The House of Windsor

We never lived in Windsor, but the town, in the Royal County of Berkshire, was one of our favourite days out when we lived by Heathrow Airport. As the American tourist said ‘Why did they build a royal castle so close to the airport?’ – old joke. Along with many tourists and local families we enjoyed all it has to offer. ‘Long Walks in the Great Park’ – From the Castle gate to the foot of the statue of King George III (The Copper Horse) The Long Walk measures 2.64 miles in length. But the Windsor Great Park extends far beyond what you can see from the castle.

Walking at Windsor Great Park | Windsor Great Parkhttps://www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en/activities/walking

Windsor also has a theatre, a swimming pool, good shopping and the River Thames. A foot bridge takes you over the river to Eton where the famous school is spread out as part of the little town. You can also take a peaceful walk along the riverside very different from the bustle on the Windsor side.

You can go by train from Waterloo and arrive at Windsor and Eton Riverside station, or take the little line built for Queen Victoria, a one stop ride from Slough station  ( direct line from Paddington ) which takes you into the heart of the designer shopping centre and exits opposite the castle.

Tourists the weekend after the wedding of Harry and Megan!

Windsor Castle | Windsor Castle Tours and Tickets

Before the terrible castle fire in 1992 more of the castle grounds were free to the public to wander. We used to take our young children for a walk and show Australian visitors around. Under the archway, past the chapel, stroll up the hill. Our two year old once dashed into the guard room and was chased out by the guards. One side of the castle faces the town, but walk downhill to the river and the castle is high above you on a steep bank. When our daughter was a toddler she nearly gave a Japanese tourist a heart attack; he gasped in horror as she raced towards the turreted wall on the steep side of the grounds. She didn’t topple over, it was a safe height. Another time we peered through a gate and saw Princess Diana bring her two little boys out to watch the soldiers parading.

When we moved away from Heathrow we still visited Windsor on mini breaks to see our friends, usually staying at The Windsor Trooper, a great little old pub with bed and breakfast; bedrooms slightly crooked with sloping floors. 

‘In 1917, the name of the royal house was changed from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the English Windsor because of anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom during World War I. There have been four British monarchs of the House of Windsor since then: George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II.’

Windsor Castle made the perfect setting for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, especially for the many of us who know Windsor well. The Duke apparently did not want a fuss and got his wish as the long miles of procession and crowd lined streets had to be scaled down to a ceremony within the castle precincts; a dignified walk down the hill with socially distanced military bands lined up with precision on the immaculate green.

The Band of the Grenadier Guards led the funeral procession and family members followed, Princess Anne in a long black coat and the men in morning suits. Following a coffin on foot seems dignified and respectful and it’s always good to see men smartly dressed. The Queen followed in her limousine.

I get nervous when I see The Queen walking unsteadily by herself, especially that day as she stepped out of her car and I wondered why she could not have formed a new bubble. Any other very elderly lady with strapping sons and grandsons would surely have been offered a strong arm to lean on. The Duke was her bubble, but she still has HMS Bubble, the loyal staff who have been on duty three weeks on three weeks off at the castle looking after the royal couple. Dog lovers will be glad to hear that The Queen, despite deciding a while ago not to breed or acquire any more dogs, has done what lots of people have in covid lockdown and acquired two puppies, a corgi and a dorgie, which she enjoys walking.

Inside the chapel were the regulation thirty guests and the emptiness perhaps enhanced the beautiful singing of the choir of four and the playing of the trumpeters. The royal family stuck by all the current funeral rules; we cannot compare their splendidly choregraphed event with bleak funerals at the local crem., livestreamed from one camera, but like other grieving widows The Queen sat by herself. After the service the family all strolled up the hill in the sunshine, ignoring the unnecessary fleet of cars lined up for them, though of course The Queen returned in her limousine. I like to think that once back in the royal apartments they all ripped off their masks and didn’t bother with social distancing!

Whether you watched the funeral avidly live on television and followed the highlights in the news later, or avoided all mention of it, there was more to the Duke of Edinburgh than most of us realised. The blanket comprehensive coverage of his life revealed a refugee from a broken home who saw real active service in the second world war. A life that did become privileged, but how many of us would want their whole life mapped out? Unlike lots of rich people he used his position to make a difference. He highlighted the plight of wildlife long before others were interested and created the Duke of Edinburgh Award to give ordinary teenagers the chance to take on all sorts of challenges. Those from a variety of countries who have spoken about meeting The Duke and how the award changed their lives will remember him and not the many politicians and world leaders who come and go.

Did you watch the funeral? Have you visited Windsor? Have you met any of the royal family?

Fifty Shades of Away Grey

sunshine-blogger

Why would you paint a hotel battleship grey, inside and out; isn’t the idea to attract guests and customers not make them feel as if they are in prison? Perhaps the owners of The Swan, Alton, Hampshire got a job lot of grey paint.

