as his final resting place but instead he was buried at Westminster Abbey. It was handed over to Cardinal Wolsey and known as Wolsey's Tomb house. However when Prince Albert died Queen Victoria had it converted into a chapel dedicated to her husband hence its name. The reason it has been closed fenced off from the public apparently is due to tourists scratching their names over the memorials which is unbelievably irreverent especially in a place of worship. What is it with these numbskulls it is mindless vandalism to do such a thing have they no respect at all?
Queen Victoria and her husband are buried in their own mausoleum nearby at Frogmore. Controversially more recently the funerals took place of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at St. Georges chapel although they are not buried in the chapel they are buried in the private Royal burial ground at Frogmore.
St. Georges is not all about death and burials it has also hosted marriages of members of the Royal family. Many of Queen Victoria's children were married here and more recently minor members of the Royal family have been married here too. Prince Charles had his marriage blessed here following the civil marriage to Camilla Duchess of Cornwall.
Outside of the chapel in the lower ward there are chapter houses where members of the clergy live and in the curfew tower is a peal of 8 bells which are rung prior to or after services. A special wooden frame was constructed within the tower to house the bells which cause a significant amount of movement when they are being rung.
Services are conducted every day at the chapel so it is best to check when they are happening. You will not be able to enter the chapel when one of the services is taking place unless of course you are there to worship.
Adult Ticket £17.75
Student or OAP £16.15
Under 17 £10.60
Under 5 free.
It may seem expensive for a visit but you can return as many times as you like over the next year as long as you get the reverse of your entry ticket stamped by one of the guards inside the castle plus you need to take proof of identity with you on your return such as a driving license, bank card or passport.
There are some toilets around the grounds of the castle and also a couple of souvenir shops selling quite expensive items. There is a cafeteria near the Round tower selling expensively priced ice creams, tea, coffee and snacks.
If you are interested in history or like walking around palaces then this is the tour for you. Expect to spend at least four hours or more here. You are also given a portable audio device to take around with you and simply press the number on the key pad to give explanations of the various sights around the castle. The room guards are particularly helpful in answering additional questions you may have and will always offer clear explanations.
Overall what did I think?
I absolutely loved my day at the Castle despite it being one of the hottest days of the year and very tiring for the amount of walking you have to do and hardly anywhere you can just sit and catch your breath. It was very crowded but not so much as to mar the visit and a lot of people visiting on tourist buses are usually confined by time limits so tend to rush around a bit. I will definitely return perhaps during the winter months when I would hope to find fewer tourists but as it is such a popular venue I am sure there are always going to be many people visiting. I would have loved to have seen much more of the castle but you are only permitted into the state apartments and state rooms. The grounds and Frogmore will require another days visit. I was disappointed that we were unable to stand in the middle of the Quadrangle. My other disappointment of course was that you are not allowed to take any pictures anywhere inside the castle at all but only in the grounds. A fantastic day out!
A recent day off work saw me visiting Windsor Castle. For no particular reason other than it is virtually on my doorstep with a round trip of about 80 miles and i had never been before.
All told, we spent three hours in the Castle and grounds. Given the size of the Castle and the amount of rooms that we saw, it would be impossible (or just impossibly dull) to give a room by room account of what you will see. Here, then, I will try to capture the Castle, or at least it's highlights.
The first thing you will encounter as you enter the Castle via the North Terrace is Queen Mary's Doll's House. We must have queued for nigh on half an hour and by the time we entered I was almost tempted to walk straight past the Doll's House. With the building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and its tiny gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll it was never going to be any old Doll's House. Around six foot long and nearly as tall, I'm actually glad I stood in the interminable queue to get a look at the tiny rooms. Built in 1924 for Queen Mary, it is to perfect scale of 1/12. The exterior is somehow raised up high so all the rooms on all four sides are visible to guests. I've never been impressed with doll's houses even as a child, but even I found this fascinating. The dinner service on display is made of solid silver, and a little safe room features perfect replicas of the Crown Jewels (because everyone has those don't they?). The very dim blue lighting in this room does nothing to hide the extravagance on display, which might leave some visitors cold considering it was built at a time of supposed austerity. It gives you a taste of what is to come though.
