“There is something for every camper at this Berkshire town with royal connections, says Natasha Al-Atassi
WHEN MY fiancé Steve suggested driving to one of the most popular tourist areas in the UK on a bank holiday weekend, I thought he was mad.
Just outside London, Windsor is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the capital’s hotspots for culture vultures, while it is set in just enough countryside to appease ramblers. I envisaged our peaceful three-day break to be noisy, sweaty and crowded with tourists. But I was wrong.
Ok, so we weren’t the first to have the same idea but Windsor is still the beautiful countryside location that I had my mind on.
Although the Amerden Caravan and Camping Park in Maidenhead was just a one-mile walk away from Taplow train station, which would see us arrive in London’s Paddington in just 30 minutes, we opted out of a trip to the capital. As soon as we started flicking through the leaflets of the surrounding area, we realised that there was enough nearby to easily keep us amused for the next couple of days.
The campsite itself was very welcome after our long drive and we pitched our tent underneath one of the many shady fruit trees – a reminder that this site used to be a beautiful orchard. Amerden is a self-sufficient ‘no-thrills’ site, knowing full well that people visiting are coming as a stop-off for a trip to London. Indeed, the many local attractions, which include children’s favourites Legoland and Thorpe Park, provide as much entertainment as holidaymakers really need. So on that note, we decided the best way to make the most of our stay was to head to the thing that invited us here in the first place – the historic town of Windsor.
With over 1,000 years of history, Windsor is one of the most famous sites in the UK – mainly because of its regal heritage. It is not only home to the royal quarters of Windsor Castle but it is a short drive from Eton, where Princes William and Harry went to school. Castles, riverside walks, boats – even cheerful tourist tat… this royal town has it all
Heading into the centre – only a ten-minute drive from the campsite – the castle’s impressive circular turret is likely to be the first thing you see. It looms over the small town and entices visitors from all over the world to amble through Windsor’s winding streets. As well as being undeniably beautiful, 11th-century Windsor Castle is also the oldest and largestcastle in the world that is still occupied by royalty. For a closer look at royal life, you can take tours of the State Apartments and the 750-year-old Great Kitchen – the oldest in the UK and still serving up a royal breakfast. We didn’t make it inside but we were still able to catch the Changing of the Guard, which takes place throughout the year.
Windsor’s town centre is an incredibly inviting place. Cobbled streets, pedestrian courtyards and quaint independent shops make Windsor the epitome of a traditional English town – if they all had royalty as residents.
There is plenty to see – including an old steam train at Windsor’s railway station – and plenty of places to sit outside and sip a cappuccino or two. When we strolled past the Crooked House of Windsor, we knew that this was where we had to stop. Situated right next to the castle, this is the only Royal tearoom in the whole of Windsor. And by its crooked timber structure, is also one of the funniest-looking buildings I have ever seen. Built in 1592, this café adopted its tilt after being restructured with unseasoned oak in 1687. Still, it is one of the most memorable and historically significant buildings in the UK, having been the location for many secret royal rendezvous.
After soaking in the busy market- town atmosphere we headed towards the river. The River Thames is quite beautiful here. The bank is surrounded by weeping willows, stretching their long arms into the water, and little rowing boats and barges dot the edge, with happy families enjoying the ambiance.
Not ones to miss out, we jumped on a little boat of our own, forgetting until we were wobbling in mid river that we weren’t the best rowers. Still, it provided plenty of laughs and fantastic views. Ok, so we weren’t the first to discover this beautiful town and we definitely weren’t alone, but with enough character to survive the next few hundred years, it’s no surprise that people from all over the world want to visit.
And as we sat in our warm tent that night, surrounded by tourists with the same ambitious holiday plans as we had, we talked about the many things we could do here had we got more time.
“Go Ape,” I said, my voice soaking with childlike eagerness. My fiancé had unleashed enthusiasm in me for this little town in the south that I don’t think he was anticipating, and in the deep of the night was probably regretting. “Or the Roald Dahl Museum and, ooh, ooh, the Bekonscot Model Village. I know, Thorpe Park…!”
WINDSOR CASTLE A trip to Windsor isn’t the same without a visit to its castle. One of the few Royal residences that the public can explore, an excursion around the premises is a unique insight into how the other half live.
One of the highlights is watching the Changing of the Guard. The 30- minute ceremony takes place outside the Guardroom, when they march up the High Street to the Castle. Web: windsor.gov.uk
LEGOLAND WINDSOR Legoland Windsor, with its life-size Lego rides, has long been a favourite for kids, as well as adults. The theme park has a whole host of thrilling rollercoasters for bigger children and everyone will marvel at the many models, including dragons, pirates and camels, made from more than 55 million Lego pieces. Web: legoland.co.uk
THE ROALD DAHL MUSEUM AND STORY CENTRE Roald Dahl fans will be thrilled to check out the museum devoted to the legendary novelist. Kids can find out more about his stories and infamous characters such as the BFG, the Twits and Matilda, as well as watch extracts from the books that were turned into movies. Visitors can also find out about Dahl’s childhood, dress up as one of his characters and take part in a number of events put on for children. Hungry hippos can take a break at Cafe Twit, where they can enjoy tea and cake. Tel 01494 892191 Web: roalddahlmuseum.org
BEKONSCOT MODEL VILLAGE AND RAILWAY The Bekonscot Model Village and Railway, located a 20-minute drive away in Beaconsfield, is a great place to spend a day out with kids. There are more than 3,000 teeny inhabitants living in the 1:12 village that depicts rural Bekonscot as it was in the 1930s. Kids can walk between the streets, watching the miniature characters go yachting and follow little steam trains travel down the Gauge 1 model railway. The 1.5-acre site hosts a huge range of little houses, green hills, castles ad windmills that will keep little children fascinated. Admission prices are £5 for children and £8.50 for adults or family tickets are available for £25. Tel 01494 672919 Web: bekonscot.co.uk
WEBSITES windsor.gov.uk, windsor-racecourse.co.uk, royal-windsor.co.uk, thamesweb.co.uk, royalcollection.org.uk
Amerden Caravan and Camping Park
Old Marsh Lane, Dorney Reach, Maidenhead SL6 0DZ Tel 01628 627461 Web: amerdencaravanpark.webs.com OpenApril-October
Facilities: Toilets and showers, children’s playground and laundry facilities.
Details: This campsite is the prefect stopgap location for campers who want a place to stay while they visit the many nearby attractions. The pretty family run site is dotted with fruit trees, which provide shade and protection from the weather. Kids can enjoy the facilities of the play area while adults can find plenty of places to set down their barbecues and grill some delicious food.
By car: Leave the M4 at junction 7, turn left towards Maidenhead and turn left at the second set of traffic lights and follow signs for the caravan site. By rail: The nearest train station is Taplow, which provides railway services six days a week( not on Sunday), twice an hour to London Paddington (30 minute journey). There are also trains via Slough to Windsor and Eton Central.”