Windsor part 3, Visiting the Castle

Where do I start? The castle was a real treat. We aren’t particularly interested in ticking off tourist attractions on our travels but some things can not be missed. And looking at the crowds it felt like the whole world had the same idea.

Glad we came by boat,


We bought our tickets online, (more about that later) to help beat the queue

Welcomed by Queen Victoria


and also so that we could watch the changing of the guards inside.

The new guards arrive to cover the next 24 hours

As luck would have it, we chose to go on the day it rained so there was no band accompanying them And only the well protected stuck it out.

I knew it was worth keeping my wimbledon poncho

But although it didn’t last long it meant the day was cool, and it didn’t stop me posing for the iconic photo op

It just had to be done


We did ask the guard if it was ok and he smiled and said yes but that was about the limit of his conversation. Eric preferred to pose with a castle backdrop.

With the norman gate and state rooms behind

There was quite a wait to get into the state rooms and we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but oh boy was it magnificent. It felt like a privilege to be able to wander, (or shuffle due to the number of visitors) around these rooms. I’ve never yearned to receive an official honour, but I do now just for an invite to the presentation.

Ths grand reception room (swiped from the RCT website)

Windsor castle was originally built in the 11th century, when William the Conqueror, paid us a visit. Back then it was mainly a defensive structure, but it has since become the favoured place called home to many of our monarchs. Its the longest occupied castle in Europe and is the largest castle in the world. Its undergone many makeovers during its time, most recently in 1992 when many of the state rooms were destroyed in a fire.

Even castles need a garden


When Queen Elizabeth II is at home the Royal Standard is flown from the round tower. But she’d gone to Scotland for the day when we visited.

Perhaps she was looking for some sunshine

When we arrived in Windsor we asked one of the assistants at the entrance, what the best way to see the changing of the guard was and the answer was to buy a ticket (online) to come into the castle and watch by the horseshoe cloister. Which we duly did. However I made the mistake of googling “watching changing of the guard”. Once we were inside the castle, we saw the notice offering to upgrade our tickets at NO Extra cost to an annual pass. Brilliant we thought, but oh no, it turns out I had bought our tickets through an agency not direct from the Royal Collection Trust site, (which is the charity organisation responsible for maintaining these treasures and opening the royal residences to the public.) At £26 each its not a cheap place to visit, so not somewhere we would pay to visit twice in quicksticks. But had we had annual passes, we would have been inside several times during our stay in Windsor. Don’t make the same mistake as us. It was worth the entrance fee, the staff were plentiful and helpful, and the audio tour was full of useful snippets of information, but it was a full on experience, and would have been even more enjoyable spread over two days.

Windsor Castle, seen from the north; (l to r) Upper Ward, Middle Ward, Round Tower, St George’s Chapel, Lower Ward and Curfew Tower
(Swiped from windsor castle wiki page )


But all was not lost. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every day and during the summer months the guards are escorted to and from their barracks by a marching band. Several streets are closed for the half hour this takes, and it meant that for a few moments each day we could stand outside and watch

What an escort

The guards and bandsmen might be fully trained soldiers whose primary function is to protect our Queen, but there is also a very visible presence protecting them.

Dont worry boys I’ve got you covered

Whilst we were in Windsor I also took the opportunity to attend Choral evensong in St Georges Chapel. Well worth doing as the choristers and organ are magnificent and I got to walk inside the castle grounds after closing time.