Our two nights away in Hampshire started off in sunshine. Part of the plan ( the main part ) was to use up our tickets for Jane Austen’s house, the tickets lasted a year and we had only a few days left. If you ever buy tickets for any place and are delighted you have a whole year to revisit, it is guaranteed you will never return; even if you live in the same country, even if you have not been kidnapped for a year or overcome with disasters, you will not return. As the sunshine disappeared and the day became overcast and grey Cyberspouse asked if I had remembered the tickets. I hadn’t. Never mind, we would buy new tickets and make a contribution to a national and literary treasure.

DSCN1487

By the time we reached Alton the sky was heavy and grey and matched the hotel, this was our first view from the car park. Inside, all the decor was shades of grey, brightened only by a gloomy tartan carpet and pictures and lights. However, the staff were friendly and cheerful.

DSCN1627

Our room had a little sitting room with a small television screen and a tiny bedroom with a large TV screen. We were just in time to watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race, but the big screen would not work, lucky we had two TVs. This little sitting room could have been cosy, less like a prison cell,  in another colour scheme with better views,

DSCN1625

On the way out to explore we reported the broken television. When we returned they were just about to fix it; the second chap seemed to know what he was doing and after ripping it off the wall and repeated trips back and forth it was fixed.

When we went down for dinner the TV fixer showed us to our table. In fact he was on duty the whole time we were there, at the desk and everywhere and checked us out when we left.

Breakfast was okay, with orders freshly cooked, but an uninspiring breakfast bar with flasks for tea and coffee. On the second morning I asked if I could have a tea pot and that is what I got, no cup, no milk no extra hot water, back to the breakfast bar for that.

Jane Austen perhaps visited The Swan

..First mentioned in a rental document in 1499, the Swan hotel is an iconic building, set in the old market town of Alton. A tavern and hostelry, it was listed in 1674 as having 18 chambers, a parlour, kitchen, brewhouse, malthouse, old kitchen, and wine and beer cellars. It was further developed in 1777 to become the coaching inn you see today. The Swan would have been well known to famous local residents; author Jane Austen and naturalist Gilbert White. 

DSCN1501

Yes we did get to Chawton to visit Jane again and now we have a year’s tickets for her cottage and The Big House. The weather remained unremittingly grey for our stay, but we enjoyed our visit which you can read about next week. In the meantime here are some mellow and misty pictures of Chawton at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog

Read about last year’s visit here.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/visiting-jane/

What is the worst colour hotel you have been to? We once stayed at an Edinburgh hotel which was literally all tartan, we were definitely plaid out by the end of our visit. Candy pink would be too sickly, what colour would you paint a hotel?

 

Stonehenge – September Staycation Part Three

41489466_2277742345588876_4579338519482204160_o

 When you are on Staycation you will visit places after breakfast that others have crossed the world to see. We had not been to Stonehenge since the new visitors’ centre was built, out of sight of the World Heritage Site. The A344 which previously enabled motorists to ‘come across’ Stonehenge, but also intruded on the peace of the past, is now used solely by the fleet of buses with destination The Stones on the front.

If you belong to English Heritage or the National Trust entry is free. You can hop on the bus or walk; divert off the road through chalky fields to enjoy the peaceful scenery of Salisbury Plain. There is nothing at the stones now so make sure you avail yourself of the visitor centre toilets and take a bottle of water.

dscn0457.jpg

On a Monday morning, with school holidays over and the website stating timed tickets were not needed, we thought it would be quiet. The lady at the booth issuing our free tickets said it was very busy as several cruise ships had come in; this presented a strange vision.

It was almost a pilgrimage, Pilgrimage Lite perhaps. We set off at a brisk pace, overtaking lots of people and hearing various languages, we’re British, we can walk fast…

DSCN0460

We started to anticipate the moment when Stonehenge would be revealed; round the next copse or over the next brow? Alas, the first view was partially blocked by the ubiquitous buses and queues of people. Queues waiting to have their tickets checked and file between the ropes to the stones, even longer queues waiting to get back on the shuttle bus.

dscn0473.jpg

Only a low rope separated us from the stones, creating enough space inside the circle to imagine how they were when they stood alone. A young Canadian tourist asks to have his photo taken, with the toy penguin that is to accompany him on his trip round Britain.

We ask a tour guide where she’s from.

Portland

USA?

No, Dorset…

She had come to meet passengers who had left their ship at Dover and been coached to Wiltshire.

But the tourists that morning were not rushing and ticking off another place visited, they were in genuine awe that they were really there looking at an ancient construction no one can explain for sure.

dscn0477.jpg

 

This year marks one hundred years since Stonehenge was given to the nation.

