As I probably mentioned when I last wrote about Windsor Castle, you can get your ticket stamped so that you can return as many times as you like within the next year. I took advantage of this on Saturday when I returned to Windsor to visit Frogmore House (on which more later).
My reason for returning was to experience two tours that are only available during August and September. These are Conquer the Tower, which allows you to climb to the top of the famous Round Tower, and The Great Kitchen, which allows you to see inside the oldest working kitchen in the UK (and possibly the world). These tours cost extra, but I didn’t mind this too much as I was able to get into the castle itself for free.
Conquer the Tower
I had to be inside the Engine Court for both tours. For the Tower tour there was a covered space beside the entrance where lockers were stored: we had to put our bags in here. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the building or in certain directions when we were outdoors, as you are not allowed to take photos of the Queen’s apartments. However, there was plenty to photograph even with these restrictions.
Our guide was brilliant, knowledgeable and friendly. He pointed out the narrowing staircase, allowing for better defence of the Tower, and the cannon poking out of the wall above us. There are 200 steps up to the top of the tour, but luckily we were able to break our journey partway through. There is a slope around the mid-level of the Tower, which was designed so that soldiers could drop boulders from the top and have them bounce off at an angle and land on any unfortunate enemies trying to besiege the Castle!
The view from the top of the Tower was great. We could see over the town of Windsor itself, as well as the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park (down which I would walk later to visit Frogmore House).
In the other direction we could see as far as the Shard in London, although we couldn’t quite see Wembley Stadium which is sometimes visible on a clear day.
By a happy coincidence, our tour was timed to coincide with the Changing of the Guard, which we were able to observe from up above. The band also obliged us by playing, not a hymn or patriotic anthem, but Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen!
I really enjoyed the tour – but it was a little chilly up there, so I wasn’t sorry to descend. On the way down, our guide told us that a twelve-year-old boy was buried under the staircase – he had died of the plague many centuries ago.
The Great Kitchen
The meeting point for the Great Kitchen tour was on the other side of the courtyard. We were taken through the exit from the State Apartments, past the lines of people getting their tickets stamped, and through a slightly hidden door. We were shown the undercroft (sadly, our tour guides told us that they didn’t have access to the impressive wine cellar!), one of the oldest parts of the castle which was only properly discovered after the fire in 1992 (previously it had been converted into offices).
The kitchen itself is huge, with a high ceiling and lots of space. I loved the contrast between ancient and modern: the kitchen space is incredibly old, and there are still some old cooking ranges present, but the worktops are stainless steel and the lowered lighting is designed so that chefs have an excellent light to work by. The ceiling is cleverly designed: it looks very old, but it in fact conceals air vents. There were photos on display showing some of the impressive creations concocted by the chefs, who are responsible for cooking for State banquets. Sadly I couldn’t take any photos of the kitchen, but it’s pretty impressive. Lastly we visited the pastry kitchen, where desserts are created.
If you are visiting Windsor Castle during August or September, I strongly recommend including one or both of these tours in your visit – the Tower tour in particular.