Moving through into the Drawings Gallery, I had no real expectations. Currently this is marking the Jubilee by showing 60 photographs of Elizabeth II and her family. A few photos caught my eye which saved this from being dull. One of Her Maj with Lady Gaga taken several years ago, and a further one with Margaret Thatcher are worth looking out for if you can get past the gaggle of near sighted Japanese tourists who insist on standing two inches from the glass. The latter was taken at the ex PM's 80th birthday celebrations with the unmistakable Thatcher hairdo recognisable even when the photo is taken in darkness and in profile as it is here.
And finally, on the ground floor, is the China Museum. Here are housed no less than 12 of the 48 services that the Royal Family use at Windsor and some of these collections are enormous! Several lions featured on one service are more than a little careworn, at least vouching for their regular usage. If you take the audio tour it will point you in the direction of the Rockingham service - one of the fancier ones here. Having taken eight years to complete, the makers subsequently went bust. I hope Queen Victoria was amused.
Onwards and upwards and ascending the Grand Staircase, you will see some of the more interesting pieces on display in the Grand Vestibule. A life sized tiger's head made of gold is one of the objects 'acquired' by British soldiers after fighting with Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore in southern India in 1831.
A statute of Queen Victoria is worth seeing, if only because it also includes one of her faithful pooches by her side, which is easily overlooked at first glance. The Vestibule is also home to what is really an armoury, with many display cabinets, and the walls almost up to the ceilings being chock full of various weapons. Ordinarily exhibits like this would leave me cold but most of these seem to be decorative rather than war weary given their fancy handles. Perhaps there was a booming market for such things back in George IV's day.
Keep moving and you arrive at the Queen's Guard Chambers. Look out of the window and beneath is possibly the best view you'll get of the Long Walk stretching into the distance. In the Chambers there are busts of both Winston Churchill and his lesser known ancestor the Duke of Marlborough here. Given some 16,000 acres of land by Queen Anne in gratitude for his services at the battle of Blenheim in 1704, the Oxfordshire estate into which Winston was born was thus created.
A more interesting parallel between those two men is that they both married strong minded women. As John Churchill's widow, it would have been easy for Sarah to marry comfortably once again, yet rejected one suitor with the words: "If I were young and handsome as I was, instead of old and faded as I am, and you could lay the empire of the world at my feet, you should never share the heart and hand that once belonged to John, Duke of Marlborough."
A state visit to France for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret when they were little resulted in the French presenting them with two dolls now on display (although I forget in which room). The dolls must be about three feet tall and each have their own Citroen. The two cabriolets are also here and being a staggering 5 feet 9 inches long I'm guessing they weren't as easy to lose down the back of a sofa as a diecast model car. I would have been tempted to jump inside for a test drive if they weren't behind glass. The French went to town (one without a guillotine) and left no expense spared in showing the dowdy Princesses how the French do chic. The huge array of clothing, including fur coats made from ermine and leopard and jewellery made by Cartier wouldn't look out of place on a Paris runway. The entente wasn't always so cordiale though...
Possibly the most historically important object at Windsor Castle is the musket ball that killed Lord Nelson in 1805. Was it kismet? Who knows, but the tiny musket ball was nicely packaged in a pendant locket and presented to Queen Victoria.
~ St George's Chapel ~
After looking around the Castle I was only too happy to get some fresh air and walk the short distance to St George's Chapel, also in the grounds. Chapel may mislead you into thinking it will be a small affair, but no. Perhaps odd or even distasteful, but to me more interesting than the marriages conducted here (yes I'm thinking of you Charles and Camilla) are the interments which have taken place.