 On 26 October 1918, Stonehenge was offered by Cecil and Mary Chubb as a gift for the nation. Cecil Chubb had bought Stonehenge for £6600 at a local auction three years previously. Prior to 1918, the monument was propped up with wooden poles and some of the stones were in danger of collapse. Increasing numbers of visitors through the late 19th century had led to damage, with people regularly chipping the stones for souvenirs and scratching their names on the monument.

http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/30-things-you-might-not-know-about-stonehenge

The first guidebook in 1823 claimed Stonehenge survived Noah’s flood. We do know the stones came from South Wales, that is part of the mystery, how they got there. Stonehenge was built between about 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC and its purpose remains under study. What is certain, if you stand in just the right place inside the monument at the summer solstice, facing northeast through the entrance towards a rough-hewn stone outside the circle, known as the Heel Stone, you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone.

http://earthsky.org/earth/gallery-the-summer-solstice-as-seen-from-stonehenge

A few days later visitors came round and asked how the staycation was going and where we’d been.

‘Oh, that heap of old stones’ was their reply.

 

 

DSCN0489

See more pictures at my Beachwriter’s Blog

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog

Look out for Friday Flash Fiction as the Stones theme continues…

 

 

Secret Salisbury – September Staycation – Part One

Salisbury is a small city where we used to think not much happened. It lies in the county of Wiltshire, where you might think not much has happened since Stonehenge was built. Salisbury is a city because it has a cathedral. It is not large, but it is busy with a hospital, university and many places of interest to historians and tourists.

Since March this year it has been in the international news with the poisoning by novichok nerve agent of two Russians and a local policeman. Just when Salisbury was getting back to some normality there was the bizarre tragedy when two locals were taken ill and one became the first fatality. Two Russian suspects have been named and even appeared on Russian television to explain they visited Salisbury merely as tourists to see the cathedral with its famous spire and the oldest clock in the world.

DSCN0516

You couldn’t make this story up; if these two men were ‘secret agents’ they certainly bungled the whole mission, their target was not killed, though he and his daughter only survived thanks to the National Health Service and skilled care. Before leaving Salisbury they dumped the novichok in a rubbish skip.  Through all these months, parts of Salisbury have been closed off and scoured for any trace of the nerve agent, a nightmare for businesses expecting a busy tourist summer.

We quite often go to Salisbury and went there last week after our morning at Stonehenge. Everywhere seemed busy, but perhaps they were locals.

DSCN0506

I can believe the two suspects didn’t find the cathedral; though the famous spire can be seen for miles around, the first time we visited we stood in the main square and could not see it, we had no idea which way to go.

Through an arch you will find yourself looking at the cathedral green; fine weather shows the scene at its best. This area is full of interesting houses and museums and the expanse of grass is ideal for children to run and play and school parties to let off steam. There is too much for one visit, but whatever your plans just stand by yourself and look up at the spire.

The refectory, cloisters and smart toilets are free to wander in. Do you pay to go in the cathedral? There is a suggested donation. On our visit, late in the afternoon, I was just trying to read what we might ‘kindly be asked’ to pay when I realised Cyberspouse was already inside. We may have accidentally followed a coach party in. The house of God should be free to enter, but cathedrals need constant loving and expensive care. We always buy our refreshments at the refectory and there is a nice shop for tourists.

DSCN0535

Cathedrals can be overwhelming, I guarantee most of us do not remember all the saintly and royal details in the leaflets. Take in the ambience and spend time with what takes your eye. Highlights include the clock, perhaps the Russians wanted to steal our cutting edge technology! Look carefully down the nave and see if you can spot the columns bowed at the centre of the cathedral under the weight of the spire. A model of the spire shows the original wooden scaffold still there. Another  model shows the cathedral being built; I had a nice chat with an American lady as we admired the model and the original builders. The biggest miracle of ancient buildings is the fact they are still standing and I love to wonder if those who built it could have imagined how far into the future their creation would be admired.

DSCN0530

Cathedrals are living places and new art is added. I love the font, sculptor William Pye, consecrated in 2008.

DSCN0537

On our brief stroll around the cathedral Cyberspouse met a woman from Iceland, tourists are still coming to Salisbury.

https://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury/things-to-do

My Brief Encounters trilogy is partly set in rural Wiltshire and Salisbury also features, especially in Lives of Anna Alsop.

 

 

 

Windsor After That Wedding

Eight days after the royal wedding we are in Windsor to catch up with friends, not at the castle, though they are staying opposite the castle. We are down the road in a pub bed and breakfast. Flags are flying everywhere and Windsor is busy, like it is every weekend, especially a bank holiday weekend. A sunny Sunday afternoon and everybody is happy, except the odd crying child; crowds, sightseeing and family outings don’t always work. We hear a father saying to his young son ‘We are here to discover the town, not to go to Legoland.’

