18 High Street
Tel: 01753 252800
On this trip I rediscover some old haunts in the Royal county of Berkshire, take a wander along the River Thames and spot an errant Eton College boy and discover that ‘The Governor’ or Marco Pierre White as we know him is coming to town.
Sitting proudly opposite the castle in Windsor is the Castle Hotel. Steeped in over 500 years of history (it started out as The Mermaid Inn back in 1525) it now comprises of three main buildings providing 108 rooms and suites.
As I alighted at Windsor & Eton Central Rail station I realised that Windsor had lost none of the charm it’s always had. The ticket office might now be an information centre and Queen Victoria’s waiting room a coffee shop but time moves on and it looks well preserved and just as it did when I lived in Windsor many years ago.
The walk from the station took less than five minutes so arriving by train is a good idea although they have parking at the hotel. From London I travelled from Paddington to Slough I then changed onto the line that only goes to Windsor & Eton Central Rail station. The journey was short about eight minutes but I was able to look out over Eton playing fields and watch all the future prime ministers playing The Wall game and across the River Thames with a splendid view of the Eponymous castle of Windsor.
My suite looked out over the castle and was very comfortable with an enormous roll top bath in my bedroom. The living area had a TV and sofa and armchair. The interior of the hotel has some beautiful features such as the grade I listed fireplace and revolving doors. The cool bar with a great selection of drinks was the place for a nightcap but before that I had dinner with the general manager Paul Wilcock.
The restaurant was elegant and we had some great food and wine including scallops with risotto, venison and dumplings and a few other plates. Paul was charming company and as we chatted it became apparent that he wasn’t really talking about the restaurant very much. Then he let the news out. Marco Pierre White is launching a steak house and grill. This is a major coup for this boutique hotel, which is part of the Sofitel Group. He’ll be offering a range of classics including a good selection of fish and of course steaks.
Windsor Castle is the world’s oldest inhabited castle you can tell when her majesty is at home as the Royal Standard flies from the roof instead of the union flag. It’s a treasure trove for visitors to snoop about. The knowledge of liveried guides that look after visitors is vast so you won’t be short of answers if you’re curious about the history of the place.
I thought I’d take a stroll across the Thames to Eton. It hadn’t changed either, it still has a long high street with antique emporia, independent gift shops and quite a few pubs and restaurants. Of course it’s mainly known for the college founded in 1440 and those playing fields such as Sixpenny or Mesopotamia. Charlie Higson’s ‘Young Bond’ novels mine the history and geography of Eton superbly.
The high street is like a time warp with several outfitters dedicated to dressing the boys from Eton. Tradition was on display everywhere, the tailors with measures around their necks and paper patterns laid out over cloth ready for chalking. I saw a few dry bobs (non rowers) in tails scuttling to and fro with anxious looking foppish hair longer than you’d imagine it should be flowing in the breeze. The Tardy book has seen their signature before their first lesson no doubt.
The hotel offered an extremely good breakfast with all the usual delights and I tried ‘Poor Knights of Windsor’ the hotel specialty, a kind of eggy bread served with whipped cream and fruit compote. It’s said that the poor knights were impoverished soldiers required to pray daily for the sovereign and the knights companion Order of the Garter; in return they accepted a salary and were given lodging in the castle.
As meandered along the High Street towards the Long Walk I heard a brass band in the distance. I had completely forgotten that twice a day this happens. The Foot Guards from the Household division play their way around Windsor either to or from the castle. It was a striking scene that stopped traffic and couldn’t have been more British if it had tried.
The Long Walk starts at the castle. It follows a straight path to the copper horse statue of King George III. No motorised vehicles or bicycles are permitted so it was a very relaxing stroll. It took me through Windsor Great Park. Laid out in the 13th century it covers 5,000 acres and was used for hunting but now as an open park perfect for a summer picnic or a winter wander.
Staying at the Castle Hotel brought back many happy memories of my times in Windsor. The hotel was very comfortable offering great food, helpful staff and a tip-top location. The queen wasn’t ‘in’ when I stayed if she had been I probably could have waved to Her Majesty from my well-appointed chambers.