As the royal wedding approaches, our blogger offers a surprising tip to Prince Harry on how to spend his honeymoon.
When Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor, better known as Prince Harry, walks down the aisle of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on 19 May 2018 to marry Meghan Markle, those of us who don’t have a personal invite will be watching weepy-eyed on TV. Though the concept of a monarchy may seem a bit outdated in the 21st century, there’s something irresistible about the pomp and pageantry that goes with a royal wedding, and Windsor does pomp very well indeed.
Now, Harry (can I call you that?), I’m sure you are planning to zip off with Meg (can I call her that?) to the Caribbean or somewhere out of public sight as soon as the ceremonies are over, but let me suggest that you do something totally unexpected. Why not spend your honeymoon beside the River Thames in Windsor, and give Meg a taste of true British culture?
Of course, first you should show her round the castle, but I shouldn’t bother with all the rooms, just enough to impress her. You might mention that it’s the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, and that it was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1070, because he deemed the site “a place appearing proper and convenient for royal retirement on account of the river and its nearness to the forest for hunting, and many other royal conveniences”. Perhaps you’d better not mention the fire of 1992, when thousands of irreplaceable treasures went up in smoke. It might give her bad dreams on the big night.
When you go walkabout, first point out the Guildhall, built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1687, and the Market Cross next door, which looks perpetually on the point of falling over. From there stroll down the spiralling road to the river, and join the throngs of tourists feeding the mute swans on the River Thames. As you’ll notice, the swans aren’t at all mute. In fact they make all kinds of grunting, croaking, hissing and snorting sounds, depending on their mood. Their name comes simply because they’re silent in flight compared to other types of swan.
Since you’re both sympathetic to worthy causes, you might like to cross the river and walk upstream a mile or so to Cuckoo Weir Island, where, hidden in the undergrowth, you’ll find Swan Lifeline, a sanctuary for sick and injured mute swans. You might be disturbed by the sight of those poor creatures that have flown into power lines or been bashed over the head by kids for kicks, but I’m sure your hearts will be warmed by the volunteers you meet there, who have helped to slow down the decline in numbers of this graceful bird.
Just before you reach Swan Lifeline, you’ll pass under one of many arches that carry a railway line into Windsor. This would be a good time to tell Meg the hilarious tale of the Great Railway Race. If you don’t remember it, it goes like this: In the mid-19th century, both the Great Western and South Western companies were given permission to build a railway line from London to Windsor, and a race began to see which company could complete their project first. It appeared that the South Western would win, as their line was almost complete and they announced that it would open in August 1849. However, a girder snapped while building Black Potts Bridge over the river, and the Great Western company worked night and day to complete the arches that you pass under near Swan Lifeline. Their chief engineer, Isambard Brunel, then rode in victory on the first train to enter Windsor in October 1849.
As you walk back east along the Brocas meadow, enjoy the picture-postcard view of the castle across the river. Now would be a good time to tell her that the name Windsor, once known as ‘Windlesora’, is actually an abbreviation of the words ‘winding shore’, a reflection on the river’s meandering nature as it passes through town. Some people claim that the word is derived from the word ‘windlass’, a kind of winch for winding boats up out of the river on to the shore, but it’s not as romantic an explanation, so I’d go with the former. In case Meg’s wondering, the Brocas was named after Sir Bernard Brocas, who was Master of the Horse to King Edward III back in the 14th century.
When you get back into Eton, instead of turning right back over the bridge to Windsor, turn left to show Meg your old school, Eton College, which, I believe, was founded by Henry VI in 1440 to educate ’70 poor and worthy scholars’. If you wander down the lane between college buildings, you can show her where and how the Wall Game is played. I’m afraid I’ve never understood just what is a ‘bully’ and why you can’t ‘furk’ the ball; nor do I understand why the ‘goal’ is a garden door at one end of the pitch and a tree at the other. And how come in 107 consecutive years, neither the Oppidans nor the Collegers have ever scored any goals?
From here you have a couple of choices. Either you can head straight back to the castle along Eton High Street and over the bridge, maybe stopping off for a curry or a pint of beer in one of the many pubs and restaurants along the way, or you can keep wandering east, out of Eton College grounds, over the new Jubilee River, under Black Potts Bridge (of the fated South Western railway line), down the side of Datchet Golf Course (keeping an eye out for stray balls), then over the Victoria road bridge and back to the castle via Home Park. Once you’re back at base, you’ll probably want a nice hot bath before sitting down with Meg for the long job of editing your wedding photos.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.