Windsor celebrates two major anniversaries with new visitor attractions
For a town that oozes 1000 years of history from every Royal stone, it’s good to see that even at Windsor, there’s always room for something new and topical. I’ve visited the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead countless times over the years, but made a welcome return this spring to try out The Queen’s Walkway, inaugurated by Her Majesty on her 90th birthday in April this year.
Measuring a symbolic 6.373km long, this self-guided walking trail represents her reign of 63 years, 7 months and 3 days that made her Britain’s longest serving monarch. And of course it links a handy 63 of Windsor’s best attractions, features and views. The map is downloadable from the official Windsor website or you can pick up a paper copy at the Tourist Information Office inside Royal Windsor Shopping.
I always think this Grade II listed Victorian railway station make an atmospheric start to any Windsor visit. Built to bring Queen Victoria’s royal train to the gates of the Castle, it now gathers many top retail brands under its canopy roof, as well as Continental-style cafe seating. Approach by car from the M4 and you can park in the long stay car park beside the Thames and walk directly into the Royal Shopping area. A great place to plan your day over a coffee.
The Queen’s Walkway is easy to pick up at points throughout the town centre. Just look for the studs in the pavement and follow them in any order. But I headed first for the Palace, largest inhabited castle in the world and the oldest royal residence to have remained in continuous use by the monarchs of Britain. The treasures within its walls are legendary, but before you reach those sumptuous state apartments, you pass the Drawings Gallery, home to a programme of changing exhibitions. Go in!
All this year until January 2017, Windsor Castle is marking the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare with Shakespeare in the Royal Library, a special display of Shakespeare memorabilia from the Royal Collection.
You don’t have to be a particular fan of the Bard or his plays to admire the rare volumes in the exhibition, including one owned and annotated by Charles I during his imprisonment. There are historic maps too showing the world in Shakespeare’s day and sketches of private performances made by future queen Princess Victoria, a great Shakespeare fan.
By the time I’d toured the Castle with the excellent audio-guide and enjoyed revisiting all my old favourites – Queen Mary’s Dolls House and Henry VII’s armour, magnificent St George’s Hall and the beautiful Lantern Lobby, created after the disastrous fire of 1992 – I needed refuelling.
I’d been recommended to The Queen Charlotte in picturesque Church Lane, right opposite the Castle exit. This compact ‘island’ of quaint little streets is tucked in behind St John’s Church and the Guildhall and forms park of the Queen’s Walkways trail. Standing right at the back, The Queen Charlotte was extensively refurbished late last year and offers the winning combination of traditional pub food, contemporary decor and friendly service. They’ve also established a reputation for their extensive collection of gins which includes the locally made Guildhall Island Gin.
Suitably fortified by my delicious lunch, I headed back outside to follow The Queen’s Walkway and take in some more of the town’s fascinating history, not to mention some of Her Majesty’s local retailers. Well, it would have been rude to have left Windsor without at least browsing, wouldn’t it …!
For information on short breaks and days out in The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, visit www.windsor.gov.uk. Request a copy of the Visitor Guide online or call the Royal Windsor Information Centre on 01753 743907. Windsor Castle is open daily but do check the website before travelling in case of unscheduled closures.