It was lovely to enjoy a day at Windsor Castle last week being guided rather than guiding. At a special Blue Badge Guides update event we were taken on a wonderful tour of parts of the Castle that are not always included in a standard visit itinerary.
After a leisurely wander up from the car park (having left my Coach behind for the day!), and a warm welcome from the team at the Admissions Centre, our first stop was the exhibition on King Edward III in St George’s Chapel.
This month marks the 700th anniversary of the birth at Windsor of this great medieval monarch. who, in 1348, founded the Order of the Garter and The College of St George at Windsor where the Knights of the Garter, headed by Her Majesty the Queen, still gather each June for the Garter Ceremony.
We were then taken by Miss Charlotte Manley, Chapter Clerk, on a very special tour of the medieval Canons’ Cloister which is reaching the end of a huge restoration project. We learnt how the 1960′s restoration involving concrete and (rusty) chicken wire has been replaced with the traditional method of construction, proven over centuries, using chestnut wood lathes covered with layers of lime and horse hair render, the latter incorporating a symbolic contribution from ponies in the Castle’s Royal Mews!
We felt incredibly privileged to be taken into one of the original 26 one-up-one-down bays built to house the canons and priest-vicars whose role was to pray daily in St George’s Chapel for the 26 Knights of the Garter, and (with the removal of some interior walls), still housing some of the Chapel’s canons today.
The next part of our visit took us through the State Entrance Hall of Windsor Castle’s State Apartments (literally treading in the footsteps of Monarchs and heads of State from all over the world over hundreds of years) with a spectacular view through the State Entrance portico along the three miles of Long Walk to the equestrian statue of King George III on the horizon.
Our visit to the Great Kitchen started in the crypt under St George’s Hall which was ‘re-discovered’ after the Windsor Castle Fire nearly twenty years ago on 23 November 1992 when 1.5 million gallons of water were poured onto the castle over a period of 15 hours. Apparently only 9 rooms in the Castle were badly damaged by the fire, but 100 were affected by water damage. The crypt has been drying out ever since but is now back in use as a multi-purpose area.
Passing under the Lantern Lobby we saw another reminder of the fire in the exposed scorched stones, before arriving in the spectacular Great Kitchen, which has been in continuous use as a kitchen for 750 years! It will be in use again later this month for a State Dinner for 160 people in honour of the State Visit of the Emir of Kuwait. That the main kitchen clock is deliberately kept 5 minutes fast indicates the precision of these events with nothing left to chance. At least the use of lifts nowadays to transport the food up to the serving area reduces the risks of droppage for which eventuality a few extra plates are still prepared…
Windsor Castle is one of our favourite places to take groups of visitors who never fail to be both amazed and delighted. The winter months are my personal favourite time for a visit with the Castle bedecked for Christmas as it was in the time of Queen Victoria, the glorious Semi-State Apartments open to the public for a few months and no crowds at all!
After last week we will have even more stories to tell our visitors, and for those with enough time a visit to the Great Kitchen will be a special treat. At the end of the tour I treated myself to look at Queen Mary’s Dolls House – on a November afternoon it was completely empty and a real treat to be able to relive childhood visits without having to keep track of a group of very excited visitors!
Blue Badge Tour Guide