October 1 – Windsor
A day in Windsor and a day to visit Her Majesty’s weekend holiday home and to see the spot where Meghan and Harry said their “I do’s”. We two are by no means followers of royal goings on, although Steve seemed a bit more with it than me, when on listening to an audio guide, I had to ask “Which ones are the Sussexes again?” to be informed they were Meghan and Harry. So, we are failed monarchists, but when in Windsor, Windsor Castle had to be seen.
We started with a bit more of a look around the town first and came across some interesting pieces of history. We strolled down Church Street, which for a small street, had some stories to tell. There is a small heritage garden in the street, which is the smallest open public space in Windsor. There used to be cottages on that spot, but they burnt down in 1800, although the fireplaces from where they once stood can still be seen in the garden.
Church Street was once in the market area of the town and it used to be called Fyssh Street, because of the stalls selling eels and other fish caught in the Thames. It also has a copy, on the wall of one of the medieval buildings, of King Charles I death warrant, signed by Oliver Cromwell. King Charles was imprisoned in Windsor before being executed. Shakespeare also walked around this area when he was writing The Merry Wives of Windsor and there are underground tunnels beneath Church Street, connecting some of the buildings. Some of them run right up to Windsor Castle, although those have been blocked now for security reasons. It’s all been happening in Church Street!
As we roamed around we noticed there were quite a few police in the streets and other offical looking people. We thought we might hang around to see what was going on. As we walked down a lane onto the High Street, we walked past one of the policemen.
“Y’oright?” he greeted us, with a smile.
“Yes,” replied Steve, “is there something going on?”
“Changing of the guard,” the policeman told us.
“Oh, when does that happen?”
“About 10:45 until about 11:30 and the best place to see it, is by the statue over there.”
He was so nice and very friendly and fulfilled the extra duties of tourist guide brilliantly. We thanked him for letting us know and went off to find ourselves a perch to see the routine. Then the rain came down, so we abandoned our idea of standing by the statue out on the road and sought shelter under cover of the Guildhall where we had an elevated spot to see the guards coming down the street. I then heard a lady ask the same policeman what was going on. I heard him tell her the time when it should begin, then he added, “It’s my first one actually, so that’s what I think happens.” He then walked up to two other officers to check. “Y’oright? What time does it start?” he asked. He then relayed the information back to the lady and it was such a nice example of friendly police chatting to the public and helping them out. While we waited, we were joined by two other police officers getting some shelter from the rain and these two were carrying the whole nine yards. They had ear pieces and assault rifles, revolvers, tasers and some other gun looking thing on one hip. They were the real deal and tooled up for full-on protection. After waiting a while, along they came, the fellas with the bears on their heads. They marched up the street, turned the corner and marched their way, in perfect unison, under the arch and into the castle. They usually have a band escorting them, but not today because…rain!
We then did the diehard tourist thing and stood in the rain, waiting for them to do their thing up in the castle and then watched the changed crew march back out again. A bit of pomp and circumstance but worth the look.
We popped into a cafe in the Royal Windsor Shops which is located in the original Windsor railway station, a lovely Victorian building, where we had elevenses, before making our way up to the castle.
We walked up the hill, through the castle grounds and into the State Apartments. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so no pics of what we saw, but I can say it was opulence in the extreme.
The Queen spends most weekends there and it’s still very much a working castle, with the rooms still in use and as we strolled through the rooms, it was hard not to feel that it was all just a bit wrong. Each room was filled with valuable art works, ornate furniture and gold dripping from walls and ceilings, with gilded and ornate features everywhere. I had that same feeling I’ve had when we’ve walked into cathedrals and seen all the fancy frippery. Couldn’t that wealth have been better used, I always asked myself? It was like that inside Windsor Castle. It was just full of such wealth and valuable items and ornate finishes that it felt uncomfortable in the same way. It is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and has been in continuous use since it was built by William I after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Centuries of monarchs have accumulated the valuable pieces inside and added and extended the castle buildings, with all its lavish decorative features. Was that really necessary? Could that money have been better spent on the needy folks beyond the castle walls? As we walked through, I had to keep telling myself to think of it as a museum and appreciate the history being told, because otherwise, I just found myself frowning at the never-ending luxury we were seeing, owned by virtue of birth. Some of that opulence is quite recent too, with the extensive renovations that were done after the fire in 1992, to restore the damaged rooms to their former glory.
After a walk through the castle rooms, which was interesting but a bit unsettling, we strolled back outside and down the hill towards St. George’s Chapel.
“This is where all the wedding guests walked,” noted Steve, recognising the path we were walking on as that which all the folks attending Harry and Meghan’s wedding had arrived along, as seen in all the coverage of the event.
Once again, we couldn’t take photos inside, but we did a walk through the chapel, into the nave where the nuptials took place, standing where it all happened and seeing where all the guests were sitting. It was a very small part of the chapel, so the guests were very close and it would have been very cosy and intimate. Not the most cheery of wedding venues though, I would say. There were an awful lot of tombs in there too!
Back outside and we strolled back towards the castle walls, passing by one of the guards we’d seen earlier in the day. Now he was on duty, in his red uniform, standing like a statue, until he did a slow march back and forth, before standing on the spot again. I wonder how he times it? Does he have his phone on vibrate in his trousers to buzz him off on the hour? Maybe he just sets off for a march when he feels like stretching his legs with all that statue standing all day.
Back through the streets we went, having had our moment of royal visitation. We strolled back to our hotel, along the leafy Windsor streets, lined with terraced houses. It was there we saw another guard. We could see this one in a window, as dedicated and committed as those we’d just seen, on duty, keeping an eye on all the goings on and passers-by. This one even had its own special headgear for the job.
That was our last full day in Windsor. Our last full day in England. Our last full day of our European Grand Tour. I’m not ready for it to end. It has been brilliant, wonderful, fabulous, fantastic, delightful…and endless superlatives to describe the awesome adventure we’ve been on for the last six months. We’ve seen amazing places, had unforgettable experiences, met wonderful people and amassed a treasure trove of golden memories. I wish everyone could experience something similar. Slow travel that brings you up close and personal to every environment you find yourself in and being right there, in places new and so different to home. Was it hard? Sometimes. Was any small moment of challenge worth it? In spades! There was never a single second, even after hard days, that I didn’t get up the next day wanting more. We never once said, “I don’t want to ride today.” Every day was special and every day gave us new and brilliant experiences. I’m glad we did the whole six months without illness or injury and could pedal on every day we needed to, without any barrier to the onward journey. (With the exception of the occasional actual physical barrier! We met a few of those)! The journey isn’t completely over yet though. Our European adventure is coming to an end, but on our way back to Tassie, we’ll be stopping over for a few days in Singapore. We’ve never been there. We’re waiting to see what discoveries are waiting for us in a new country. There won’t be a blog post tomorrow, on account of being on a couple of flights and further up in the air than I care to remind myself, but the story of our Grand Tour will resume on new shores, on a new continent, in a new country, with new adventures to find. We’re still going!