Mike Yardley: Royal Windsor and the winding Thames

Publish Date
Wednesday, 2 September 2015, 11:43a.m.

Windsor is undoubtedly one of Britain's most treasured jewels in the crown. Just 45 minutes west of central London, it’s loosely considered a satellite suburb of the capital, ensnared by urban sprawl and shackled to the commuter belt.

A hot-bed for London lawyers and bankers – it’s become one of the most expensive places to live in Britain. And the Queen knows only too well, its close proximity to the big smoke is audibly reinforced every ninety seconds, by the fact that Windsor lies directly on the Heathrow flight path.

The storied township is dwarfed by the towering glory of Windsor Castle. Built by William the Conqueror in 1080, it is the world’s largest and longest occupied castle. The Queen has made no secret of the fact that Windsor is her favourite residence. Much of the castle is open for public viewing, and people go ga-ga over the Queen Mary Dolls House. This masterpiece in miniature even has real vintage wine in the cellar and running water.

Since the devastating fire twenty years ago, the restoration work is a study in spell-binding artistry. You can tour the lavishly furnished State Apartments, and don’t miss Saint Georges Chapel where you can encounter the tombs of ten monarchs. Adolf Hitler admired the castle so much, he ordered his troops not to bomb it, because he wanted the castle as a holiday pad, if England fell to the Nazis.

If you’re travelling with kids, and their attention span is challenged by intrepid exploration of the castle, bribe them with the reward of a trip to Legoland. This whimsical world of coloured brick adventure is a mega-hit, with 55 rides and attractions. The horse-racing scene is huge in Windsor and the velvety lawns of the Royal Windsor Racecourse, on the banks of the Thames, stages twilight race meetings on Monday nights.

It’s a riveting insight into the Windsor social scene, with every strata of society flocking to the twilight races. Back in town, delight in the quaint Georgian shops, cobbled lanes and traditional pubs. Have a pint in The Old Kings Head pub, which is where Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor in just fourteen days, before its premiere at the castle for Elizabeth I.

A great-value, perfectly positioned Windsor roost is the Royal Adelaide Hotel. Originally built for Queen Adelaide in the mid 1830s, this elegant Georgian building sports a striking blue front, right across the road from Frogmore Gardens and a five minute walk to the castle. All 42 chicly-designed rooms come with ensuites, flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. You’ll enjoy the stylish lounge, bar, and brasserie serving freshly prepared cuisine using fine seasonal produce. The breakfast offering is splendid and enjoy off-street parking in congested Widsor. For full details head to www.theroyaladelaide.com Beyond Windsor, there’s all manner of boat trips on the Thames, but if you’re a history buff, a great option is the short trip down the river to Runnymede, which is where King John sealed the Magna Carta, in 1215. You may recall, the 800th anniversary was commemorated just a couple of months ago.

Further down the river, Henley on Thames is a cracking river town, probably best known for the world’s greatest rowing regatta. Without wishing to sound like a lager lush, what really impressed me about Henley is it has one of Britain’s best collection of atmospheric old pubs. A dream location for a stag crawl! One pub you shouldn’t miss is the five hundred year old Red Lion Hotel. The earliest guest of note was none other than the Charles the 1st, who came to a sticky end just a few weeks later, as he was executed.

If you’ve ever wondered where Ratty, Mole, Badger and Mr Toad hang out, it is the Henley stretch of the Thames river, that inspired the story-book setting, for the author, Kenneth Graham, who lived in the area. When in Henley, an unmissable attraction, particularly if you have kids in toe, is the River and Rowing Museum. Here you will the Wind in the Willows exhibition, which brings the book to life with lots of 3D models and theatrical wizardy.

Mike Yardley is Newstalk ZB’s Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturdays. 11.20am.

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