Day Trip to Windsor Castle
With the pandemic swinging around like a pendulum on a clock, I have been going through waves of emotion. From worry and fear, to frustration and fed-up-ness, I hover between the idea of staying home to stay safe and going out to just live my life. When Windsor Castle announced they would have Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress on display, I felt like this was a calling for me to venture out into the world and enjoy being a “tourist in my own town”. Granted, my town is made for tourists (who are not here) and I am usually the guide. Still, I wanted to have a fun day out. It ended up being the most therapeutic idea I have had in weeks!
I looked at this as a personal day of professional development, so I approached it with care. I started by booking all of the tickets and planning my journey. I was going to take the boat to Waterloo Pier and then walk to the station from there. Cycling in and leaving my bike at the station was not a good idea, as bike theft in London has been crazy high during the pandemic. I booked the boat tickets, then turned to the train tickets. There are two stations in Windsor, and if you don’t get the right one, you’ll end up changing trains or using the tube for part of the journey. The train from Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside was the one I wanted, and it didn’t require any changes. I recommend this one, as you arrive near the river and have a short little walk to the cast entrance that gives you nice views of the castle and a sneak peak at all the shops and restaurants you might want to visit afterwards! With travel sorted, I booked my tickets for Windsor Castle, which is operating a timed entry to control numbers. Then I spent some time looking at the weather forecast and planning my outfit, mask options, and packing my backpack with water bottle, shopping bag and my notebook.
The next morning I woke early and made my way through the schedule. Left the house in time for the boat, arrived at Waterloo in time for the train, boarded the train after scanning my ticket from my iphone. It was rush hour times, but as I was leaving London, the train was empty. I arrived in Windsor an hour prior to my entry time, and my small morning breakfast had worn off. I popped into Yo Sushi (it was 11am but I was hungry for sushi!) and ordered a few plates. Everything requires a smartphone now. I was smart to have brought a backup battery, because I was at 60% by now. I had to sign into the Track & Trace app, then order and pay from the restaurant app. The sushi plates normally ride along the conveyor belt at Yo Sushi, but with COVID-19 on the loose, they have installed a new system where the belt stops and you have 7 seconds to grab your plates. It actually felt more futuristic than the old conveyor belt option.
On arrival to Windsor, I noticed the weather was a little cooler than in London. I also noticed the dark clouds that were making their way to the town. “Typical!” I thought, “It was only 30% chance of rain, so I left my umbrella, and now it's raining!” It was drizzling, and I felt that my choice of jacket was going to let me down if it got soaked. The rain didn't last too long, and I made my way to the castle entrance after eating my sushi.
The ticket was £23.50 and it includes entrance to the castle grounds, State Apartments, St George’s Chapel and a free audio guide. Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress was my main priority, and it would be on display in the State Apartments. The print from home ticket option meant that I skipped the lines (which were empty) and made my way to security. By now, I had been invited to use hand sanitiser twice. I made my way to the entrance of the State Apartments. Being at Windsor feels normal because I am here so often. While I do not guide inside the castle, I am often bringing groups here and there is a spare ticket available, so I go in and enjoy the place as if it were my own! I’m sure the Queen doesn’t mind, and maybe she should start putting the kettle on when she sees me at the gates? She was indeed home, as the Royal Standard was flying atop the keep.
One of the other “bonus” items to see was the Pantomime Pictures. During the second World War, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen) and Princess Margaret were evacuated to Windsor Castle. As precaution, the paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence in the Waterloo Chamber were removed and stored underground. In this room, the girls staged their Christmas Pantomime for four years. A pantomime is a play at Christmas, based on a well known fairytale like Jack & the Beanstalk. (Today’s pantomimes are full of double entendre so that both children and adults are entertained!) Instead of leaving the Waterloo Chamber walls blank, they had art student Claude Whatham paint pantomime-inspired drawings on the walls. After the war, the Lawrence paintings were put back. This year, they are restoring the ceiling of the room, so the paintings are back in storage and the drawings are on display! It is moments like this when I try to mentally transport myself back to this time period, and try to be a fly on the wall when decisions like this are being made. Can you imagine? Who would have suggested it? How did they say yes to it? Did the girls come in and watch as Walter drew? Did they get to help decide which drawings?
I made my way through the China Corridor and noticed a yellow and gold place setting Winchester/Coleport dated 1818 with a pink crown and the letter E. I recalled that George III was on the thrown (he died in 1820) and his son George IV came after him. Who was this “E”? I asked a staff member, who didn’t know but pointed me to another guide. He said it might have been for the Duke of Kent, and told me to take a look in the China Museum at the end of the tour. I did, and he was right. Duke of Kent (named Edward) had commissioned the plates in 1808. But the sign said 1818. Did I just spot a typo at Windsor Castle?
Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress was breathtaking. The Queen had the dress made by Norman Hartnell and she wore it on three occasions. Hartnell was a favourite of the Queen Mother, and he also made Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress and coronation dress. Beatrice had added sleeves, and I overheard the room attendant telling another family that they used Yorkshire tea bags to gently stain the material to match the dress’s age! Her shoes by Valentino were also on display. Sadly, no tiara to view and her groom’s attire was not on display. This makes three wedding dresses I have seen at Windsor: Beatrice, Eugenie and Meghan! Many years ago, I saw the wedding dresses at Kensington Palace of the Queen, Queen Mother, Queen Mary, Queen Victoria and a few others. While I haven’t seen Kate’s dress on display, I did attend the royal wedding day and I saw her on the balcony, so I’m counting that as “seen”!