What a place to reflect

Windsor part 2, wandering around Alexandra Gardens

Of course the main focus of Windsor has to be its royal heritage, especially as the castle can be seen from most of the town, (our header photo is taken from Baths island)

The castle from Windsor Central train station

The promenade along the Windsor side of the Thames is no different, the adjoining park is known as Alexandra Gardens, and honours King Edward VII’s wife queen Alexandra. At the end of the Queens Walk is the Jubilee fountain build to commemorate our Queens Diamond Jubilee,

The Jubilee Fountain

During the summer there’s usually music at the bandstand on a Sunday afternoon and we stumbled upon the rotary club summer fete. We won the “guess the weight of the cake” competition but sadly didn’t win the £400 prize duck race

Just be glad they dont have canada geese races

It seems that Windsor has a thing about Ducks as we also stumbled on this odd mode of transport

The Windsor Duck Bus

Or perhaps its not ducks but transport that floats their boat, as the elegant Windsor Royal (train) station has been transformed into a very upmarket shopping arcade, including a replica of Queen Victoria’s steam train that took her from London to Windsor.

The Queen

There is still a single track station in operation, which I took advantage of to make a flying trip back to Suffolk, whilst Eric was moored safely and you can see the castle from the train

The castle from the train

Windsor isn’t just about boats and trains. Windsor was home to Sir Sidney Camm who designed the Hawker Hurricane fighter plane in the 1930s. Its quite a shock to come round the corner and be confronted by a full scale hurricane in the park

The Hawker Hurricane

Camm’s love of planes and inspiration came when in 1911 Windsor received the first airmail post in the country


We found the aerial postbox in the Windsor museum but the other pillar boxes were around the streets of Windsor. Sadly I missed the blue box.

Just a few of Windsors post boxes


…but the river, mooring on the Eton side, is probably the best place to see the castle from elsewhere in the town. And there’s ample mooring on both the Windsor and Eton banks for just £10 for 24 hours, and on Baths island there’s even 4 electric charging points for an extra £5, which we made use of on our last night’s stay.

Moored at the electric charging point on Baths Island

Windsor is a fascinating place to visit as a boater, almost too overwhelming to do justice in a few day, and definitely too busy for our liking, though as visitors ourselves, we cant really complain. We were very lucky to have found our wild mooring so close to town, it was nice to retreat to tranquillity in the evenings

Tranquillity

And as a personal post script one of our friends who regularly reads our blog lost their beloved dog today, We hope doggy heaven is full of juicy bones and sniffy lamposts

In memory of Butch

Looks like Her Majesty’s at home, Windsor part 1, Eton

No wonder the tourists love visiting Windsor, everywhere you look there is history, pageantry and Britishness, which includes lots and lots of people and touts cashing in. But we were lucky enough to find a spot of unrestricted wild mooring, opposite the race course, just a 15 minute walk into town.

Wild mooring, opposite the Windsor racecourse.

At the weekends, Eton College opens it’s museums to the public, so as it was Sunday we walked up to the hallowed halls and enjoyed wondering what it would have been to have been educated in a place like this,

The back entrance


but as the Victorian Educator, William Johnson Cory who was an Eton Master expressed, its not so much about being educated, as being taught how to learn, and that was the vibe we picked up. It might seem like a privilege to be educated here, but oh boy we also got the impression that those boys work very very hard.

That’s a lot to live up to


Eton, itself is not just a school but an entire town. Eton being derived from the old English word, meaning “river town”, was a hamlet in 1066, built up by people maintaining the road and bridge from London to Windsor. It wasn’t until 1440 when Henry VI chose to build his new college here that the name Eton became synonymous with an elite education.

One of the main entrances


Nowadays most of the town’s businesses, are dedicated to supporting the schools infrastructure.

Tom Browns tailors

Eton was the first place in England to have a post office and this early Victorian post box shows why in the style of a doric column helps explain why they are called pillar boxes.

A proper pillar box, with a vertical letter slot


Whilst we were there, we saw the Queens Baton relay arrive, which has toured the commonwealth in anticipation of the commonwealth games being held in Birmingham later this summer.

Not quite as exciting as an olympic flame, but still a great honour and I’m sure Birmingham will do us proud

The baton was carried over the Windsor bridge which has been pedestrianised to link Windsor and Eton. We also crossed the river and continued to expore….

