Windsor, Runnymede and Hampton Court
Step outside the ‘normal’ run of coach tours to London. The theatres and London sight s are the main destinations, try a little something ‘different’ and you won’t be disappointed, the surrounding areas are just beautiful. Windsor, a trip down the river, Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was sealed and Hampton Court, what a place, like walking back into history to meet the Tudors. If you like history or not as the case may be this is a fascinating and enlightening trip.
Our coach, Epsom Coaches who are celebrating their 95th anniversary this year took us on our tour. The coaches are modern and comfortable,with a pleasant and efficient driver. We stayed at the Hilton St Anne’s in Bracknell,10 miles outside Windsor and many coach tour operators do use outer London accommodation to keep the prices competitive. It is a large hotel with spa facilities, an inviting swimming pool and jacuzzi. The rooms are comfortable and well-furnished, the food is very good, buffet style breakfast and evening meal. There is a lounge and beautiful gardens and it is a good base for any trips in the area. We decided on a coach tour for the convenience of travel and parking restrictions in and around London are always a stressful time for people whatever their age is and it does stop my husband and I falling out! Find your perfect week or weekend by coach by visiting www.findacoachholiday.com
Our trip to Windsor included a trip on the River Thames. Where the coach parks it is a short walk to the river and we were very fortunate in having a lovely sunny day to let the boat gently meander up the river with a very comprehensive commentary pointing out all the places of interest. A cream tea was provided and it was excellent – bang goes the diet again! The French Brothers river boats cater for many people and many groups whether young or old, the company have 20 boats and are at present upgrading three boats to cater for disabled quests. For fun and something a little different why not go on the Victorian Steam Boat, where dressing up in Victorian clothes for guests can add to the enjoyment. Private hire is very popular for events and parties on the River Thames for instance birthdays, wedding receptions,anniversaries, corporate and social functions. Stunning views of Windsor Castle can be seen, homes of the famous, Windsor Race Course and the bird life of the river are all there for you to enjoy.
Our evening meal was taken in Windsor at the historic Castle Hotel dating back to 1528 which has quite a history. The hotel is opposite the Windsor Court House – where Princes Charles and Camilla got married, within walking distance of Windsor Castle. The Castle Hotel is now part of the McGallery Hotels chain and well worth a visit. As in the name Gallery, that is what it is like inside, a gallery, where history seeps out of every door way. Beautiful art work surrounds the guests whilst they dine or just have coffee. Its reputation as one of the finest inns in town still stands. The hotel was used as a hostelry and a post office. The food and ambiance are excellent, it is expensive but compared to London prices it is well worth it. The rooms whether in the old part of the inn or the new extended area are a comfortable and relaxing, so whether you just pop in for a coffee or dinner you will be made very welcome.
The next day our coach was ready and waiting to take us to Windsor Castle which stands proudly guarding the River Thames a wonderful piece of English history. The Royals have used Windsor as a home for many years and Queen Elizabeth II is said to prefer Windsor for her weekend home. Windsor Castle is on the tour route for many visitors to the UK and attracts large crowds. The queue to go in can be long, it took us approximately half an hour to queue and we were early, I spoke to one of the attendants and she suggested slightly later is a good time when a lot of the tourist had gone and moved on to other historic sights. It is many years since I visited Windsor Castle and due to new laws all visitors have to have bags and holdalls checked for security, but once inside the grounds, audio equipment and headphones are provided to explain the wonders of this lovely castle. Don’t miss St George’s Chapel (best to visit this first as it does often close for services ), it is steeped in history, take your time if allowed and enjoy this beautiful building that is so loved by the Queen and her family.
Now for a hidden gem, Savill Garden, from the entrance to the exit it is a beautiful, restful place to visit. We had lunch in the cafe, which was very good and not over-priced, then our tour guide took us around the gardens, lakes and sculptures that make Savill Garden an oasis in a ‘mad world’, calms you down and helps you ‘stop and smell the roses’ literally whilst walking around. The sculptures can be found around every corner. The ‘titanic’ bridge, the dedicated gardens, rose beds for the Queen and other members of her family and the wooded area with lovely flora and fauna, and the unusual water features, all very pleasant on the eyes. This 35 acre experience is also disabled friendly as non-motorised wheelchairs are available on a first come first served basis, gifts and plants are available to buy at the Savill shop and take home a memory of your lovely day.
The history books tell us of Runnymede and the Magna Carta, well Runnymede is a field – yes a field, so if you were expecting a visitor centre or statues and sculptures then unfortunately they are not there, but 3 memorials and points of interest are. In the centre of the field are large metal chairs, set out as if they are around a table – the chairs that have world events depicted on them. You are asked not to sit on the chairs but people do. They are there to represent the Jurors Chairs the lords of the land stood up to King John, a cruel, mean King who ruled England until the Lords sat down with him on Runnymede field and said he wasn’t above the law. The Magna Carta was sealed here by King John in 1215 and many world constitutions have been based on this historic document including the United States of America. Situated on Cooper’s Hill is a domed structure on English granite are the words inscribed ” To commemorate Magna Carta symbol of Freedom Under Law”, created by the American Bar Association. Walk a little further on and up more steps to visit the American monument for John F Kennedy. This monument is a British memorial for the President and you are standing on American soil because an acre of land was given to America when the memorial was built.
As you are on a coach trip a lot of the entrance prices have been sorted out by your tour company. Often tour operators do get a guide to accompany you as well, this is a real bonus, check with your tour operator if entrance prices are included. The luxury of getting back on a coach and having ‘forty winks’ after a very busy day is pure joy and as the driver takes the strain you can rest and get ready to go back to the hotel in time to get dressed for dinner.
Our weekend was rounded off with a visit to a place I have wanted to go to for a very long time – Hampton Court, our history lessons at school could not capture the ‘magic’ of this palace. Hampton Court is sat on the River Thames – just close your eyes and imagine Henry the Eighth or Cardinal Wolsey sailing up on the barges and stepping off into this iconic place. The sculptured wrought iron gates guide you into the grounds, our guide was dressed in period costume and she would have been a countess of the courts, quite a high position in Henry’s court. The dresses are voluptuous and full but are mainly full of warm padding to keep out the cold in the great draughty halls. Many of the guides are dressed in period costume which helps you to be transported back in time. The Grand Hall – just imagine the banquets that where held here, the bed rooms and the waiting rooms are available to see. Our visit coincided with activities by volunteers in the kitchen cooking chickens and making homemade stuffing, a long way from our dish washers and micro waves of modern kitchens. The Tudor building has another side – the front is Tudor but the back is Baroque, large columns stand overlooking the gardens. The gardens are magnificent and boast the oldest vine tree in the world!! Take a horse drawn ride around the gardens and lake with a commentary explaining the trees and habitat of the nature surrounding the Palace that would have been loved and admired by Henry and his court.
The plentiful luxuries we have today are taken for granted but after my coach tour ‘Time Travel’ weekend which took me back on a Magical History Tour, I felt that a glimpse of the past helps us appreciate what we have in the future and understand where we are today.