March 18, 2011

To Knock Their Fairy Castles Down

Why should we strive, with cynic frown, to knock their fairy castles down? Eliza Cook

NB: This is a large post.

12 March 2011

Woke up at 0728 – two minutes before my alarm, which seems to be my standard now. Did the usual to wake up and was out the front door by 0830.

I got the tube to Waterloo Station and started to look for the person taking the tour. After a few minutes, I saw a woman in a red coat with a “London Walks” badge. She seemed to be having difficulty controlling the number of people who had arrived. Made me a little nervous as to how she would pull off a tour. When it came to my turn, she asked me for £30. I was surprised and annoyed at the same time as the website says £25. Did not ask about it then and there cause of how busy she was. It also annoyed me, as I had to then go and buy a day return train ticket for £8.20. Either in this kind of situation, you get stressed and angry or you go with it. I learnt in the Middle East there is no point being stressed. The very large group boarded the 0958 train to Windsor and Eton.

The journey itself was non-descript. There are some very quaint little houses with cottage gardens in their yards. Everything is so green. I am sure I have said it somewhere else but it is true. The day itself was cool but the sun was shining and the clouds were light. Gorgeous and perfect for walking.

Hilary, our guide, led us out of the train station and down towards the Thames. One of the first houses I took note of was that of Sir Christopher Wrens – designer of St Pauls. We walked onto a bridge and Hilary began the tour.
Sir Christopher Wren's House

view from the bridge

Hilary starting the tour
Looking around from the bridge you can quite clearly see Windsor Castle dominating parts of the sky. If you imagine it from the year 1068 when William the Conqueror was beginning to build it, the site would have left you in awe.

William started both Windsor and the Tower of London. In between them, at 20-mile points other castles were being built. 20miles is a crucial figure for the location of castles as that is as far as a soldier, fully kitted, could walk in a day.

Kings and Queens that followed William added to the castle. George VI, during his reign, started the Eton school. George VI is the king who would not give the USA their independence. Hilary rattled off many names that the students call breaks, teachers, classes, and sports. I cannot remember the majority of them. The school itself was interesting but because the semester is still running, we could not go in to most of it. Alternatively, any of it really. I mainly took photos and daydreamed. It somewhat surprised me I was bored by the school give my almost comic love of history.

Spring blossoms at Eton

Chapel at Eton

15th Century wood carved gargoyle - the swirly looking parts are the nipples

By this point, it was nearly 1215. The tour had been going for just over an hour. We walked back along the high street of Eton and across the bridge into Windsor. We split up for lunch but were asked to meet by the statue of Queen Victoria.

I have to be truthful and say it was good to get away from the group. A few of the women had worn high-heeled sandals and stockings. The older one started to complain we were walking to fast and that her feet were hurting. Another woman was a bit like the old spinster cat lady who asks the same question that has just been answered, hits people with her backpack, wears joggers with a long skirt, wears un-brushed long hair in a pony rail and old round glasses that she constantly puts on and off. You also have the ones who cannot walk in a straight line, keep up, or shut up when someone else is talking. I did not know how much there might be still to see and I thought I might miss something important for always having to wait.

Eton High Street

Pubs and shops by the side of the castle
Opposite direction

Yours truly
The group all rejoined at 1330 and Hilary handed out maps of the castle. Before we went in though we were taken down the street a short way. We stopped outside a crooked house. It had once been a butchers but is now a teashop. We were not told how or why it came to be crooked. I should like to know.

The crooked house

St Albans grave yard

Next to the teashop is another Wren designed building. City hall for want of its 100% correct name. When Wren designed the building, he placed four pillars under the main awning. The council however, did not like this design – they were convinced it would fall down. They told Wren he must add more pillars so there was more support. Wren told them it would stand but could not argue with his cash source. Therefore, Wren added four more pillars. If you look at these extras though, you can see they do not actually touch what they are meant to support. A very clever up yours I think.

We kept walking down this street, past some very old pubs with some very interesting clientele and through a gate into Windsor Park. This is the Long Walk entrance used in films and is a great processional. Andrew and Sophie came along this when they got married. Speaking of married, the city hall I was just writing about is where Charles and Camilla had their civil ceremony. Anyway. This walk goes as far as the eye can see. I am not sure how long it is but it would be couple of kms. The area of Windsor Castle you could see from this gate looks into the wing where the Queen stays and where they did some filming for the “Kings Speech”. The Queen was in on the weekend; her royal standard was flying over the castle. The republican in me cringes but the monarch-loving historian in me thinks it was brilliantly exciting.

The Long Walk
After this, we walked back towards the main gate via one of the little side streets. In this little street are two very important historical houses / buildings. The first has a large reproduction of the death warrant, signed to approve the beheading of Charles I. When you think, just as an aside, of how Charles II reign went, you cannot hold much hope for the pending Charles III. However, at the same time, if you think of how long Richard III and Edward III reigned, I think god help us all as they as 3rds have been two of the longest reigning monarchs. I have heard some people say Charles may abdicate in favour of William but others point out that he has been waiting so long, he will take his turn.