Windsor Bridge

Underneath the arches, moving onto Maidenhead

Maidenhead bridge

As with a lot of places on the Thames, settlements grew because of a river crossing, and Maidenhead is no different. There’s evidence that the Romans set up camp with a ferry, then the Anglo Saxon’s built a “new wharf” aka “the maiden hythe”, that then became a landing stage for the marauding Danes in 870. The Danes moored their longboats here to continue fighting overland towards Reading, (not sure why they didn’t just cruise a bit further, maybe there was a water shortage). But by 1280 a wooden bridge had been built which helped to establish Maidenhythe as a thriving medieval market town. But wooden bridges and rivers prone to flooding are a recipe for disaster. Despite the royal “grant for pontage” ( the right to charge tolls for upkeep and repair) a chapel and hermitage had to be built so travellers could stop and pray for a safe passage or to give thanks that they had made it over and could continue their journey. The wooden bridge battled on through more political, military and civil wrangling, collapsess and rebuilds until the new 13 arch stone bridge was built in 1777.

Maidenhead bridge and the Thames Riviera hotel

In 1903 the toll for crossing the bridge in a horse drawn coach was an eyewatering shilling, roughly equivalent to £14 today. And if you took 20 sheep across, it would have been 10 old pence-roughly £11 today. Eric hoped they didn’t charge for going under the bridge as he’s convinced I have 20 sheeps worth of wool on board with all the spinning and knitting I do. But in 1903 the charity commission deemed the tolls illegal as Maidenhead corporation were using the funds for purposes other than bridge maintenance.

The Maidenhead bridge isn’t the only bridge with a story. In 1839 Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed the Great Western Railway bridge.

The rail bridge

It was an innovative design intended to maintain the shallow gradient needed for the age of steam and at 39m x7m (129’x24′) the low rise arches were the widest flattest ever constructed at the time. However, the commissioners were worried that the bridge wouldn’t be strong enough, so Kingdom Brunel reluctantly agreed to leave the centering wooden formwork in place. But unbeknown to them, he had lowered it slightly so it was no longer of structural consequence. During the next strong flood the wooden “support” was washed away but the brick bridge held fast proving his superior engineering skills.

It might not be the most aesthetically beautiful bridge, but it is indeed a very clever and innovative one. The width and size of the central arch is such that acts as an echo chamber so the bridge is known locally as the Sounding Bridge. Though I’m not sure the local residents appreciate very passing boat tooting its horn, or the local teenagers sharing their greetings.

Not the quietest of bridges


Maidenhead has yet another bridge within its bounds, the M4, but neither the road or the bridge give us any cause for excitement. But its always fun to see things from a different perspective.

Under the M4

We moored at Bray, the exclusive suburb of Maidenhead

Looking back to Bray

next to Eton’s Dorney lakes (where the 2012 Olympic rowing took place), but thanks to a few disrespectful individuals, who used the site as their personal playground during the covid lock down, Eton have now closed it off to the non feepaying public. But we did walk the meadow and saw this flower that we haven’t come across before

Any ideas?….

and the damsel flies were very obliging when it came to being photographed.

I took this snap on my phone

Whilst Eric was lining up the perfect shot

Smile you’re on camera

And the mystery flower is Chicory. Apparently it’s quite common but i don’t recall seeing one before or since

Cliveden

Having cruised past some sumptuous houses over the past few weeks, we dropped by to say hello at Cliveden House. Only to find that the nice little cottage on the bank, was the summerhouse where Queen Victoria used to take afternoon tea. Undeterred we duly paid our £10 mooring fee to the National Trust, (not sure why, when as members we can park for free) and climbed up the hill to the big house,

Cliveden NT (NT photo)

only to find one or two other guests had arrived first, not being our usual choice of holiday destination, we hadn’t realised not only is Cliveden a NT property but a 5 star hotel as well.

