Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A trip to Windsor Palace and Eton

Well I started my " Discovery of England" today and decided to explore the places close to Reading first ( I am staying here) . Looking into the map it seemed like Windsor and Eton would be the destination of the day.
My Guide book told me the Palace opens at 09:45 and since it is an even date (18th ) I would get a chance to witness the Change of guard Ceremony. I Started at 8 AM from Reading Train Station and got down at Slough after a 20 minute train ride. From Slough they have these special trains which go only to Windsor and I hopped into one of those and after a 6 minute ride across beautiful country side arrived at the picturesque 'Windsor and Eton' Central station. The Windsor palace is just a stones throw away from the station.
I arrived at the gates of the palace at 9 AM and the view that greeted me is photographed below.

There was no crowd at the ticketing counter which was said to open at 9:45 and hence I decided to take a stroll around the outskirts of the palace. I was back to the ticketing place at 9:30 and within minutes of that I saw hordes of people coming in to join the ticket window and by 9:45 there were about 200 people behind me. Ticketing was a breeze and the 14.5 Pound ticket includes an audio guide which is a great help in knowing the history of the place. Also a lot of help is available inside for further information, in the form of friendly staff inside the Complex.
I was the first visitor to enter the palace ground that day and it gave me a chance to photograph many people free images, which otherwise is pretty hard, considering the sheer number of visitors to the place even on a week day. Once inside the Gate the view looks like this....
The palace actually started as a motte and bailey on the highest point along the banks of Thames and was built by William the Conqueror in 1070. Once he realised that the place was a good hunting ground it became a residence for subsequent Monarchs. The castle is still a principal residence for the queen of England and she spends many weekends here. The people here proudly call it the oldest continuously working castle in the world. The Centre point of the entire complex is the below featured tower called the " Round Tower"( it didn't look round to me thought, was more like oval) It is the keep of the castle ( the keep is the most fortified place of a castle and the monarch will probably fall back to it and defend his position from here in case the castle falls into enemy hands)
The Round tower has a moat around it, which has been, transformed into a garden today.

From here I walked into the state Apartments , which I felt was the centre point of the tour. First to greet me was Queen Mary's Doll house ( Photography was not allowed inside, so sorry no pics) It was designed in 1912 for Queen Mary by Sir Edward Lutyens, and is a 1:12 scale model of the household during that time. The model is so very intricate that it even has replicas of the Crown, jewellery, paintings and other decorative pieces found in the palace. The model has electricity working water supply and even vintage wine in the cellars. in the adjacent rooms are displayed dolls and clothes used by the royal Children. After the Doll house were a set of galleries which housed works of some of the best European Artists including Leonardo and also personal items belonging to various monarchs down the ages all the way till the present generation. There was also a exquisite collection of China and the beauty of it cannot be described in words.
Once Out of China Museum I entered a grand Staircase , which had been beautifully decorated with medieval weapons collected from all parts of the British empire. One thing of particular interest to me were the robe and weapons of Tippu Sultan ( The de facto ruler of Mysore in the late 1700's , whome the British defeated and killed) The collection included draggers, swords and Muskets all very well maintained and looking as good as new ( I saw similar weapons a few weeks earlier at Srirangapatna in Tippus palace and sadly they looked nothing more than a chunk of rusted metals pieces. It also shows how much we respect our past)
As I exited the Grand Staircase ( I felt I could spend a entire day here) I entered a series of rooms. The first one was the superbly decorated Waterloo Chamber. Its Scores of portraits is simply mind blowing. There is a ultra super shiny wooden table in the front ( which I told is polished by someone walking over it with dusters on their feet!)
Then were a series of Kings private rooms ornately decorated and with scores of paintings many of them by Rubens and Van Dyck and beautiful wood work by Grinling Gibbons. The Kings dressing room and Kings bedchamber has a lot of important renaissance work and it sure made me feel like a king even if it meant for a few hours. After a 3 hour trip of the state Apartment ( I had to rush through and it still took me 3 hours!) I exited through the Norman Gate featured below.

Next stop was the elegant St Georges Chapel, commissioned by Edward IV for the Order of The Garter. The chapel is built in a so called Perpendicular Gothic architecture and it sure looks as good as it sounds. The inside of the chapel has a lot of royal mausoleum's and tombs from Edward IV (1483) to the most recent Queen Elizabeth (2002) can be found here. A gigantic Battle sword Belonging to Edward III, who found the Order of Garter (Orders of Knights) is found here. Masses are still celebrated here every day and have been since the last 600 years .
Below is the Side view of the chapel .Photography is not allowed inside but the beauty of it cannot be described with any adjectives.

One of the most interesting ceremonies in the Windsor palace is The Changing of the Guard. It takes place at 11 AM Monday to Saturday from April to June and on every even day rest of the year. I times my visit on an even good weather so that I would not miss this ceremony.
At about 10:55 the old guard arrives With the march of their thumping boots and muster like photographed below.

At 11:00 the new guard marches in with a grand band and stands facing the old guard

The band played 4 pieces of music and sounds so very pleasant. Since the Queen was not in Windsor when I visited, the ceremony took place outside the Guard room and the 'Queens Guard' were in their regimental dress.

The Old and the new Guard Face-off

I left the palace at about 4 Pm and Below is the photograph of the entire complex from the exit gate

One final view of the Soldier
From Windsor I walked across the Thames river to Eton college, by the pedestrian only Windsor bridge. The college is where many of the royals have studied and even today 70 highly qualified boys are awarded scholarship or one has to pay a 23,000 pound per annum fee to attend it.
The college was closed to visitors when I went there ( open only during march-April and July - September) But the walk in the town, which still has its medieval looks was worth it.
After that I walked for about one hour on the banks of river Thames and it was quite a scenic walk, with people feeding the swans ( I heard they are under the queens protection) and the light drizzling rain falling on the face. I went back to reading after Sunset. I truly felt like a Royal for a Day.

All pics Shot with Sony A350 18-70mm lens


Hapi said...

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