HISTORY is alive and well in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. It has been home to kings and queens for over a millennium, and can justifiably claim to be the birthplace of liberty and justice.
Windsor is within easy reach of the Midlands, making it ideal for a weekend break, or a few days more, as the visitor will quickly find there is a lot more to the borough than just Windsor Castle, although the splendour of that royal seat could easily take up a weekend in itself.
And taking advantage of one of the many coach trips available not only takes the strain out of travelling, and the stress of parking, but also ensures that you get the most out of your visit in the hands of the experts.
The largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, Windsor is one of the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen, and the grandeur is in many ways simply jaw-dropping. Quite how many treasures, from paintings to porcelain, adorn the almost countless rooms is staggering.
There are also special photographic displays marking the reign of Queen Elizabeth II as the longest of any British monarch – celebrating her reign from 1952 to the present day.
For the dedicated royal watcher the castle is a must. For the art lover the castle is a must. In truth, for any visitor to Windsor the castle is a must.
It will come as no surprise that it gets very busy at the castle, but just 15 minutes away from the hustle and bustle is The Savill Garden – one of Britain’s greatest ornamental gardens, and something of a well-kept secret.
Developed under the patronage of kings and queens, The Savill Garden was created in the 1930s by Sir Eric Savill.
The 35 acres of contemporary and classically designed gardens and exotic woodland is a joyous place of constant discovery. The interlocking gardens, mixing native and exotic species, are made up of distinctive areas from The Azalea Walks to The New Zealand Garden. There is also a superb shop and restaurant. Relaxation comes as standard at The Savill Garden.
Just a few miles outside Windsor at Runnymeade is a meadow – although no ordinary field. It was hear King John and the Barons agreed Magna Carta in 1215. Little could they have know it would become one of the most important documents in the world, laying down the foundation for freedom and justice throughout the world, cited by great men throughout history from Winston Churchill to Nelson Mandela.
In truth there is not a great deal to see – an art installation of chairs and the Kennedy Memorial aside – which is why a guided tour really does bring history alive.
After a stroll through the meadows, a cruise down the Thames offers the chance to sit back and simply watch the scenery go by.
French Brothers Boats have been offering trips on the river for nearly 40 years. Envy at some magnificent riverside properties, catch Eton College in the distance, and enjoy some splendid views of the castle – all accompanied by a cream tea.
And it would be a crying shame while in the area not to make the effort to visit Hampton Court in nearby Richmond where the visitor gets two palaces for the price of one. There is the Tudor palace, developed by Cardinal Wolsey and later Henry VIII, alongside a baroque palace built by William III and Mary II in the late 17th century, including a wing added partly under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren.
Apart from the palace itself and its gardens, Hampton Court boasts the celebrated maze, and a couple of record breakers in the oldest real tennis court in the world, and the largest grape vine in the world. Real tennis is still played on the tennis court, and grapes from the vine can be bought in the gift shop.
Hampton Court, while visually stunning, is really brought to life by the costumed guides, who are a mine of information with an obvious passion for their subject, one which rubs off on the visitor.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Windsor, then look no further than the historic, and recently refurbished, centrally located 108 room MGallery Castle Hotel. The hotel’s Eighteen restaurant boasts a fine reputation, and for good reason.
Visit www.windsor.gov.uk for further details.
* Johnsons Quality Coaches www.johnsonscoaches.co.uk 01564 797000 has a short break to the Thames Valley and London with visits to Windsor Castle, the State Apartments and St George’s Chapel as well as to Savill Garden. In between there are visits to London and a boat trip on the Regents Canal, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and a cruise around the park waterways; Greenwich Village and a River Thames cruise to Westminster Pier. Departs by Club Class coach on 23 June for 5 days/4 nights DBB from £549pp (note Johnsons will also have a day trip programme in the summer which is likely to include Windsor but is yet to be finalised).