A Graceful Visit to Windsor Castle and the Thames Valley by Coach.
Recently, I joined a group of fellow writers to enjoy a modern day motor coach trip. We were guests of the Coach Tourism Council and we all met just outside Bracknell in Royal Berkshire. The trip would last for three days and we were to visit a number of prime locations to the south west of London, the British Capital City. Our modern and pristinely engineered method of transport was provided by Epsom Coaches, a company based to the south of the City.
I was part of a group of 16 commentators. Some of us had met before and some of us were newcomers. Our age range was widely spread and we all came from different backgrounds. By the end of the excursion we had all become quite amicable friends. The time that we spent together in the air conditioned confines of the contemporary coach had created an atmosphere of close association and communication. Our conversation allowed us to learn much about each other whilst we enjoyed our common experience. Steve, our driver, quickly became part of the team. He dressed smartly in a company uniform and represented his establishment perfectly. We quickly recognised his competence as a driver and his great experience within his chosen industry.
We started on a Friday afternoon and we all boarded the coach. We set off for our first weekend event that was to commence under the watchful eye of Windsor Castle. We were to enjoy a boat trip that would take us along a very rural stretch of the River Thames almost as far as Maidenhead. It was a glorious early autumn day and there was much to see and admire as we began our journey.
The classic river touring vessel was owned and operated by the ‘French Brothers’. They are a long established firm and have decades of experience plying their trade. The operating crew represented the highest standards of professionalism in their field. The boat captain seemed a mere youngster to me but he held a valid river class boat Masters Certificate. He provided a running commentary as he directed the vessel. His knowledge of the route was amplified by an additional tourist guide. The information that they provided together was extraordinarily informative.
The river cruise lasted for about an hour and a half. As we enjoyed our cream tea provided on board, we saw many things. We left the dazzling sight of Windsor Castle disappearing behind us and began to pass the present and past residences of many of the rich and famous in British television and show business. We passed a number of exclusive marinas supporting exotic and doubtless very valuable river vessels. The ‘eight shaped’ Windsor race course passed on our left as we approached Monkey Island supporting the famous hotel of the same name. We were joined by flocks of swans and collections of ducks all paddling alongside as we travelled. The once defunct but now re-purchased Bray Film Studios came along before we commenced the return journey.
The vessel master saw us safely and easily through two river locks along the way. It was a bright and uplifting experience on a bright and uplifting day. A truly splendid experience that can be enjoyed by everyone as part of a present day coach trip in Britain.
We returned to our base after our vessel had moored again back at Windsor. We spent a very comfortable and well looked after night in our hotel, about a forty minute journey away. The accommodation, of course, comes as part of the package in a coach trip itinerary.
We were off again the next morning after breakfast. Steve and his coach were waiting for us, right outside the hotel entrance.
It was back to Windsor Castle itself this time where we were met by another of our tour guides, Julia. First of all, we were subject to airport style security before admittance to the grounds. It was provided in very polite fashion in these days of heightened security risk. After that visitors can go where they like and as they wish and admire the vast priceless art content, state rooms and displays.
September 2015 marked a celebration for our present Queen, Elizabeth 11. She had become the longest reigning Monarch in British history as she approached her 90th birthday. A great photographic exhibition covering the years of her reign was provided in the normally closed central courtyard for all to see.
The stroll outside the Castle along the ramparts provides stunning views of the gardens. The level of extraordinary maintenance and beauty is a spectacle to behold. The historic Eaton College and playing fields can be seen across the meadows, not very far away. We all broke off into little groups to take in the view of things that most excited us.
Currently Windsor Castle, the outer London residence of the British Royal Family, is also marking the 200th anniversary of the victory of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in Belgium. The French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, had been defeated in battle changing the whole political face of Europe. Visitors can see the exhibition and admire the associated fine artworks and artefacts.
It was a busy day for us all. After Windsor Castle we set off towards the Savill Garden on the edge of the Windsor Great Park. You do not have to love gardening to enjoy a visit to this sheltered, almost secret garden. The stroll through this wonderfully presented, almost freestyle living precinct away from the crowds is a distinctly peaceful experience. The Savill Garden is part of the Crown Estate and will exist probably for eternity. Visitors will really sense a poignant escape, temporarily, from the realities of real life.
We were to finish off our day in the coach visiting the nearby site at Runnymede. This was where the sealing of the Magna Carta took place with King John in 1215. Last year marked the 800th anniversary of the event when British law changed forever to protect human rights for all people. Many Western nations have embraced the same concepts into their own constitutions to this day.
The accepted place of the happening is quite nondescript. It lies in a grassy meadow just by the Ankerwycke yew tree said to be 2000 years old. The spot is just off the main road running through the village, alongside the River Thames. The tour guide provided incisive and fascinating information to bring the event back to life again in our minds.
The coach was waiting for us all in a neighbouring pasture. We had had a long day of exploration and were to return to our hotel to freshen up and blow the dust off. It was Saturday evening and we were to dine well. We all sat at the same table and further developed our new friendships.
The next morning after breakfast, we all joined the coach again. We were going to enjoy the concluding visit of our trip and it was to be the highlight for me. Steve was to take us to Hampton Court in Middlesex, about a one hour drive away.
Hampton Court is also situated on the banks of the River Thames. It is an enormous palace resting amongst vast grounds. Its construction began with William the Conqueror almost 1000 years ago. It is currently celebrating 500 years since its final completion and is known primarily as one of the many estates of King Henry V111 of England. The culture of this Tudor period has been perfectly preserved.
We drew up outside, left the coach and stood in the wide entrance courtyard. It was a positively photogenic sight. Inside the Palace we were met by our tour guide who was dressed in the most perfectly authentic Tudor dress. It had been specially made, including her shoes, and had cost her a lot of money. Her name was Catherine and she had a sharp intellect. Her bearing was of the perfect aristocratic Tudor lady and she knew her stuff in exquisite fashion. She was to show us all around, pass on her knowledge and direct our attention towards so many features.
We saw tapestries worth more than battleships, exquisite art collections and perfect representations of King Henry’s kitchens. They were up and running and brought to life by modern actors in classic Tudor dress. If Henry V111 returned today, he would instantly recognise his time again and all of his rooms and estate.
Outside, the gardens with the lakes, fountains, trees and roaming birds were magnificent. We were able to stroll anywhere that we wished. My attention was taken by a courtyard that was home to the favourite clock of Henry V111. It was high on a wall, large and ornate but rashly portrayed a very obvious inaccuracy. If you visit, see if you can spot it. Astronomers put the King right sometime after its construction.
That was it. We returned to the hotel, picked up our bags and went our separate ways. The coach trip had ended.
A visit to elegant locations by coach is a very modern way to travel. The expertise of the driver takes care of all of the routing, parking and petrol. He looks after all of the baggage and ensures your safety. He also takes care of all the busy traffic too. He effortlessly absorbs all of the anxiety of travelling. The uninterrupted view from your seat high above the ground in the coach allows you to enjoy so much more of all that you can see. Coach travel, compared to cars or even trains it is claimed, is environmentally friendly too.
It is not the first time that I have taken a coach trip. I have loved learning about where I have been. I have loved visiting some quite obscure little corners that I would never have thought of myself. I have loved meeting new and very interesting people. I have also loved leaving my car at home. Visit the website: www.findacoachholiday.com