Wanderer at Large: Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire & Berkshire – Windsor & Eton

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area north-west of London that includes the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire & Berkshire.

Windsor Castle

Windsor & Eton

The small but delightful twin-towns of Windsor & Eton in Berkshire are about 20 miles west of central London. If you’re a royalist, you’ll find it heaven.

The highlight of a visit of course, is the famous Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest continually inhabited castle in the world. First built in 1080, and set in thousands of acres of parkland, it was once described by Samuel Pepys over 300 years ago the most romantic of castles. It is now regarded as the Queen’s home.

Not to be missed on a tour: the magnificent George Chapel (ten monarchs are buried here including Henry VIII), the opulent State Apartments (audio-guided) and the incredible Queen Mary’s Doll’s House. On certain days you can see the changing of the guard ceremony up-close (much better than outside Buckingham Palace!).

Royal Windsor Great Park is also worth investigating. Covering almost 5,000 acres and with a circumference of 14 miles, it is owned by the Crown Estate. Discover little-known royal places such as Snow Hill, the Royal Lodge and Smithsfield. There’s the Long Walk, with a spectacular view of the castle, and Home Park, where you can pop into the Windsor Farm shop and indulge in some organic royal produce. Or you can visit the world renowned 35-acre Savill Garden, again, owned by the Crown Estate, and partially designed by Prince Philip. During the summer it is possible to take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the gardens.

To the south of town is Runneymede water-meadow, where the famous Magna Carta document was originally drawn up to limit the powers of an unpopular king and became the template for modern democracy. The Magna Carta Memorial is a domed classical temple built by the American Bar Association to commemorate this symbol of liberty under law. Nearby is the Air Forces Memorial and British memorial to the assassinated President John F. Kennedy which is actually American territory.

The small town of Eton sits just across the river Thames from Windsor, and is famous for its boarding school, Eton College. Educating 1,200 boys, it is one of the oldest, most exclusive and expensive private schools in Britain. Famous past scholars include Princes William and Harry, and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Eton was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI for 70 poor children to receive free education, and to feed into his own King’s College, Cambridge. However, over the years it became the school for the wealthy and privileged. Many boys were registered before they were even conceived! The writer Aldous Huxley described the scholars as “the cream of society, very thick and very rich“!

Apart from usual faculties, Eton boasts a drawing school, music school, observatory, concert hall, theatre, natural history museum and nine golf courses! Dutchman’s Fields is the name given to the extensive sports grounds, to which the Duke of Wellington once famously referred: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” The architecture of the school retains a medieval atmosphere, covered in heraldry and graffiti! Particularly worth visiting is the Gothic chapel, the lower school, which features the world’s oldest classroom, and the Museum of Eton Life.

For fans of royalty, it’s a right regal day out in the UK’s valley of the kings.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear next tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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