Today is the first Sunday of Advent and this week I share my visit to see the royal decorations at the iconic Windsor Castle. The day trip was part festive, part reminisce (verb: to indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events) and part pilgrimage. Which seems entirely fitting as the year draws to an end.
Let’s get Christmas 2022 started!
The winter opening of the royal residences of His Majesty The King feature magnificent festive decorations. St George’s Hall, Windsor Castle. Photos courtesy Royal Collection Trust. ©
My favourite rooms were the Queen’s Gallery for its intimate atmosphere and collection of paintings, and the Crimson Drawing Room. The latter hardly needs any embellishment, it is so sumptuous. The oppulent colour and textures of the soft furnishings (carpets, drapes and upholstery) create a warm and inviting atmosphere. How wonderful it must be when the fires are lit (probably never now). The State Rooms are grand but curiously retain a family (albeit Royal) feel. No wonder then that it has been a favourite family home for centuries.
Windsor Castle. L to R: The Waterloo Chamber is one of the largest rooms in the Castle; garlands on the Grand Staircase include hand-gilded fruits and foliage inspired by the Dutch sculptor, Grinling Gibbons, carvings found around the castle’s State Rooms. Photos courtesy Royal Collection Trust. ©
Christmas Gift Shop
Windsor Castle and town. L to R: (top row) gifts in the main Christmas shop; the gift shop in the Lower Ward; royally inspired tree decorations; the gift for someone who has everything, a gold embroidered crest facecloth; (middle row) edible festive gifts; a King’s Guard standing sentry in the Lower Ward; festive street decorations in the town include an enormous purple crown;(bottom row) a tiny EIIR plaque set into the pavement near the Castle; kings and queens, tree decorations. Click on photos to enlarge. Photos Irene Caswell www.hashtagtravelling.uk.
The opportunity for gift shopping need not break the budget. It doesn’t cost anything to ‘window-shop’ (think Breakfast at Tiffany’s) or maybe add a small souvenir tree decoration to your personal collection.
St. George’s Chapel
Windsor Castle. L to R: a gateway decorated with festive wreaths; the Union Jack flying from the Castle tower indicates that His Majesty is not in residence; the exterior of St. George’s Chapel in the Lower Ward; the simple memorial stone at Romsey Abbey of Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and a British naval officer (1900-1979). A great-grandson to Queen Victoria, second cousin to Elizabeth II, Uncle to the late Prince Philip, and honourary grandfather and mentor to Prince Charles, now King Charles III. Click on photos to enlarge. Photos Irene Caswell http://www.hashtagtravelling.uk.
This was my first opportunity to pay my respects to the recently departed Queen Elizabeth II and in St. George’s Chapel it was slightly less busy. While photographs are not permitted, I will try to describe the complexity of feelings seeing the dark smooth ledger, a stone slab set into the floor, inscribed with the name and dates of the late Queen, her husband, Philip, and her parents, George VI 1895-1952 and Elizabeth 1900-2002. Although Princess Margaret’s ashes are also buried in the chapel her name is not shown. The reunion of the Royal family in death is very moving and, as expected, brought a few tears. The tiny chapel itself is set at ground level and there is little embellishment, compared to other elaborate historic chapels in many English cathedrals and abbeys. I was reminded of the similar ledger at Romsey Abbey, the resting place of the Earl Mountbatten. In both instances the simplicity is striking.
Staff urge visitors to keep the line moving or to ‘step back’ a little to contemplate the chapel for a few moments. The visit was a reminder that with few, if any, burials and graveyards mostly out of favour, how sad it is that we no longer have the opportunity to visit a loved-one’s grave and feel that sense of connection.
Windsor & Eton Central. A trip down memory lane. Once again, I took the three-carriage train, a one-stop shuttle between Slough and Windsor which I frequently took a schoolgirl to meet up with friends. From top left: the original station entrance now the gateway to a shopping centre; signage; The Queen replica steam locomotive of Queen Victoria’s own personal train; polishing up the engine. Click on photos to enlarge. Photos Irene Caswell http://www.hashtagtravelling.uk.
It was my intention to have afternoon tea in the Undercroft Café but the prospect of another long queue was too daunting. Gorgeous cakes though!
Travel tips: Book your ticket online in advance, the queue to purchase tickets on the day was long. Avoid going on the weekend if possible. Although I visited Windsor Castle on a Thursday, it was heaving with people throughout (including the queue to see the Queen’s Doll House). It was the first day of the festive opening, though, which no doubt contributed to the crowds. As tickets are timed I wasn’t expecting quite such a crush. And it did spoil the enjoyment, trying to see and admire the decorations, as well as the wonderful collections of rare porcelain, paintings and other artefacts.
Photography inside the Castle and the chapel are strictly prohibited for security reasons and you will be challenged, as happened with someone in front of me who started to snap a Christmas tree just inside the entrance. As you would expect security at the entrance is high and visitors pass through an airport-style process, removing coats and any metal objects, phones etc. A visitor in front of me in the queue had a switch penknife immediately and efficiently confiscated (illegal in the UK, thank goodness). All the castle staff are smartly dressed, highly professional and polite.
Christmas at Windsor Castle 24 November – 2 January 2023. Open five days a week Thursday to Monday, and excepting 24-26 December. On 8, 9 and 12 December there will be carols sung throughout the day by local community and school choirs beneath the Christmas tree in St George’s Hall. Adults £26.50 includes general entrance to the castle. An online evening lecture featuring Royal Collection Trust curators explore the history of royal Christmas traditions, including an exploration of rarely seen royal Christmas cards and journal entries from Windsor Castle’s Print Room. (6 December, £6 per ticket (or household, if more than one watching). www.rct.uk
Thank you to the Royal Collection Trust for a complimentary ticket to view Christmas at Windsor Castle.