Written by Sophie Poston, Assistant Course Director at Somerville College
The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Windsor has been the home to British kings and queens for more than 1000 years. Building began in 1070, over 400 years before Christopher Columbus sailed to America. The Queen usually lives in Buckingham Palace during the week, but she spends most weekends at the Castle, and spends a month in Windsor over Easter every year. You can see whether she’s at home by checking which flag is flying above it; if it is the Royal Standard, then the Queen is there too.
There is so much to see here that this day-trip location never disappoints. To start off the day: Changing of the Guard, a famous ceremony through which the Queen’s guards exchange duties. People line the streets to watch the soldiers, in their bear-skin hats, march from their barracks to the castle.
Other highlights of the castle include St George’s Hall, which seats 160 guests at a single table when the Queen holds her State Banquets. Queen Mary’s Dolls House is the largest and most famous in the world. Created in the 1920s, it is complete with fully functional plumbing; both hot and cold water runs through the taps, and the toilets all flush. It also has electricity, with working lifts.
St George’s Chapel is a spectacular display of Gothic architecture. Some elements of this architecture will be familiar to savvy Oxford Summer Courses students, who have seen a similar fan vault ceiling above the dining room staircase in Christ Church, Oxford. Ten of our monarchs are buried here, including Henry VIII and Charles I, but despite its importance to the royal family, the chapel still holds services every day that are open to the public.
Before heading back to Oxford, there is a time to explore a bit of the historic market town in search of lunch. Some choose to picnic on the benches outside the castle, or down by the river, whilst others find traditional pubs, or even fish and chips. Just a short walk from the castle, over Windsor Bridge, is Eton College. Founded in 1440, this fee-paying, all-boys school is world renowned. Both Prince William and Prince Harry attended.
Back in Oxford, the day continues, with dinner in a local restaurant and then one of our evening activities such as a punting trip, a ghost tour of the city, karaoke or a debate.