In one chapel off the main Quire rest the sister, mother and father of the current monarch. Small and easy to miss apart from the tourists gathered around it, railings prevent you from actually entering. In another chapel lies Princess Charlotte of Wales. She died following childbirth in 1817 at the age of 21 and was buried here with her stillborn baby. Many, many women died in childbirth back then but most were lucky to be given a marked grave let alone a tomb with five angels (with one holding the stillborn son). Not only is her chapel far more ostentatious than that of King George VI but as an only child her death lead to her cousin Victoria becoming monarch years later.
King Henry VIII who would surely have expected the most lavish tomb in the whole chapel was buried alongside Jane Seymour in a small vault underneath the Quire with only a memorial stone in the ground to show for it. Charles I lost his head and joined them a century later.
~ Walkie Talkie ~
Worth mentioning is the audio tour which is available for free near the entrance. I don't know what other languages it comes in besides English, but it proved popular with various visitors. I think it's worth using as although we had bought a guidebook as well (at £4.50) there are commentaries given by Prince Charles amongst others, which give a more personal description of certain paintings and sculptures than the guidebook can offer. One observation suggests looking at Henry VIII's armour in the Lantern Lobby from the front and then from the side. Only if you look at it sideways can you appreciate the king's girth.
Another neat observation involved describing Prince Andrew's offer to cut down one of the larger paintings on the night of the fire in 1992. No mention is made of whether the plucky prince was ever taken up on his offer although he certainly seems to like ropes given he will soon be abseiling down the Shard in London.
Unfortunately most of Prince Charles's commentary was too forgettable to relay.
~ Also of note: ~
* You may well see the Guards marching around the grounds. We saw them twice, but I couldn't get my camera ready quickly enough to take a photo.
* Try to arrange a visit when everything is open. The semi state apartments and St George's Chapel are sometimes closed, so check on the website in advance.
* The gardens look splendid from upstairs windows but they are mostly off limits.
* There are three different gift stores in the grounds so if you go with young children be prepared to take home something you may feel is overpriced.
*There are lifts available for those needing wheelchair accessibility upstairs.
*Wear comfortable shoes and take advantage of the loos near the entrance as I don't recall seeing any others.
Admission prices and opening times
Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £15.50
Under 17 £10.20
Under 5 Free
Family £44.75 (2 adults and 3 under 17s)
1 March - 27 July 2012 and 13 August - 31 October 2012:
09:45 -17:15 (last admission 16:00)
28 July to 12 August 2012:
10:00 -18:15 (last admission 17:00)
St George's Chapel closes at 16:15 (last entry 16:00).
Be sure to check their website (below) before setting out though, as they warn that the Castle can be closed at short notice.
~ So, given the current economic climate and with school holidays upon us, is Windsor Castle worth visiting? ~
Undoubtedly it is an expensive day out, although I now think the ticket prices do offer reasonably good value for money.
Although there is so much to see it's almost overwhelming, I think it was three hours well spent. My feet were starting to complain by the time we left which wasn't helped by there being few places to stop and sit down once you're inside. We made do perching on various window seats, some of which come with splendid views over the surrounding land.
We can also take advantage of an offer whereby a second visit within the next 12 months is free. We got our tickets stamped by a member of staff at a little stand in the China Museum. Provided you get your tickets stamped and then sign and date the reverse, if you provide ID with your signature when you return you can get in for free. I don't know if we'll be in Windsor again so soon, but we'll keep the tickets safe just in case.
~ The whole Windsor experience ~
Having driven here, we used one of the large car parks a stones throw away from the castle. They're well signposted, but at £10 for a 5 hour stay they're not cheap. Don't be tempted to outstay your welcome there either, we saw three other cars which had been clamped on our return. The release fee is £120.
There are no eateries for the public in the castle grounds, so with this in mind we had stopped at a small Italian café (simply called The Coffee Shop) in nearby Thames Street before walking up the hill to the Castle. We shared a large panini of cheese, ham and pesto (which came with a generous side of salad and pasta), three coffees and a yummy danish pastry which came to just over £17.
