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The seven wonders of Windsor

PUBLISHED: 17:16 15 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:31 20 February 2013

Sir Christopher Wren's Guildhall

Sir Christopher Wren's Guildhall

It's visited by thousands of tourists every year but do they appreciate just how unique of our heritage is? Tessa Harris uncovers some fascinating facts that sometimes get overlooked...

The biggest inhabited castle, the shortest street and the finest woodland gardens in the world are all to be found in one place. Where? Windsor, of course! It's a town with so many unique assets that it's hard to pick out just seven, but here goes...


The Castle

Why? Windsor is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.
The official - and unofficially favourite - residence of Her Majesty The Queen, Windsor Castle covers an area of about 13 acres and its magnificent State Apartments are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto, Gainsborough and Sir Anthony van Dyck.

In 1992 fire destroyed or damaged more than 100 rooms at the Castle. Fortunately the ones worst affected were empty at the time, and as a result, few of the Castle's artistic treasures were destroyed. The highly-acclaimed restoration work, completed in 1997, called upon the skills of some of the finest craftsmen in Europe.

Must-dos See St George's Chapel (one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England and the burial place of 10 monarchs), and Queen Mary's Dolls House, a masterpiece in miniature. Until February 2009 there's an exhibition to celebrate Prince Charles' 60th birthday. Selected from the Royal Collection and from the Prince's personal archive, the exhibition illustrates key moments in the heir to the throne's life and reflects his many interests, particularly music, theatre and the arts. Family photographs, favourite books and childhood memorabilia are shown alongside a small group of watercolours painted by His Royal Highness.
Best time to visit During the winter months an additional five rooms, known collectively as the Semi-State Rooms, are included in the visitor route.


The Thames

Why? The River Thames is of course the reason for the existence of the Castle and hence the town of Windsor.

The river is at the heart of Windsor, so a visit to the town isn't complete without a boat trip. There are regular cruises up and down the river departing from the jetty close to the bridge, with trips lasting around 40 minutes. Alternatively take a rowing boat or a small motor boat out.

If you prefer, stay on dry land and walk along the Windsor Promenade towards the railway arches.

Must-dos Feeding the swans and ducks is always a popular activity. Just over the road you'll find Alexandra Gardens, the home of the Royal Windsor Wheel from July to the end of November and also to the Royal Windsor Ice Rink from the beginning of December over the Christmas holidays.

Best time to visit Any time.


The Long Walk & Windsor Great Park, including The Savill Garden

Why? Windsor Great Park is the only Royal Park managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners, while the Savill Garden is now considered one of the finest woodland gardens anywhere in the world.

The Long Walk gives you access from the Castle into the magnificent 4,800 acres that make up the Great Park, parts of which are open to the public. The Walk itself is two and a half miles long and leads to the famous statue of King George 111, known locally as The Copper Horse. The foundation stone of this statue was laid in 1829 by George lV, who erected it in memory of his father, George lll, who so loved the Park and Castle. George IV wanted the statue of his father to resemble that of Peter the Great in St Petersburg, hence the massive base. There is a story that the sculptor hanged himself after realising he had forgotten the stirrups! As he lived to a ripe old age there is obviously no truth in the rumour.

The Great Park's present area was determined in the 1360s and was popular with Saxon kings as a hunting forest. Legend has it that the ghost of Herne the Hunter, who worked for Richard 11 and who hanged himself in the Park, still appears wearing the antlers of a stag, riding a phantom black stallion at the head of a pack of black hounds. In the early 1860's the tree from which Herne was found hanging, was cut down, and Queen Victoria kept the oak logs for her fire, allegedly "to help kill the ghost". But seemingly to no avail. He's been spotted a number of times since!

