When we decided to begin our UK adventure in Windsor, we knew that the town would have a flair of British Royalty, but we had no idea how enchanting this place would be. Charming age-old castle – Check! Fairytale wedding locales – Check! Cobblestone streets and proper accents – Check! Pomp and circumstance – Check! A zillion tales of William and Harry – Double Check!
We arrive in Windsor early in the morning on our first day and, after a ceremonial Full English Breakfast to kick things off, we are lucky enough to be able to check in early to our hotel. The MacDonald Windsor hotel is a stone’s throw from the castle and the only one that has a fancy, friendly doorman named Matthew to welcome folks. When Harry and Meghan got married last year, this hotel was situated right in the heart of their carriage ride to the castle and pictures of this are plastered all over the place. The hotel is nice without being snobby and the rooms and view are spectacular. We freshen up and head out for a little walk, taking a minute to talk to Matthew on the way out because he is super cool – I mean, the guy looks like a cross between Idris Elba and Bob Marley, he sounds like Colin Firth, and he is absolutely the nicest guy on the planet.
Our little trek takes us down cobblestone streets, through a few shops, and into a couple of pubs where we make more friends in this small town. Each person has a story about the Queen and they are very excited to tell you snippets of history or recommendations of what to do. Almost every single person has a dog and one lady tells us that most of the pubs are very British because they don’t allow kids but they all allow dogs. Sure enough, as we walk down the street, we pass a restaurant and a couple of pubs that have signs that say things like, “No children allowed. Dogs Welcome.” This is my kind of town!
After a couple of pints, we wind up in front of the castle and we decide to embark on “The Long Walk.” Just shy of 3 miles from beginning to end, The Long Walk stretches from Windsor Castle to Snow Hill where deer are commonly seen trotting through the beautiful green grass. We walk down the path with the castle to our backs and enjoy watching people play with their dogs as the path stretches before us. The crisp, cool air and slight rainy drizzle make the walk even more perfect. We never see any deer, but we do see lots of birds including a couple of pheasants (as in the bird, not poor people…sheesh, this isn’t the Dark Ages). In no time, we are at the half-way mark and we turn around to see the fairytale castle before us. I have seen a lot of castles in my day, but this one is by far the most stunning with its majestic pillars and sheer size. It looks like something out of a Jane Austin film and its presence is that much more impressive because centuries of Royals have used it – including the current monarchy.
On Saturday morning, we have our Full English Breakfast (that will be everyday for me, people….it is like British crack for this girl) and head outside to get a good spot for some Royal nationalism. Though there are quite a few tourists present, there are many more locals, which comes as a surprise given that this ceremony is done at least 3-4 days a week. In Windsor, the Changing of the Guard begins with the sentries marching through town led by the Regimental Band. They march up the street and into the castle where the formal ceremony is conducted. The Band then leads the sentries getting off duty back out of the castle and to the barracks. The whole experience is very majestic and full of respect, tradition, and patriotism.
The next few hours were spent touring Windsor Castle. Wow! This castle was built by William the Conqueror over 1000 years ago. It is the oldest, largest, and longest inhabited castle in the world that still has monarchs in residence. Henry VIII and his favorite wife are buried here. William Shakespeare wrote the Merry Wives of Windsor here. Actor John Hurt (Mr. Ollivander) was knighted here. Harry and Meghan were married here. The sheer history of this castle is mind blowing! The grounds on the inside are just as impressive as those on the outside which is amplified by the contrast of the stone structure and the bright green grass that surrounds it. A tour guide takes us around the outside and tells tales of the Order of the Garter, of Shakespeare’s inspiration for parts of Romeo and Juliet, and of the big 1992 fire in the Castle. Everyone is excited to hear that the Queen is in residence now and if we keep our eyes open, we may see her through a window across the great lawn. I swear, that woman follows us on all of our UK vacations!
After the tour of the grounds, we take a audio tour of the State Rooms and the Guard Room. The sheer volume of weapons and armor is crazy and they date back hundreds of years. The coolest artifact we saw – Henry VIII’s battle armor. It was displayed to give an idea of his height (average) and size (chubby, but not as plump as the history books allude – I guess history, like television, adds an additional 10 pounds). The last stop of the tour is St. George’s Chapel, which is where Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowels, and where Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, which is still all the rage in this town. The church is very large, but not as big as I had imagined.
After a little over three hours, we leave Windsor Castle and head across the street for an afternoon tea. As we nibble on cucumber sandwiches and buttery scones, we relish every last minute of this enchanting town – much more excited and interested in British history and the Royals than we were 48 hours before.