Before we headed home we partook of afternoon tea for two at the Sir Christopher Wren hotel, near to the car park and right by the Thames. As the weather was drizzly, we had hoped to be able to make use of their lovely riverside seating inside but were told we would have to sit in the bar area instead with the other diners. The afternoon tea was £15 for both of us which was reasonably priced although it wouldn't have hurt management to let us dine in the restaurant rather than the bar. Watching a wall hung television was less pleasant than the boats and wildfowl gliding down the river.
Although this can be an expensive day out I'm going to award 5 stars, as in all fairness they do allow a second visit for free within twelve months and there may just be enough to hold your interest a second time.
Windsor castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It's the residence which the queen officially calls her home.
Set in the middle of Windsor, the castle can look deceptively small. It's only once you've entered the grounds that you see how large the grounds and the castle buildings really are.
Getting there - Windsor is well served by train lines in and out of London, as well as being easily accessible by road. There are a number of car parks around the town and it is a small, compact centre which allows you to walk around easily.
The castle itself cannot be missed and is open most of the year to visitors. It is wise to check before you plan to go though - some of the rooms, for example the new kitchen tour and the state apartments - are not always open depending on events, so to avoid disappointment, check. An adult ticket is £16 and at the moment they have an offer on so that if you get your ticket stamped before you leave, it will entitle you to a years free access to the castle. Definitely well worth it - there is so much to see, you'll probably want to go back and see it all again anyway. Included in the price is a free audio tour, available in many different languages. We decided not to go for this as we preferred to walk around and chat and we also assumed there would be sufficient information around the castle.
Getting into the castle involves going through several different checkpoints. Obviously understandable - as the queen's residence, they need to be extra vigilant. The security is very similar to that at an airport - they x-ray your bag and you have to walk through a metal detector. When we went it was a week day and so very quiet, so the whole process didn't take too long at all. I should image when it's busy it would take much much longer so do be prepared to wait.
Once inside the grounds, you are free to walk around and see the castle. There are several gardens dotted around which are probably nicer to look at in the summer (we went in March!). The views of Windsor are pretty spectacular, especially on the North Walk and its rather romantic (when we went we spied a lady being proposed to!) There is plenty to see on the outside alone, but inside the castle are the state apartments, Queen Mary's dolls house, the engine rooms, the kitchens and the round tower. Additionally there are three gift shops dotted around and the chapel where the Queen Mother and her husband King George VI are buried.
St George's Chapel is amazing with beautiful stained glass windows and a large number of royals who have been buried there, including King George V and Henry the Eighth. There is a list of services at the entrance so those who wish could attend a service in the church if they would like.
The State apartments are huge and we spent well over an hour in these rooms alone. They take you through a huge part of the castle and the decorations are truly breathtaking. The gold, the red, the gilding, the paintings, the furniture.... They are all stunning works of art in their own ways. I felt the layout of the rooms was very clever, with sometimes the visitor being led in and out of the same room several times. This was interesting as when you entered through another door way, you would see something different. Each room had a member of staff in and they answered several questions for people and one came over and talked us through a painting we had been discussing. My only disappointment was that there was very little information in the rooms at all - they were relying on everyone to have the audio guides and so had left very little for people that had thought they wouldn't need them.
The dolls house is a work of art and every little girl's dream. I did have a dolls house when I was younger but it is a poor relation indeed to this spectacular edition. Each room is fully furnished and it is open on all four sides. There are even little garages (at least four) with cars and rooms for the servants as well as the household. There is even an elegant entrance hall with a stair case. I wanted to break the glass down and play with it! Past the dolls house was a collection of two dolls and their clothes which had been donated to Princess Margaret and Elizabeth. All I can say is the dolls wardrobe was amazing!
Other parts of the castle to visit included the engine room and kitchen but we chose not to visit them.
The castle is very definitely worth a visit, especially at the moment and is suitable for all ages.
