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28 August, Thursday

UNITED KINGDOM | Thursday, 28 August 2008 | Views [878]

Off to Windsor again today. We had been on our first full day in the UK, way back when, but hadn't actually had a tour of the Castle. We drove to the town, which is only 45 minutes away from Jean and Chris's, and started off with a wander around the shops, followed by lunch at a French Bistro.

We then ambled up to the Castle, bought our tickets, picked up our audio whatjamacallit and off we went. The Castle was first built by William the Conqueror 900 years ago and it has been constantly improved and restored by various monarchs since then.

We started off by walking up a slight incline and through an arch, after which we could see into the quadrangle where a changing of the guards was taking place. We were quite taken aback at how sloppy they were (and how short - up until fairly recently Guardsmen had to be at least 6ft (about 180cm) tall). Not to worry - we walked down a circular driveway, in front of the big Round Tower - beautiful gardens there. After having a squizz at the Middleward Shop, we carried on to the North Terrace and into the room where Queen Mary's Dolls' House is. This was presented to her in 1923 and is not a toy. It is a fully functioning, small-scale model with electricity and functioning plumbing. It was fascinating - authors of the day had written books especially for the miniature library and painters had painted miniature pictures, everything to scale. The most beautiful object and really interesting to see.

After having had our fill of the Dolls' House and the display of dolls and their clothes (which had all been made by the most famous dress-designers of the day) we carried on for a tour of the State Apartments - these are breathtaking, fully furnished and still in regular use today. Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and is one of the official residences of The Queen, although during the month of August, the Royal Family is always at Balmoral, in Scotland.

The artworks on display in the State Apartments are incredible - drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and paintings by all of the world's most famous artists. There was also a display commemorating Prince Charle's 60th birthday (although he doesn't turn 60 until 14/11/08) and this contained a letter he had handwritten to his "Granny", the Queen Mother, when he was about 8 and some writing of his concerning the Battle of Hastings, again written when he was a child.

The most beautiful rooms are the Waterloo Room, where state banquets are held and St George's Hall (which was virtually destroyed by fire on 20 November 1992 but which was fully and immaculately restored in time to be re-opened exactly 5 years later on the Queen and Prince Phillip's 50th Wedding Anniversary), this is used as a Reception Room for visiting dignitaries. 

We had been blown away by Versailles but Ron and I both agreed that Windsor was just as amazing. Whereas Versailles is hugely ornate and sumptuous, Windsor is a lot more subtle, and in someways classier. Both, in their own way, are magnificent.

The tour of the State Apartments took about an hour and a half, after which we were rather tired! However, we still had St George's Chapel to see - the burial place of many monarchs including George VI and the Queen Mother, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (the only wife to bear Henry a son), and several others whose names escape me.

The Chapel itself is a wonderful example of gothic architecture and it is here that the Ceremonies of the Order of the Garter take place. The Order of the Garter was founded by King Edward III in 1348 and is in the Sovereign's Personal Gift, i.e. only the reigning monarch can decide who should be awarded the Order. All senior members of the Royal Family have it and this year, in June, Prince William received his Garter (co-incidentally on the 60th anniversary of the day his grandparents, The Queen and Prince Phillip were installed in th Order). Because there had previously been 998 members, and in order that Prince William would be the 1000th, Lord Luce was invested first that day, as the 999th Knight! There are only ever 24 Knights and Ladies of the Garter, not including the Royal Knights and Ladies, and each has a special stall in the Quire of St George's Chapel.

We left the Castle grounds and had another walk around the town, before hiking to the car park to retrieve our car, then home for dinner.

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