A Day Away Far Away: Wandering through Windsor

Windsor Castle is more than just a home. Its rooms are filled with art and furnishings from more than 500 years.

Windsor Castle is more than just a home, although it is Queen Elizabeth’s weekend getaway spot. Its rooms are filled with art and furnishings from 10 centuries.

So maybe your next day away is far away? Across the country instead of across town. A thousand miles away instead of a hundred. In a place where they don't know your language, much less your name. Occasionally, we take a look at  tourist sites in other countries with a little practical advice for spending a day away — far away.

So maybe your next day away is far away? 
Occasionally, we take a look at tourist sites in other countries with a little practical advice for spending a day away — far away.

When we booked a recent flight to Europe, the plane stopped in Heathrow. Now we could have hung around the airport and waited for our connecting flight.

But instead, we made arrangements to go to Windsor. I’d done it before and knew it was a great way to spend a few hours. My daughter and I had caught a bus to this historic town on the Thames a few years ago on our way to Aix-en-Provence. This time, I figured if a few hours had been great, a few days would be better.

A children's clothing shop in Eton announced the birth of Prince George.

A children’s clothing shop in Eton announced the birth of Prince George. So did a number of other shops in both Eton and Windsor.

Wandering is a good way to put what we did, as we nosed about in the little shops around town and crossed the bridge for a good look at Eton College — where we took a tour of the oldest buildings. But we were there with one item on our agenda: a tour of Windsor Castle.

I knew from my past visit that the line for tickets will stretch out into the streets of Windsor so I was prepared with tickets already ordered online. What a difference! We sailed through a pre-order line, clutching my ticket confirmation number. In only a few minutes we were onto the castle grounds, bypassing hundreds of other people.

Visits of the castle, the official home of the Prince of Wales, include guided tours of the Castle Precincts and audio tours (which we ignored; let us know if we were wrong), a look at Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and the Drawings Gallery which featured art by several royal generations while we were there, a visit to the State Apartments (not the residence where the queen and her family stays, of course) and a visit to St. George’s Chapel.

WinChapel

The queen installs the newest members of the Order of the Garter in June at St. George’s Chapel — but the rest of us can attend services here. Wait by the gate outside the castle about 15 minutes or so before services begin to be allowed in.

If your timing is right, you can “Conquer the tower,” a visit to the castle’s oldest section, the round tower, climbing some 200 steps to the top with views of the towns of Windsor and across the Thames, Eton. And you might even catch a tour of the castle’s kitchens where you will see kitchenware from today and from the past, including pieces from the royal yacht, the Britannia. Both of these tours last about 45 minutes each and cost extra. But it’s easy to decide if you have the time once you’re inside the castle grounds and buy tickets at the last minute. (That’s what we did.)

WinChgGuard

Changing of the Guard takes place daily (except Sunday) about 11 a.m. Best to be there about 10:45 — and double check the time at the ticket office.

Arrive early for the changing of the guard, if you’re a fan of marches and pageantry — and picture-crazy people raising their iPads up above their heads and in your way. Sorry, no more about that.

There will be lines into the castle but they move along at a good pace and you can take your time peering into the tiny rooms of the doll house, admiring the fancy dresses of the dolls or lollygagging in the sumptuous rooms decorated with rich fabrics, historic paintings and all kinds of furniture, the likes you don’t see in the usual suburban house.

Windsor has several shops tucked in various corners with wares ranging from the rich to the silly. There was even a Christmas ornament commemorating the birth of the new prince — or anyone's new baby.

Windsor has several shops tucked in various corners with wares ranging from the rich to the silly. There was even a Christmas ornament commemorating the birth of the new prince — or anyone’s new baby.

Talk to the guards hanging about. They are happy to supply visitors with details about the rooms they are in and about the history of the castle. We learned about the 1992 fire only when we asked. Ancient history, I guess.

The visit was overwhelming — and we were there a good eight hours from before the changing of the guard to Evensong. But we saw everything we could, from Prince Charles’s sketches from his travels to the flower garden by the Round Tower. We took our time, stopping for a brief moment to enjoy ice cream made with the cream of royal cows. We even had time to stop and buy a souvenir. Now that’s a good layover, don’t you think?

At left is the portico where guests are received. On the right are Queen Elizabeth's apartments. We didn't see those rooms.

At left is the portico where guests are received. On the right are Queen Elizabeth’s apartments. We didn’t see those rooms.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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