I visited Windsor Castle for the first time on a bright but very cold day in late January.
First of all, the approach by road to the castle. It is appalling. Approaching from the M4, the castle is sign-posted off the motorway, then gets you round the usual large roundabout, then that's it! You are directed onto a dual-carriage way type road, which then branches into 2. With no sign. Of course, I took the wrong one. Then even when I realised my mistake and turned around, it wasn't sign-posted from the other direction either! So I took the other road, figured from my map that the castle was somewhere "over there" and just drove until I found it! Poor, I thought, considering it is a major tourist attraction.
Interestingly, there is no "recommended" parking for the castle that I could see. I ended up in the railway station carpark, about 10 minutes walk away. Which turned out to be unintentionally ideal. Parking cost me £4 for all day, which I thought was reasonable.
Getting into the castle itself was easy enough. But be careful, you actually pass the exit before you get to the entrance! You need to keep going up the hill as far as you can.
On arrival you are given a small handset to type numbers into, to hear a commentary as you walk around. You are also offered an ear-piece if you like, but I declined on that.
First I walked round to Queen Mary's dolls house. Although very intricate and pretty, it was only ok. It was very crowded and I didn't feel comfortable standing still for a long time to really look at the details. I didn't stay for long.
I then went into the State Apartments, which were delightful. Generally very quiet. I quite often had rooms to myself! The accompanying commentaries were interesting and well-informed, without being too long. I also appreciated that they didn't talk too much about the paintings, of which there were lots. Some were talked about and that was quite interesting, but I wouldn't have wanted too much of that.
My only slight complaint would be the wardens situated around the rooms. At quite a few points, they were just standing around having loud conversations! I had to turn up the volume a couple of times, just to hear it and drown them out! Inappropriate I thought.
I then went to St George's Chapel. It is lovely from the outside, but I didn't find the bulk of the inside to be particularly inspiring. However, as I got near the front, by the choir, it was really nice. I spent a long time looking at the tomb of George VI and the Queen Mother. I thought it was very tastefully done and very attractive. The choir itself, with all the helmets of the knights was facinating and the commentary was excellent at this point.
In all, I arrived at the castle at about 10am and left at about 2pm. And I was taking it quite slowly. It's certainly not an "all day" attraction, particularly as there is no where to eat or drink inside. But still well worth a visit. I shall be going again in a few years. Most definitely.
This castle is absolutely fantastic. When I went the Queen and French President were in residence having a state banquet.
The changing of the guard ceremony is outstanding. You can get so close to the guards it is unreal. It is quite scarey at times as the noise of the guards marching and shouting orders had the children hiding behind both me and my wife. At the same time it sent a shiver down your spine and made you feel proud to be English.
In the chapel you can see the vaults were past Kings and Queens are buried. You also have the opportunity to view parts of the interior of the castle. The wealth is so evident with all the interior decor. When we went we were treated to some music by the band also.
There are no refreshments available inside the grounds. I don't know why.I had to leave my family inside whilst I went back outside to get some drinks and food.
Please bear in mind that some of the events are seasonal and changing of Guards is also. We are already planning our second visit and have booked a hotel down there in February.
Please note that this review has already been posted in part on the net.
I have just run a DOOYOO search and cannot believe that this is the very first review of Windsor Castle to appear on DOOYOO! I can only hope in that case, that the following review will be of some use to the potential visitor.
Regrettably the title of this review does rather let the cat out of the bag, for that my profuse apologies, but as is often the case on some of the more controversial reviews I did think long and hard about the title - resulting in the one you see above. If this review is seen as treasonous, may I just hope that access is not denied to the internet whilst serving at Her Majesty's pleasure. If treason is still a hanging offence then I bequeath my worldly goods to ..
OK, here comes the review as planned before discovery of its "first of" nature:
Many weeks later (after our visit!) and with my credit card bill now paid in order to further rub my nose in it, I am still as you can see, smarting over this one!