6

Legoland is way out of town, though you can catch the bus near the castle. We had already seen signs for motorists saying Legoland was full. But Windsor is not about plastic bricks, the castle is made of real stone with thick walls to keep out the aircraft noise; along with many other people the Queen lives under the flight path to Heathrow. The blue sky today is heaven for plane spotters. We sit on the footbridge over the River Thames, the bridge links Windsor and Eton, the little town is part of the school rather than the school being in the town and is well worth a wander. Today the river is busy, you can dine aboard a big boat or hire a little boat and get in the way of the sightseeing riverboats. You can also ride in the Windsor Duck for an amphibious tour.

DSCN6241

On Bank Holiday Monday morning the sky is heavy, the air misty. We can hear the roar as we step outside, but the clouds are so low the aeroplanes above us are invisible. We stroll the same way the royal wedding carriage drove and arrive at Windsor Great Park. The scaffolding is coming down where the cameras were last week and the Long Walk is back to normal, no crowds, just people and dogs enjoying The Queen’s back garden. If you wanted to you could keep going towards the bronze horse, away from the crowds; beyond lie gardens, forests and lakes. We walk up to the castle gates, open for royals, locked to the public. Everyone is taking photographs. Round the town side there is a queue for the castle, but only for ticket holders. There is another queue for people wanting to buy a ticket, it stretches down the hill out of sight, but all is civilised, plenty of people in uniforms to direct or advise you to come back first thing in the morning. Everyone wants to see the setting of the wedding.

dscn6287.jpg

DSCN6298

Opposite the castle is Windsor and Eton Central railway station, the branch line from Slough was built for Queen Victoria. The three carriages go back and forth all day, curving across the river. Below the station is the main coach park; visitors are funnelled in through the station concourse and out onto the busy street. We sit with our coffee just inside the entrance and people watch. Tour guides now have microphones and their followers have earpieces and a receiver hanging round their necks. Each guide has their own flag or totem to wave above their heads, we wonder if there will be jostling or fighting for the best spots.

DSCN6303DSCN6304

Down by the river the sun has come out. In the gardens there are fountains and children’s play areas, lots of families are having big picnics, or big families are having picnics. We buy an ice cream and watch a chap potting up plants for the roof of his narrow boat. The scene is peaceful and far removed from the tourist frenzy at the top of the town. On the other side of the river boat owners enjoy picnics on the fields of Eton.

DSCN6343

You can see more pictures of Windsor on my Beachwriter’s Blog at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-five-beach-writer-s-blog/

As it’s Windsor Week at Tidalscribe look out for Flash Fiction Friday

and Silly Saturday – Not The Royal Wedding

Friday Flash Fiction Fantasy

                                      Andromeda Advertiser                           

       The Hotel Inspector

 How long would you spend in suspended animation to reach a one planet solar system? How many holidaymakers would be prepared to trek across the universe to visit the only habitable planet in a third rate solar system? Planet Gaia has only one moon and an outdated space station; what it does have is water and this is the main selling point in their first venture into intergalactic tourism.

The second unusual feature is its tilted axis, which gives it a great variety of climates to choose from. The downside? The brochures omit to mention the unpredictable nature of the locals, or even to explain which is the prime species.

Our tour started when we woke up on the moon, quaintly called Lunar Base. From here we enjoyed wonderful views of the shining blue planet; this alone made the trip worthwhile. We had yet to meet our hosts.

Next stop was the antiquated space station which must be pre booked due to lack of space, but essential if you wish to orbit Gaia.

By the time we landed on the planet we were ready for a meal. We had chosen a tiny island with a mild climate which boasted large colonies of homosapiens. The hotel itself was on the edge and not for the faint hearted unused to water.

This was when the tour began to lose some of its starlight. How do the locals expect to attract tourists without making any effort to learn their language? Even the sign language was limited by their possession of only two arms. It can only be presumed that the more intelligent species live in the oceans, but we did not have time for the underwater trips, nor was our travel agent accredited for this risky expedition.

Our meal was surprisingly tasty and we were soon ready for our guided tour. Having come this far I was determined to put my foot in the water which is called by many names; here it was flat, thin, perfectly safe and called sea. The sensation was not unpleasant and we also enjoyed watching the homosapiens splashing around making their mating calls.

Our party of three and a half was booked in for five days, but the brochure skimmed over the fact that the days are very short, making the stay poor value for money. The ablution facilities consisted of more water, with no sign of any hot dust. Our first night was cramped and uncomfortable; we should have been advised to book more than one room.

The most fascinating aspect was the rapid change of atmospheric conditions. We had not been guaranteed rain, so we were delighted on the second day when the hotel was pounded by strong air currents full of water. From our viewing platform we could see the water had now turned to waves and we were glad to be in the shelter of the hotel.

How did I rate the experience? Mixed; frankly we were glad that the days were so short. I gave our accommodation five suns.