Windsor Original Tour – a Windsor bus tour with kids
Castles belong in history, I think we can all agree. A time of knights and ladies in pointy hats (and possibly dragons). So the thought of a working castle is still something which fascinates me – especially in Windsor’s case, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.
As well as getting to explore inside, to see everything from Henry VIII’s armour and a doll’s house belonging to a queen, you can spot the changing of the guard through the streets of the town, complete with music and spectacular red uniforms – while also knowing that the Queen might well be in residence inside.
But there’s more to Windsor than just the castle, even if all eyes will be focused on St George’s chapel for the royal wedding next weekend. So before the crowds descended, I hopped on board the Windsor Original Tour hop on hop off bus to discover just what you might see on a Windsor bus tour with kids.
The route itself runs from the Theatre Royal, just down the hill from the castle entrance out to Datchet and Eton, past Runnymede where King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, and back in a loop to Windsor, where you can amble up the aptly named Long Walk and spot some deer along the way back.
And while the Original Tour is only an hour long (if you don’t get off), it’s a lovely way to appreciate more of the countryside, as well as plenty of extra royal history along the way. I’d never realised that Old Windsor was the home of Saxon kings before the Normans invaded and built the first castle at ‘new’ Windsor, chosen for its position by the forests and the river.
There are plenty of quirky facts before you leave the streets of Windsor itself: discovering why Sir Christopher Wren needed a walnut to prove just how perfectly designed his Guildhall was, as well as a blue pillar box marking the first airmail flight. As a bonus, being up high on the top deck meant I spotted a few sights I’d never noticed before, including one small crooked building leaning drunkenly in a space between two upright neighbours.
And if, like us, your visits to Windsor have focused mainly on the castle and the town, there’s plenty to find along the route, starting with the rather unexpected realisation that the tall blue doors on the 19th century railway station were designed for the household cavalry to trot straight on to the platform to meet Queen Victoria’s train.
With all the spring flowers in bloom, and flags flying everywhere, the historic villages looked lovely – travelling across the river, we could gaze out across the fields, with their scatterings of yellow flowers, and enjoy the picturesque houses lining the road.
Thankfully the torrential rain of the previous day had gone, so we could make the most of the views from the open top… although as some of the remaining rainwater had yet to drain away, I was glad not to be wearing sandals!
Before long, we were in Eton, founded by Henry VI, with some enduring 15th century traditions still observed at the famous school. The king, remembered for his saintly behaviour and precarious hold on the crown (later murdered in the Tower of London by his victorious cousin), still has a statue in Eton College as well as a pub named after him.
Listening to the list of old Etonians, from the world of politics to literature, as well as the number commended with the Victoria Cross, it’s amazing to think how many famous names have come from one school.
The area gets its own mentions in literature – pretty Datchet turns up in Shakespeare’s play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Falstaff becomes the butt of a joke (returning to a pub that still exists in Windsor for some warming sherry afterwards).
Passing Windsor Farm Shop, supplied by the royal dairy, we slowed down for one of the best views of the whole tour: looking up the Long Walk to Windsor Castle and back down to Snow Hill, where George III sits astride his copper horse. No deer in sight in the Deer Park, but the swans were out in force on the river.
Protected by the Queen (and by my five-year-old with her sword, souvenir of our previous visit to Windsor Castle), we skipped the Harry and Meghan mugs to pick up some swan food and treat them to an early lunch.
Need to know
You can start and end the Windsor Original Tour at any point with 11 stops on the route, although the main starting point is at the Theatre Royal. Tickets are valid for 24 hours from the time they are redeemed.
Tickets cost £13 for adults, £7 for children and under-fives travel free. There’s also a family ticket available (two adults and two children) for £33.
Buses run every half hour between 10am and 4pm between April and October, and every hour between 10.30 and 15.30 the rest of the year. The full route takes around one hour.
As Windsor has regular royal events, it’s worth doublechecking to see if any road closures affect the bus tour running. Needless to say, there won’t be any on May 19, the day of the royal wedding, or from 10am to 2pm on May 17 thanks to a rehearsal in the town.
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Disclosure: My tickets were courtesy of the Original Tour Windsor. All opinions and small swan protector are my own.LIKED THIS? GET MORE ON FACEBOOK