Adrianna, my Polish wife, had been resident in England for some three years, when, quite by chance, we wound up in Windsor one grey, cold Saturday afternoon in February. Wandering around this lovely town, with its superb range of shops, we walked up one of the steep streets and there in front of us was a fairly large castle.
"What's this place?"
"Well it is where the Queen lives when out of London - Windsor Castle."
We walk around the edge of the castle keep and find next to the visitor entrance a board showing the admission prices.
"At £12.50 each, I think that we'll have to leave it for a special occasion, next summer perhaps when your parents visit us on holiday from Poland?"
"Oh yes that would be a good idea! They'd love to see a place like this"
Well, three weeks ago my parents in law were here on holiday and on the first day (Monday) that the rain stopped we arrived in Windsor soon after 1.00 on a blustery afternoon. Having managed to park the car, no mean feat here, we headed straight up the High Street to join the long queue of people waiting to gain entry into the castle.
Since my last visit to Windsor Castle, in 1983(!) things have changed somewhat. In those days you were free to walk the ramparts, look at the buildings from the outside, only having to pay if you wished to enter the state rooms or St George's Chapel. Now you have to pay £12.50 for an all-in ticket, lump it or leave it.
Fair enough, from the numbers queuing - it took us about 30 minutes to gain admission - there are plenty of people willing to pay any price to see inside this, the largest inhabited castle in Europe. That was their billing incidentally, not mine!
To rub salt into my wounds there are also Royal Staff "working the crowds" attempting to get everyone to sign Gift Aid declaration forms. Now I'm a great supporter of this, any charitable donations, English Heritage and our ss Great Britain membership included, are always gift aided. For those of you not familiar with this scheme, you sign a form either an annual declaration (memberships) or at point of purchase and the government returns 28% of your donation or entry fee to the charity in the form of tax relief. I was approached in a highly officious and condescending manner, which elicited the following (and totally out of character) response:
"Good God, do you not think we all pay enough already to maintain places like these?"
"Excuse ME Sir, but we do not receive a penny in government aid to cover the cost of running or maintenance - Windsor Castle is a registered charity!"
I was speechless! Do you think I can open a couple of rooms and a small portion of MY garden to the public, rake in huge admission charges and then claim charitable status for my home? No, thought NOT! Outside of internet review sites nobody has ever heard of Richada, and for very good reason, he is not one of the countries richest and most well known people!
There was a fairly elderly gentleman with his wife and two grandchildren in front of us, he had not enough money to cover the cost of entry - obviously he was not going to let the kids down and had to resort, as I did, to handing over his credit card. He was not slow in voicing his opinion to the staff about the cost of visiting this "national asset"!
As the majority of you will be aware, I am not into "sour grapes" reviews, nor do I ever set out to write a review with the sole intention of putting people off going to an attraction, or buying a product.. However, I have to say here, that although my parents in law really enjoyed visiting Windsor Castle, for my wife and I the feeling of being taken for a ride never really left us thought our visit.
Just as importantly, my 11 year old sister in law who also accompanied us was less than enamoured with the visit, most of it was well over her head and as my wife so eloquently puts it "there was nothing child friendly about the place". Her ticket had cost £6.50.
After queuing to get in you are then processed through an airport style security scanner, publicly emptying the contents of your pockets into a tray, then you are free to visit the castle. Once inside you can stop at the guide book shop and pay £5.00 for an "Official Guidebook" with the Royal Crest on it - a quite ordinary publication of its' type and at least £1 over priced. Anything in Polish? You MUST be joking! We declined the 'special offer' of an audio tour to accompany the guidebook for £6.95. Everywhere else we have visited this year the audio guides have been included in the entry price, here if you want only an Audio guide it will cost £2.95. Adrianna asked if you got to keep the guide at the end of the tour!
