Things to do on a summer day out in Eton
PUBLISHED: 12:40 26 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:45 26 June 2017
Walk this way – cross the bridge from Windsor to the historic sights of the town which grew up around the famous college, says Maureen McLean
The historic nature of Eton and its distinctive old High Street mean that green spaces might not be immediately obvious – although you’ll find some pretty havens on the Walkway journey, and a visit to The Brocas beside the Thames is a must. But the heart of the town is still a floral delight, with the most amazing hanging basket displays the length and breadth of the High Street.
The Burning Bush
Originally a gas lamp converted in Victorian times to electricity, the wrought iron Burning Bush with its distinctive foliage decoration of fleur-de-lys and lilies is now Grade II listed. It was designed by noted architect Henry Woodyer in 1864. An Old Etonian, his works also include Christ Church in Reading and he led restoration or rebuilding at St Andrew’s parish church in nearby Clewer, and St Nicholas’ Church, Newbury.
The Burning Bush completed the two years he spent on New Schools at Eton College and he was also the architect for the House of Mercy at Clewer.
At first the lamp was in New Schools Yard, but that spot is now taken up by the Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol, so for a century it stood in Slough Road before being moved to the present spot in the heart of the town.
Statuary and Architecture
Look around, look up, and expect to see some unusual sights. One of our favourites is the statue of Perseus in the college grounds, where the warrior is holding the head of Medusa. The Greek words at the bottom translate into ‘Rejoice. We have won’ and it’s actually a 1918 work commemorating victory at the end of The First World War. The statue is popular with the students, even Prince Harry took his opportunity to pose beside the severed head while attending the college, and it’s also been seen sporting Ray Bans sunglasses.
The Eton Walkway
New this year is a series of 18 permanent brass marker set in the grounds which take you on a journey around the town and provide a chance over two miles and an hour or so to learn a great deal more about Eton’s history.
We cannot recommend highly enough the excellent guide to the walkway, which can be downloaded for free at etoncommunity.co.uk/eton-walkway. The Community Association’s project was supported by individuals, businesses and other local organisations, including the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Eton College and Eton Town Council.
The walkway highlights Eton’s attractions for both visitors and those who live and work there. It starts at the bridge over the Thames shared with Windsor. The marker points all bear Eton’s crest, dating back to 1449. It’s the perfect way to discover the stories behind landmarks such as the Cock Pitt, Keate’s House, the Brocas and Eton Boatsheds, Porny School and many others.
So download the guide or access the route via the Outdoor Trust’s Common-wealth Walkways mobile app at outdoortrust.com/commonwealthwalkways.
The Post Box
One of the earliest English post boxes stands in Eton, and it’s still being used today. The box dates from 1856 and is something of a rarity as just 10 survive. You have to post your letters through a vertical slot. In these days of email and phone messages it’s wonderful that people can connect with history by posting a letter here… perhaps not such fun if you’re paying a bill! Eton, by the way, is believed to be the first UK village to have its own post office.
Tour the College
Guided tours of Eton College take place on Friday afternoons until 8 September. Tour times are 2pm and 4pm and last about 90 minutes. Individuals and small groups are welcome, the entry fee is £10 per person, with under 16s admitted free of charge. You’ll find out more about School Yard, College Chapel, Upper School, Lower School and the Museum of Eton Life and the tour includes a look at the Verey Gallery, where exhibitions take place. We recommend booking for these tours (01753 370603 or online) although any spaces available are allocated on the day. See etoncollege.com.
The High Street
You can’t go wrong here, with lots of independent stores and ‘curiosity’ finds, often tucked away in some impressive architecture. Window shoppers will undoubtedly be drawn in, whether that’s to the tailors who cater for all, not just the Eton boys, antiques, arts, gifts not simply aimed at tourists, a very good deli and much more.
When it comes to a bite to eat or to quench a thirst, Eton has excellent choices for all tastes. For instance, there’s Gilbey’s Bar and Restaurant, open Tuesday to Saturday with its regularly changing menu of seasonal fare (three course lunch around £20) or Flaming Cow with its extraordinary choice of burgers, including veggie and gluten-free options. Soak up some local atmosphere in High Street cafes, or pubs such as The George Inn, Crown & Cushion or Watermans Arms in Brocas Street.