Must-dos The Park today is the perfect place for picnics, walking, cycling and horse riding. A footpath map is available from the Royal Windsor Information Centre. Virginia Water Lake: the round-trip is four and half miles of some of the south-east's most beautiful scenery. The Royal Landscape: a unique heritage site comprising the 1,000 acres of The Savill Garden, Valley Gardens and Virginia Water. The Savill Building: a futuristic new visitor centre which opened in
2006 and it's where you can enjoy light meals and teas courtesy of Prue Leith's catering company.

Best time to visit April for azaleas and rhodederums in the Valley Gardens which become a riot of colour, Sunday afternoons between May and August are the best times to see polo matches at Smith's Lawn. A stroll through the Park is wonderful at any time of year but perhaps autumn is when it is at its most magnificent. The Savill Garden is open all year round.


Frogmore House, Gardens & Mausoleum

Why? Over 4,000 trees and shrubs were introduced into the gardens in the 19th century to create one of the finest examples of a model 'picturesque' landscape.

Frogmore House, set in the private Home Park, is renowned for its beautiful landscaped garden and 18th-century lake. It was Queen Victoria's favourite place about which she wrote 'all is peace and quiet and you only hear the hum of the bees, the singing of the birds'. Indeed Queen Victoria loved Frogmore so much that she chose to build a mausoleum for herself and Prince Albert in the grounds. Just four days after her beloved husband died, she ordered its building at her own expense.

The interior of Frogmore House reflects the interests and talents of several generations of the Royal family. Princess Elizabeth, daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte was a gifted amateur artist and painted the decorative panels on view in the Cross Gallery.

Best time to visit The house and gardens are only open for a few days during the summer, usually at the end of May/beginning of June and around August Bank Holiday. The Mausoleum has been closed all year due to essential maintenance work and it's not known when it will reopen to the public.

Must-dos The garden is one of the enduring attractions of Frogmore. Queen Charlotte had a great interest in botany and was given full rein to plant rare and unusual specimens. She formed an extensive botanical library and flowers became a major theme in the house. She commissioned Mary Moser (1744-1819), a renowned flower painter, to decorate a room with garlands of flowers.

In the Victoria Closet visitors can see works of art executed by three generations of the royal family - Victoria, Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria, and a number of works by Queen Victoria's children, including Princess Victoria and Princess Louise.


The Guildhall

Why? Witness Sir Christopher Wren's intriguing deception.
The guilds of Windsor never actually met in this fine building but in The Three Tunns public house, built in the 1500s, just around the corner. Strictly speaking it should be called the Town Hall. Begun in 1687, it was designed by Sir Thomas Fitz, Surveyor to the Cinque Ports, who unfortunately died before the work was finished, so Sir Christopher Wren took over. The design of the building allowed for a corn market beneath the meeting chamber above. Look closely and you'll see the four pillars in the centre of the Corn Market do not actually support the ceiling. Rumour has it that the council was concerned that the unsupported floor of the chamber may collapse, but to prove a point, Sir Christopher left the additional columns short of the ceiling. Prince Charles and Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall, were married in the Ascot Room, as were Sir Elton John, a few months afterwards, and David Furnish.

Must-dos In the large council chamber you'll find a number of excellent paintings, including portraits of King George V and Queen Mary, presented by Their Majesties to the Corporation.

Best time to visit Monday mornings.


Charlotte Street

Why? It's England's shortest street.

This delightful little cobbled street is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest street in England. It measures just 52 feet in length.

Must-dos The delightfully crooked building that looks as though it will topple over at any moment is Market Cross House which was built in 1634, and has been an antique shop, florist, butchers and a public house. It's now a tea room.

Best time to visit Any time.


Windsor Racecourse

Why? It's the only figure-of-eight flat course in the country.

Set in 165 acres of beautiful countryside on the banks of the River Thames, it's the only figure-of-eight flat course in the country. The first meeting at Royal Windsor was held in 1866 and there are now 26 race days a year.

Must-dos Take a pleasure boat to the course from Windsor Promenade.

Best time to visit Regular Monday evening fixtures during the summer always prove popular.

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