The first point of interest is the Castle Exhibition Centre, a large long gallery type room attempting to portray in pictures the every day life at the castle. Suddenly the penny drops, the queen is only 'in residence' here for just six weeks per year. Two weeks in April and four in June. Apart from the occasional state banquets what we were seeing on this day was every day life here, thousands of tourists swarming over this place which is no more than a glorified tourist attraction - albeit a registered charity.
Here in this room is a very good record of the devastating fire which swept through the State rooms on 20th November 1992 and the painstaking work that has since gone into restoring their magnificence. What I did fail to digest here was the rather more hot 'political' issue over just who was going to pay for this fabulously expensive (money no object) work to be carried out.
In my ignorance, like most others at the time, I assumed that an insurance claim would be made. Good Lord, no. You do not think that the queen had her home insured do you? John Major, PM of the day was in a sticky spot over this one, there was understandable public outcry about the huge costs being met from the public purse whilst schools and hospitals were being closed down. The Queen herself was forced to step in, offering to open Buckingham Palace for the first time to the public, partly in order to fund the restorations herself.
Thank you Maam, most generous.
If you are by now forming the opinion that RICHADA is an anti-monarchist, then nothing could be further from the truth. It just makes me sad that events such those surrounding the fire and being fleeced to see Windsor Castle makes the Royal Family appear so mean and out of touch with the times in which we, her subjects, live.
The rest of this review will put politics aside and as succinctly as is possible describe to you the visitor experience.
Leaving behind the Exhibition Centre you proceed in a clockwise direction past some lovely gardens beneath the Round Tower (neither open to the public) and through a gate from the Middle to the Upper Ward. This brings you to the start of the tour of the State Apartments, Gallery and Queen Mary's Dolls House.
Regrettably there was a queue for Queen Mary's Dolls House, helpfully they had signs saying "Queue 45 minutes from this point". We gave it a miss, estimating that we would be standing in a queue for over an hour to gain admission. At least if you do choose to queue there is a good view over the Thames Valley from this wide walkway constructed during the reign of Henry VIII. Fortunately, as we did, you can see the State Apartments via a separate entrance for which there was not a queue.
Thanks to the guidebook I can tell you that Queen Mary's Dolls House is just that, a dolls house housed in a glass case in a room to one side of the gallery. It is a splendid model house of 1/12th scale designed by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and presented to Queen Mary in 1924. Every detail is authentic; it has electric lighting and a fully operational plumbing system. The tiny bottles of wine and Champaign are just that - the real thing!
Between the Dolls House room and the entrance to the State Apartments via the grand stair case is situated The Gallery. Quite the gloomiest art gallery I think that I have seen, it is situated in a large vaulted undercroft and houses a large collection of photographs and drawings from the Royal Collections.
Before climbing the (very) Grand Staircase you have to pass through the China Museum. Here is housed a huge collection, behind glass naturally, of china services from famous English and European manufacturers. Gratifyingly they are not just a showpiece, her Majesty actually gets them out and uses them on state occasions.
For my taste I think that the Grand Staircase was the highlight of Windsor Castle. Topped with a wooden lantern tower, it actually only dates from 1866, as grand entrances go, this one takes some beating!
At the top of the staircase you enter a room called The Grand Vestibule. Apart from a very good statue of Queen Victoria and the superb plasterwork fan vaulting on the ceiling this room is packed with various arms, mostly rifles, the prize trophy here being the actual bullet that killed Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805. Not my kind of room this, never did like guns and bullets!
The first 'suite' of smaller rooms entered from the Vestibule date from King Charles II's time (1660-1685), although most of the art and furniture to be seen here whilst in period have been placed at a later date, mostly by Prince Albert in the mid 1800's. The King's Drawing Room and Bedchamber are particularly ornate and richly decorated, the amount of gold to be seen particularly in the bedchamber borders, frankly, on the tacky.
The tour continues through The King's Dressing Room and the King's Closet. Here lays my biggest beef with the whole experience here at Windsor Castle. All of these rooms which, by their very names, served an everyday working function, have been stripped of that function in order to place hugely valuable paintings and objects of art.