Death warrant on front of house

The other house is where Charles I housed his favourite mistress Nell Gwynn. The house stands not even 200m from the current gates of the castle. Story has it that Nell had a son by Charles I whom Charles refused to acknowledge. One day, like Michael Jackson did, she dangled him out of the window and said, “This is your son! Earl of...? To which Charles cried "Burford”

Once in the castle we were led up a path that was designed for the Queen’s jubilee a couple of years ago. We stopped and stood around a large circle with the inlay of the garter. The Order of the Garter honours those who have done great service or something remarkable. On each garter are the words “Honi soit qui mal y pense” – old French for “shame upon him who thinks evil upon this” It comes from Edward III who raised a ladies stocking and garter back into place after it snapped while dancing. Old French is an amazing thing to hear spoken.

Seal of the Garter

On the right hand side as you walk up is a round turret on a large mound. This is the original starting point of the castle. In Williams time it would have been wooden and on top of a white sandstone outcrop. Other monarchs extended the castle and this start. Today it is all hard grey stone.

On the banks of this area, which looks like a moat but is not, is a well-tended garden. This garden and building are now home to one of the Queens main men. His name, unfortunately escapes me. I took a few photos as I think this area is something Grandad would love to see. Daffodils, jonquils, and others I do not have the names for.

Garden below the Mott

From here, we moved down into the Lower Ward. The idea and use of Wards was not explained and it is not until now I have even thought to wonder. A quick Google search offers no titbits so I shall have to look further.

In the Lower Ward is St George’s Chapel. It is huge in size and you can feel its power and presence as you stand near it. Across from the chapel are a series of little houses where men live who stand in for the Knights of the Garter at Sunday services. They continue in this duty until they are no longer able to or they pass away – as is what happened most recently.

I cannot really remember much to tell from inside the chapel history wise. By this point, all I wanted to do was loose the group and start exploring for myself.

In one corner of the chapel George IV had a marble statue carved after the death of his only daughter, Princess Charlotte – she died in childbirth at 21. The carving is impressive and a little overdone. The dead form of the Princess is covered in a shroud and from under it; you can see her fingers where they have fallen out. As the audio guide points out, childbirth is the great leveller of the classes. It was and is not only the province of the poorer classes. A term I find myself having issues with.

Many people of note are buried in the chapel.

St George's Chapel

St George's Chapel
Over the choir and the later is a hand carved wooden seating box in which Katherine of Aragorn attended services without being seen. When this was built for her, she was still greatly favoured by Henry VIII. Queen Victoria also used this box after the death of her beloved Albert. The wood is a gorgeous dark grain and would have hidden both women well from the sight of other parishioners.

Turning away from the alter you walk into the choir. Here in a place in the aisle lies Jane Seymour, a babe and Henry VIII. The plaque on top is not what I expected to find marking the resting place of a King. Worse still, is his unfinished monument being stolen and that no one has ever bothered to finish one for him. I could not help but feel sad almost to shed a tear at it. This man has fascinated me since I was a kid and this to me just seems disrespectful. Charles I has also been placed in the same tomb. A man who did great damage to the monarchy sharing an eternal resting place with Henry? I think possible without his head. Things certainly changed for the chapel after Edward III (confessor) was there with his relics and pieces of the true cross.

Outside the chapel, we again had to wait for people who cannot tell the time. We walked back up to the Middle Ward and around the corner. We stood looking at one of the Queen’s Guards walking back and forwards. We were also shown the outside walls of the area of the castle that burnt down in 1992 and were restored.

After this, we were able to go on our own way to explore the castle. Well, the guided tour part anyway. I like audio tours – blocks out everyone else from talking to you. Feels kind of insulated and safe.

For the number of rooms you are then led through it would take me days to write about. However, there are books and internet resources that will show and tell them.

The one thing I do need to write about is seeing Henry VIII suit of armour. I felt a little humbled to be standing before it. In size though, it is different to what I would have expected. In height, he would have been about the same height as me, but in build, which you can see clearly from the side, he was quite portly when the armour was made. It is an amazing thing to see. I cannot help but think I missed something not meeting Henry.

By this time it was 4:15pm and the castle was starting to slow down and get quiet. Amazing how full of life it still felt even when there was so few people left inside.

I made my way back down to the train station and got on. Halfway home a group of three girls got on and say in the seats near me. Normally, this doesn’t bode well for me but these girls were great. Really funny. One of the spent the entirety of the trip trying to get out of going clubbing. I said she should pretend to have a headache or something. This she did and it was hilarious to watch her and her friends playing out the scenario.

Arrived home in the end at about 8pm. 

Henry VIII gate


  1. Nice post Brooke, love the comment about the others in the group. Good pics, loving the filters used. Instagram?

  2. Wonderful post! highly entertaining. I desperately want to go back and see Windsor for myself. I have, however, seen Henry's armour (another suit I guess) in the Tower of London - so very amazing, as you said!

  3. Robbie : I use hipstamatic and lomolomo to create the images. I've looked at instagram but don't have enough memory on the phone for it.

    Sarah: you would love it! So incredible inside!