Windsor Castle review
Windsor Castle is a bit of a trek from London. If you're travelling from Waterloo then you're looking at the best part of an hour on the train. I don't normally go that far out, but it's Windsor isn't it. I've come to pay homage to our leader — the Queen. Let's hope she's home or it will have been a wasted journey.
I got my first good look at it coming in on the train, and the place is absolutely colossal. It is huge! It's sitting up high on the hill with big turrets and battlements — exactly how you want a castle to be. It's like something out of King Arthur's day. It has straight away become my favourite place to visit, and I haven't even stepped off the train yet. When you exit the station you have to walk a winding path around the old town to get up to the entrance. It's a very picturesque little town — well worth a look in its own right. It skirts around the bottom of the hill and the castle wall, so every step you take you get a little higher up the slope and closer to the stone gates. There's loads of ye olde shops selling shortbread and tartan knitwear, cobbles and cafes, with little country-style pubs and hanging flower baskets. Eventually you come to the gun cops on the gate and stump up your 20 quid to get in.
Once you're through the ticket desk and security scanners you pick up your audio-guide and walk around at your own leisure. The big difference between this place and Buckingham Palace, is that the palace is just one building, whereas here you get to explore the castle grounds, chapel and State Apartments. So you're looking at a good three hours to get it all done.
The castle's main focus is the central tower, which is the big round turret on top of the hill. One whole side of the mound has been done up like a garden rockery, with crooked stone steps and little river waterfalls running down it. I get the impression that this castle has never used for defence. All the military stuff looks a little twee, like Walt Disney came along and built it. It's got all the usual walls and arrow slits, but the moat has been drained away and decorated with daffodils and cherry blossom.
St. George's Chapel is right up there with Westminster Abbey in terms of beauty. Once you round the corner of the Quire it will knock your socks off. This is where all the Knights of the Garter come and hang their banners and heraldic shields. Some of the greatest names in British history had a stall here, all "ready to defend the Queen" with their swords and shields, the audio-guide says — although I'm not sure how much use John Major will be in a fight.
The altar is just about the most fantastic one in London. It's all peach marble and gold. Sculptures wearing golden wigs and ribbons. There's an intricately carved wooden stall hanging high over the side, where Henry VIII's missus was supposed to sit to hear the mass, right beside the brightest stained glass window I have ever seen in my life. And down the sides of the Quire are the golden plaques and banners of the chivalrous knights, dating back 650 years to the reign of Edward III.
As you make your way to the State Apartments you can walk around the curtain wall at the very top of the castle. That's when you really appreciate how high up you are — the view must stretch for 20 miles at least. It's just miles and miles of country parks and treetops. Everything going hazy in the light as it stretches out to the horizon. I couldn't make out anything I know, my geography isn't very good in this part of town. It's just distant chimneys and candy coloured rooftops. If you steel yourself for a peek over the curtain wall then you will see that you are actually above the tree line, looking down on the boughs that climb up the hill. I'm no good with heights, so I quickly give up on that and head inside…
You enter the State Apartments through the Grand Staircase, bristling with swords and canons and silver-suited knights on horseback, all set up to guard against the tourist hordes pouring through the door. There must be at least a thousand daggers and swords on show, plus another few hundred guns and rifles too, all decoratively pinned against the wall in spiral patterns. A very picturesque display of the weapons of war. The military theme continues into the Waterloo Chamber, which is a very wide room of chestnut walls and honey-coloured carvings on the roof. Fine paintings of Wellington and his mates glare down at the diners — these are the guys that beat Napoleon (if you're French then you might want to skip this room).
It looks like the King's Drawing Room was designed by committee and they couldn't decide what colour to pick — it's got every one under the sun in here from red and black and green, to blue and brown and black. Not to mention all the gold all over the place. His bedroom is another busy scene, filled with oil paintings, chandeliers, chestnut desks and a gaudy ceiling that will wake you up as soon as you fall asleep.
The King's Dining Room is just… I don't know how to describe it... is this the most beautiful room in the castle? It might be, the whole ceiling is done up like the Sistine Chapel, while dark oak woods are carved with fruits and berries, cascading down the walls. A few candles around the edges gently bathe the place in golden brown… I would sit in here all day if I could. Forget McDonalds, forget Starbucks. This is where I want to have my meals from now on.
More great art in the Queen's Apartments — starting with some large portraits of Charles I by Van Dyck. I think Charles I has got the dumbest looking beard in history, and I would have happily beheaded him myself just for that. It looks like a hairy ice cream cone has been rammed up the point of his chin. No wonder Parliament wanted to oust him!
St. George's Hall will knock your socks off too — in fact, you may as well just take your socks off and chuck them away, because they will get continually knocked off from this point on. This is where they hold all the big State Banquets, and it's a blinder. The roof is covered in heraldic shields and shining suits of armour stand on pedestals on the wall, titling iron pikes over the diners' heads. It's like a Disney castle again — this is English history in the style of Arthur's Camelot. The room is over 150 feet long and it would be a good place for a joust. You'd have to clear away all the silver plates and tables first though.
If you're sick of gold then get ready for an overdose — the Semi-State Apartments are like Aladdin's cave. This was the part of the castle that burnt down in the 1990s so to see them looking so ornate is quite a surprise. I didn't think that we spent taxpayer's money on stuff like this anymore, but I'm glad we do. I can see why the Queen prefer's this place to Buckingham Palace — I think I prefer it too.
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