Klaudia, my 11 year old sister in law may be Polish but even she recognised the fact that the King has to wash, go to the toilet and bathe somewhere. She asked me a very simple question "where is the kibel?" (kibel = toilet)
Nowhere in this tour did we see any sign of how the Royals actually LIVED day to day. In most other houses that we have visited Klaudia has enjoyed bathrooms, toilets and kitchens, none of which are displayed here.
The next suite of rooms are The Queen's suite, interconnecting to the aforementioned King's rooms. More lavish gold leaf and heavy red velvet wallpaper, how dull must have seemed everyday life compared to this. Living here could only be compared to watching the TV with the colour turned full up. Eventually all the colours start to run, there is so much of it you stop seeing the masterpieces on the wall, for my taste the whole lot is just far too lavish.
A room of considerable note is the King's Dining Room. Another Charles II period piece, this one is not a very large room, accentuated by the fact that it has no natural daylight other than that coming through from the adjacent Grand Staircase lantern tower. Every square inch of the ceiling here has been painted by Verrio, depicting a banquet of the gods. It is undeniably a superb piece of art on a grand scale.
Now we find ourselves in the Queen's Ballroom, dating mostly from William IV's time (1830-1837), as ballrooms go it is of surprisingly modest proportions, making the décor even more overbearing than it would otherwise be. The next two rooms are the Queen's Audience and Presence Chambers, again highly decorated and with 17th Century ceiling paintings by Verrio. In the Presence Chamber there is a superb carved fireplace surround dating from 1789 and incorporating a clock.
The Queen's Guard Chamber is yet another large room, packed to the rafters with guns. Of more personal interest there are also several thrones in here, all superbly carved and decorated.
Now we enter Windsor Castles "centrepiece" St Goerge's Hall. A colossal space over 180ft (55 metres) long, the new oak roof (constructed following the 1992 fire that destroyed the original) is the largest such roof constructed in the 20th Century. This is where the Queen hosts the State Banquets. For six centuries it has honoured the Order of the Garter and therefore could be said to be at the very centre of the English class system. All about you, on the ceiling and the walls you will see thousands of crests chosen by those knighted over the centuries. Regrettably the whole of this huge room has the feeling of being too new or "over-restored". Maybe in 100 years it will blend in with the rest of the castle, for now it just does not feel "authentic" somehow.
Our tour is almost complete, we descend to the outer courtyard via the Lantern Lobby, the very place where the 1992 fire started. In winter months you can continue from here to see another, more intimate area of the castle known as the "Semi-State Rooms" These were created in the 1820's by George IV for his personal quarters. Judging by the photographs in the guide book this suite is also highly decorated although not quite on the scale of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, where George's excesses had really been allowed to run riot.
The Queen uses this suite of rooms for "non-state" entertaining.
We are pleased to breathe the outside air. The whole experience for my taste at least had been one of sheer over the top extravagance.
A very welcome contrast to the State Apartments is provided by St George's Chapel. Largely built between 1475 and 1484 in the reign of Edward IV, originally it had a wooden roof. The magnificent fan vaulted one that you can see today was added later, finally being completed by Henry VIII in 1528.
Bringing the history here at Windsor right up to date, in St George's Chapel there is a tiny side chapel (not open) where King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret are entombed.
Just as beautiful inside as it is out, I would have been happy to have seen this chapel and left the rest of the castle interiors out - after all, what you do not know cannot hurt you I suppose.
I may be perverse in my view, but we did make the comment whilst we still in the castle grounds, that in opening this place to the public the Royals are in a way rubbing our noses in their fantastic wealth.
Which really brings us right back to hospital closures and where we began.
No Richada will not be visiting Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle was a once in a lifetime experience - we cannot AFFORD to go back there!
Opening times: It is best to check the Information Line for this because the castle can be closed on state occasions etc. Call 020 7766 7304 for details and admission prices.