Thames River – Windsor Castle & Runnymede

On our 2nd and final day in Henley, we decided to take the 20 mile drive to Windsor, visiting Runnymede for the location of the Magna Carta signing and the Air Forces Memorial. In addition, no visit to Windsor is complete without seeing Windsor Castle, another of Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces.

After a leisurely breakfast at the Barge Inn, I headed to the station for the car, then picked up Judi in front of the Inn. Departing about 09:30, we hoped to avoid the worst of Greater London’s gridlock traffic.

Runnymede

Located on the banks of the River Thames, this is where the Magna Carta (Great Charter) was signed by King John in 1215. It is considered one of the world’s most important legal documents.

Poster recognising the American Bar Association’s Magna Carta Memorial

Located on the A308 (Windsor Road), Runnymeade is a National Trust property and other than parking fees, is a free attraction for non-NT members. NT members receive complimentary parking. Non-member parking costs UKP 1.50/hr or UKP 7.00/day. We stopped at the Magna Carta Tea Room, which has a small parking lot, but additional parking is available across the road.

Signage is rather basic and no monument is visible from the Tea Room building, so we just followed the few others and started wandering across the fields. We eventually spotted signs for the JFK Memorial and the Magna Carta Monument. From the parking lot it was probably about 1/3 mile.

Entrance to Magna Carta Memorial

The previous month, we visited Salisbury Cathedral and actually saw the best of the 4 remaining copies of the actual Magna Carta, the document that was signed over 800 years ago, in 1215. This was an excellent opportunity to close the loop, seeing the site where the document was actually signed. The site is located in a gently sloping grassy meadow surrounded by oak trees.

Magna Carta Monument

Constructed from English granite, the monument was erected by the American Bar Association in July 1957. It is inscribed with, “To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law”.

Magna Carta Monument with oak trees on both sides

For information on the importance of the Magna Carta, select here for a link to the British Library.

Departing Runnymede we headed a couple of miles and up the hill to the Air Forces Memorial.

Runnymede (Air Forces) Memorial

Located at 31 Cooper’s Hill Lane, no parking, except disabled blue badge holders, is available at the site. Free parking is available at the Coopers Lane Car Park, which is a short 350 yds walk from the memorial.

Air Forces Memorial entrance with plane departing LHR

Operated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the memorial was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. While over 116,000 Commonwealth airmen and women gave the ultimate sacrifice, the memorial commemorates the 20,288 with no known grave.

Entrance to the memorial

Inscriptions at the entrance

The entrance opens to a quadrangle, with Shrine opposing, which leads to the East & West Look-outs, providing views down the hill to the Thames Valley. Around the quadrangle are about 300 panels, which contain the names and rank of each of the 20,288 service men and women.

Shrine opposite the entrance

Headstone at the Shrine

The Shrine, which is adorned by 3 stone figures – Justice, Victory & Courage, was under renovation, so the viewing platform was not accessible during our visit.

Walking around the quadrangle was an extremely moving experience. The panels start with 1939 at the entrance and cover the RAF, then each of the other commonwealth countries, before moving to the following year. I did not take any photos of the panels, as I do not consider it appropriate.

Windsor Castle

Arriving in Windsor, the signs indicated all public parking lots were full, but we fortunately found a vacant spot at Castle Pay & Display Lot. Parking fees were reasonable and it was a 1/3 mile, fairly gradual up hill walk to the Castle entrance.

Judi in the ticket office queue

Admission prices are UKP 20.50 (adult) and UKP 18.70 (seniors 60+). A complimentary audio/visual handset is provided.

Windsor Castle (courtesy Wikipedia)

Windsor Castle continues as a royal residence, with the Queen staying for a month, at Easter, each year. As seen above, the Castle comprises 3 main areas:

  • On the far right is the State Rooms and private residences, located around the grass quadrangle. To the rear of the quadrangle is the Doll House and State Rooms, which is the area we toured. To the right and in front, is the Queen’s private residence, which is not open to the public.
  • In the middle is the round tower, which I climbed and the moat gardens.
  • To the left is St George’s Chapel and tour exit through the King Henry VIII gate

Walk up to the castle entrance

Departing the ticket office you pick up an audio/visual handset and head up the path towards the Edward III tower, which is the visitor entrance to the castle.

Access to the State Rooms is from the North Terrace, which was about a 15 min walk from the ticket office. At the end of the above path, we headed around the round tower, which provided great views of the moat garden.

Moat Garden views from walk around Round Tower

As can be seen from the above photos, visitors are welcome to stroll through the gardens: however, they charge an additional fee for the garden walk.

Entrance to the Quadrangle

Quadrangle with South Wing and Private Apartments

Judi taking a quick break while I capture some photos

Arriving on the North Terrace we found 2 queues – one led directly to the State Rooms, while the other (longer queue) visited the Doll House before the State Rooms. We opted for the Doll House & State Rooms.

No photography is permitted in any of the rooms, so I am unable to provide any photographic mementos.

On entering the Queen Mary’s Doll House room, we were blown away with the size and level of detail. Calling this a doll house would be akin to referring to a mansion as a studio apartment. Did I mention it was huge!!! – must have been 20 feet square and about 8 feet in height. Built for Queen Mary, it is a replica aristocratic home, that took 3 years to build (1921-24). It contains thousands of displays, has electricity, running water and functioning lifts, to name just a few features.

The State Apartments have evolved over the years, depending on the tastes of the then Monarch, many of who wanted the most luxurious palaces – Charles II and George IV were instrumental in implementing many of the changes. Unfortunately, a fire in 1992 destroyed about 100 rooms. These rooms have been totally refurbished. The rooms are adorned with some magnificent art works and antique furniture. Using the handset and wandering slowly through the rooms, the tour took us about 2 hours.

Unfortunately the Semi-State Rooms are only open from September to March, so we were unable to visit this area of the Castle.

Sitting waiting for the tower climb, I noted the guards marching past

We exited the tour just inside the Norman gate, which was the meeting point for the Round Tower tour. It costs about an extra UKP 9.00 and is guided. The tour includes climbing 200 steps; however, they take a number of breaks, to lower the heart rate. On entering the tower, we climbed about 40 steps, then stopped for some local information. We then continued to the lower platform, which was about 1/2 way. Once the previous group cleared the top level, we set off for the summit. Again, no photography was permitted inside the tower and also when facing East towards the Queen’s residences.

The following photos were taken in the area where photography was permitted.

Looking down on the moat garden

Windsor Great Park and Deer Park

Located to the south of town and adjacent to the castle is the 5,000 acre Windsor Great Park, which has been in existence since the 12th Century. It is open to the public, free of charge, from dawn to dusk. The above photo depicts “The Long Walk” a straight 3-mile long, tree lined path from the George IV gate at Windsor Castle to the Copper Horse Statue.

St George’s ChapelĀ 

After returning from the tower climb, I picked up Judi and we headed to one of the on-site ice cream shops, which use milk/cream from the Queen’s dairy herd. Finishing our ice cream, the heavens opened, so we headed to the closest gift shop, picking up a few souvenirs.

Once the worst of the rain passed, we headed back to the car for the trip back to Henley through rush hour traffic.

 

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