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Saturday July 2, 2022

A Cinderella Day – My Tryst with Windsor Castle


I seem to have this strange inexplicable affinity for old architecture, grand mansions, palaces and castles. One reason could be that I was brought up in the quaint French colonial town of Chandannagar. I was kind of hemmed in an enclave of architectural bonanza. As a little girl I used to be in complete awe of the innumerable estate houses, villas and manors that dotted my road to school. I had no access to these mansions and would only imagine the interiors, the plush living inside as read in novels and literature. I would dream of taking a peek inside those walls and feel their grandeur. 

The entrance to Windsor Castle

Those little eyes of curiousness in later years had travelled many a magnificent palaces, castles and chateau in different parts of the world. Was awestruck by the ostentatious Palace of Versailles and The Apartment of Napoleon III, in the Louvre. The artistic lavishness of Doge’s palace in Venice or Pitti Palace and the Medici Palace in Florence, Italy, had left me in wonderment. The medieval Prague Castle known to be the largest ancient castle in history was fascinating. It was so far an amazing pathway through all those palaces now turned to Museums. 

Today, I am on my way to the Windsor Castle. It was a short train ride from London to Windsor and Eaton Central train station. During a changeover I was taken aback by the striking resemblance of architectural design of the train station of Slough to that of Chandannagar. The layout, the design and even the teal colour of the wooden scalloped trimmings was similar. Truly it is a moment of juxtaposition…where am I…in Chandannagar or at Slough!!  It was in every sense a discovery…one of a unique familiarity! 

The train rolled through the lush greens of the London suburbia before it pulled up at the Royal Windsor train station. The imposing Walls of the Royal Castle was visible immediately on arrival, and this transported me back in time. It seemed unbelievable that I was inside this 11th century fortress. Dashing past a statue of Queen Victoria we were soon in front of the castle. But the long serpentine line for the tickets kind of baffled me, realizing that this could be completely avoided if we bought the tickets online. But at this time there is no point crying over the spilt milk. So we did the best thing possible that was to take turns to keep our place in the queue and multi task. 

Checking out on the fish and chips joints round the corner seemed to be a great idea.  Soon we were thrilling on some battered fish and chips with coke. The handmade fudge from the cafe turned out to be the devouring dessert of the day. The Square was lucrative with hordes of souvenir shops.

I wondered who would dare to pelt a stone at a royal window

Soon we walked through the gates into the Royal Castle wandering the astounding grounds, marvelling at the architectural delight. Among all the wonderful things, the most surprising was a broken window pane of the castle. Couldn’t help wondering at the dare devil that pelted his stone at Her majesty’s window. 

As we turned the corner, there is a Moat that surround The Round Tower. This reminded me of the first moat that I had seen outside of the Red Fort in Delhi many years ago. I remembered the guide explaining how a moat protects a fort from enemy attacks. And this Castle has been under siege many a times.  Little wonder that all the century old masonry has survived within this present building. 

The moat that surrounds the castle

We walked into this Gothic Palace, trampling down history.  The transformation of the palace into square towers and high octagonal stair turrets was evident. The decorative schemes on the walls, the panels and paintings echoed the different eras and activities that were central to the life of this castle. This Quadrangle or the Upper Ward houses the formal State Apartments with its hourly ceremonial Guard change which is worth witnessing.  

There were so many bits and pieces of my many reads that I was lacing together. The Round shaped building was kind of linking to the myth of King Arthur and the knights of his round table and the order of the Garter. Legend, history and the present day seemed all aligned. 

I was excited to walk out to the adjacent North Terrace, taking a peep through the cannons, into the vistas of the Thames Valley and the city of London.

Change of guard at the castle

I stood there for a good fifteen minutes. Inhaling and absorbing the spectacular imagery. Clicking pictures, sweeping all the 360 degree views of the vista. From the terrace I could see below the lower ward, a sprawling courtyard with two cloisters and the cobblestone pathway that led to the Saint George’s Chapel. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and before I headed towards the chapel below, I took one last look at the magnificent structure of the castle. I couldn’t believe that on one November night in 1992, this immensity of a structure was on flames and was almost completely destroyed. An electrical fault had caused the fire. The ceiling nearly fell off and hours of strenuous efforts saved the castle and all the works of art. The devastation was humongous and it took five years to complete the restoration work. 

cannon inside windsor castle
The view from the North Terrace is beautiful

Slowly I walked towards the Royal Mausoleum below to the Saint George’s Chapel. The chapel had been witness to a long line of royal nuptials and unions. It has been the venue of the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. This medieval gothic chapel also houses the tombs of the Queen Mother and the ten monarchs. The wonderful Queen Mary’s Doll House is also situated at this Lower ward of the castle. The House of Windsor is so unique. It is a royal prison, and also the residence of King George VI and the Royal Family. For a moment it seemed I was part of a history and in the next moment I felt I was part of an enchanted fairy tale. 

windsor castle
The Queen spends her private weekends in this castle

What sets my footway differently at Windsor is in the fact that here I am not in just another museum. I am at the family home of the British kings and queens for more than a thousand years. It is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. This is where Her Majesty The Queen chooses to spend her private weekends. And today as I am visiting the castle, The Queen is in the House. I am more than lucky, to look at the flag flying from the Castle’s Round Tower, it is the Royal Standard Flag, signifying the presence of Her Highness. The Queen Elizabeth ll, is present at the very premises. It is indeed very big for me, to realize that I am sharing the very grounds with a real Queen, walking Her Majesty’s very path. I am privileged to view the same vistas as that of an actual Queen! The hours went by like in a fantasy or a fairy tale. Or was it my Cinderella story!!

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