What to see in Windsor, Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 13:57 01 July 2011 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013
If you've visited or are planning a trip to Windsor, the Queen's favourite weekend residence, Windsor Castle, is bound to be top of your list. Karen Bowerman went to visit...
The little known Wonders of Windsor
If you've visited or are planning a trip to Windsor, the Queen's favourite weekend residence, Windsor Castle, is bound to be top of your list. But this historic riverside town in Berkshire is also worth seeing its own right. Karen Bowerman went to visit.
Beyond the castle walls are boutiques, wine bars and cafes plus quite a few quirky points of interest, some of which will probably surprise you - did you know, for example, that Windsor has hidden tunnels running under the streets?
Arrive by train and you'll disembark at the Royal Station, built by Brunel in the 1840s to ease Queen Victorias journey between to London. Get your bearings over a cup of coffee and don't miss the replica of the royal train.
Dont miss Gorgeous Gordon
Head up from the station towards the castle and you're likely to spot one of Windsors City Sightseeing tour buses - ideal for a quick introduction to the town and the surrounding area. (Tickets: adults 8, children 4; www.city-sightseeing.com)
I jumped on board to a hearty welcome from Gorgeous Gordon (or so he called himself!) We drove past the statue of Queen Victoria on the site of the town's gallows and round the edge of Windsor Great Park.
The tour takes you into the countryside through Datchet (famous in 1895 for the first car journey on an English road) and on to Eton. Look out for the towns old stocks, Princess Beatrice & Eugenies first ballet school and the exclusive Eton College. Although you can hop on or off the bus at various stops I stayed on throughout; the round trip took 40 minutes.
The house that was "given a shove"
In Windsor itself, don't miss Market Cross house, built in 1687 and now a tea room. Its frontage provides a good clue as to why it's also known as the Crooked House.
There are several explanations as to why the building tilts so much; the most likely being that it was built with unseasoned wood which caused the house to topple sideways.
My favourite (though least plausible) story is that builders, working on an extension to the Guildhall next door, thought the house too close so leant over and gave it a good shove!
Sir Christopher Wren's revenge
The Guildhall is best known as the place where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles got married and Elton John and David Furnish celebrated their civil partnership.
But locals know it for its pillars - which stop short of the first floor (the one theyre supposed to support). Legend has it that a disgruntled Sir Christopher Wren, forced to add them because councillors thought the design unsafe, purposely left a gap to prove a point.
The UKs only
Within walking distance of the Guildhall youll find the only blue pillar box in the UK (erected in 1911 to mark the first UK airmail flight from London to Windsor) and the UKs shortest street, Charlotte Street, which took me a lot longer to find than to see! At just 16 metres long (51 feet ten inches) I spent a full eight seconds walking up (and down) it.
(Tip: if you cant find it either it runs (almost hidden) alongside the Crooked House).
Theres also the (now bright blue) home of Nell Gwynn, Charles I mistress (who was once an orange seller at Drury Lane Threatre in London) and Peascod street (pronounced Pes-cod) which in medieval times led to the pea fields (it now offers high street shops, boutiques and coffee shops).
Talk of tunnels: Windsors hidden passageways
A swift drink (sight seeing can be very exhausting) at the Horse and Groom pub (famous for its homemade pies) led to my discovery of Windsor's tunnels.
The barman led me down steep, uneven steps into the pub's cellar where at the far end he pointed out a bricked-up archway, spanning a width of about 5 metres - once the entrance to one of the passageways.
He went on to list a whole number of tunnels linking the castle with the town. They were built to provide the royal household with a means of escape if the castle were under seige.
If you want to take a look for yourself the best (bricked up) tunnel on view is at the Carpenters Arms pub round the corner from the Horse and Groom.
Something to eat?
If you fancy more than a drink there's no shortage of cafes and bars in Windsor.
Among my favourite cafes are Market Cross House (which serves good scones and jam) and the Cinnamon Caf at Windsor Royal Station.
The Cinnamon is great for reasonably priced snacks. A regular cappuccino costs 2 and a toasted sandwich under 3. Baked potatoes range from 2.50 4.00 and the slices of Victoria Sponge are enormous!
For other reasonably priced eateries (family-run Italians, wine bars and pasta places) head towards the bottom of Peascod Street.
Theres also the towns Arts Centre (pleasant but not fancy) in the former fire station (where you can also join informal Salsa classes!)
Messing about on the river
I ended my day with a 40 minute river trip along the Thames. Our boat chugged to Boveney Lock and back, past Royal Windsor Racecourse and the towns leisure centre which was once the site of the iconic Ricky Tick music club where Pink Floyd, Elton John and the Rolling Stones played in the 60s.
French Brothers boat trips run daily (10.00- 16.00/17.00) depending on season - but weekends only 1 Nov-5 Dec. My 40 min trip cost 5.20 (2.60 for kids). www.boat-trips.co.uk
Somewhere to sleep?
Getting to Windsor: Windsor is 30 miles west of London and one mile from junction 6 of the M4. The town is well served by public transport including two train stations, Windsor & Eton Central and Windsor & Eton Riverside. General visitor information: www.windsor.gov.uk: tel: 01753 743907
Hotels in and around Windsor are expensive but if you want to stay locally try The Christopher - just over Windsor bridge in Eton. www.thechristopher.co.uk. This former coaching inn has a range of rooms and several suites. Prices around 100 a night.
If you want a midway point between Windsor and central London try the Radisson Edwardian in Middlesex 15 minutes away by car. www.radissonedwardian.com. Prices from 100 per night. The hotel has free wifi and a spa (sauna, steam room, plunge pool & relaxation room) and gym.