Arriving in style

Not wanting to spark further scandal, political or otherwise, photography wasn’t permitted (Cliveden is where the Profumo affair took place) and the tour of the house was very limited. (Which I suppose if you are paying a starting price of £450 for a room is fair enough) but it is worth having a look on the hotel website for some impressive internal features. Whilst we enjoyed the view from the terrace. ( remember this view for later)

I guess this is technically a house with a river view at the end of the garden

To be truthful I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t see more of the house, but at £90, we didn’t think we were suitably dressed to enjoy afternoon tea, even if Victoria was no longer around. (£124 for the champagne tea). It was time to see the gardens.

If you need a clock in the garden, it might as well be a smart one

especially the rose garden

Just a few

and the fabulous borders

Borders

The mooring was wild and we struggled to get a rope around a tree to secure the bow,

Very wild mooring

but in the intense heat, we were quite glad of the shade and it made an excellent location for me to swim safely, it was cool clean and shallow, so much so that Eric handed me the scraper and I was able to clean off some of the growth under the waterline. But you’ll have to take my word for that.

Low cost spa

Whilst I was enjoying my natural spa day, Eric set to washing the side of the boat

Its a myth that Braidbar are self cleaning


Refreshing though this mooring was, it was also quite shallow and everytime a fast boat went past we could hear us scraping on a rock underneath us, so said goodbye to the Mandarin ducks

Mandarin duck


and only stayed one night. As we continued our cruise downstream I chanced to look and oh boy did we get a treat. Remember the river view from the terrace? I guess this is what you’d call a terrace view.

Looking back up to the house

Moving on to Marlow

During June and July the river really belongs to the rowers, or at least they act as if it does. But thankfully we left Henley before the Regatta officially started. But we we still had to follow the course.

Half way down the sacred 1.25miles

And although we followed the arrowed signage the way ahead looked clear. What we hadn’t realised was the imminent attack approaching from behind. Traveling fast at 4mph (which is a rare occurance for Firecrest) we felt like we were taking our elephant for a stroll around the Ascot race track as the rowers had to slow down from their charge to avoid hitting us. Apparently a men’s 8 averages 14mph. Things weren’t helped by a single non competative rower, (eg the donkey) had ignored the signs and was travelling the wrong way. For us it turned what should have been a dignified dwardle into a fraught furlong.

Being overtaken by the womens 8

But we survived to reach Temple Island which is where the Regatta races officially start.

We’ve reached the start

The eyot with it’s temple, (a folly orignially built as a fishing lodge in 1771), now belongs to the Henley Royal Regatta who forbid anyone to moor or step foot on the island unless the committee gives written permission, can be hired for the day for £1750 plus the hiring of boats to transport your guests.

We decided not to linger, and to be honest breathed a sigh of relief to be off the course. We enjoyed a few nights wild mooring before we reached Marlow, home to the worlds most revered rower Sir Steve Redgrave.

Sir Steve Redgrave, 5 times olympian rower

There was plenty to see in Marlow, a pleasant stroll along the river path takes you to All Saints church, part of historic Bisham Abbey

All Saints, Bisham

But as we have found all along this river some views are tantalising close… if you can swim, but bridges are few and far between. But then again when you do find a bridge, its usually quite special. The current Marlow bridge was built circa 1830 by William Tierney Clark who went on to build the larger Hungarian Széchenyi Chain Bridge that crosses the Danube

Marlow bridge with All Saints Marlow (not to be confused with all saints bisham)

We enjoyed Marlow, although its the first place we have been “disturbed” by several noisy groups who had drunk a little too much champagne (is there such a thing as too much champagne?)

The tree that sheltered us from the heatwave

We’ve become used to seeing some impressive forms of transport on this part of the Thames but this mini caught my eye and made me chuckle

Flower power

And whilst a lot of the enticing looking restaurants were out of our price bracket, the farmers market made up a bit of variety.

A good few days, Sir Steve is wondering about the emerging talent.

But we dont think the doggy paddle will win any golds