Wednesday 11 May 2022
Flying out of Marseille late afternoon, we landed in Heathrow London early evening. Mounting a black cab (yes they still exist – more about them later) we took a ride to Windsor. Arriving at the Fairmount Hotel was quite impressive. Opened only a few months ago at the site of an old hotel, which had been added to in the same style of building, this place is impressive with its gate houses and long drive through a grove of trees opening onto large grounds complete with lake and nice gardens. It gives the impression of being a country estate. With a couple of electric-golf-cart-type-cars and some very polite and friendly doorman out front to welcome us it is all rather nice. The reception area is also rather nice with a huge spacious dome ceiling and well-trained, friendly staff. We checked in and headed to our room for a relaxing evening.
Sylvia was here to attend a CEO conference run by Critical Eye.
Thursday 12 May 2022
After enjoying a great english breakfast with Sylvia, I took a stroll through the grounds and to Bishopsgate Road. With large stand-alone houses on each side of the street, with their large trees gracing the grounds, it’s quite a nice area. Passing the Fox and Hound I arrived at the entrance to Windsor Great Park, run by the Crown. At over 5,000 acres, it is quite special, especially being so close to London and open to the public. Not far inside the park is a gate and a couple of pink buildings, apparently where Prince William and family live when in town.
Passing the prince’s pad and following the road around to the right I passed a mob of deer – stags in velvet and hinds with babies on board. Soon a large statue came into view on my left, situated on the highest bit of ground around. Mounted atop a large copper horse sits Kings Charles, heading west at a gallop. To the north is a sealed road heading all the way to Windsor Castle. The road is lined with a row of oak and chestnut trees on each side. The chestnut trees have white lantern-like flowers on them. I chatted to one of the Crown staff who was hanging a trap in every second tree; there is a moth that attacks the leaves, and if let loose the tree will lose all its leaves in a few days.
Standing by the statue I could see some large chimneys to the left of Windsor Castle. I asked a chap, who was doing some exercise, if it was a nuclear plant. “Yes, that’s the Slough nuclear plant, which is still operating.” A good way of telling the population it’s quite safe, putting it so close to Windsor Castle, I thought.
From here I headed down the long straight road to the castle. Lucky it was a week day and not the peak season as there were only a few people out strolling and walking their dogs. Arriving at the other end the gate into the castle was closed but a side gate opened up the way into the town of Windsor. There were a few people around taking photos of the rather picturesque pub close to the park entrance. There were also many expensive cars parked in the short street.
A couple of friendly policemen helped people with directions (remember those days) then came the real police, armed with M4’s, who patrolled the streets with that ‘keep your distance’ look about them.
I headed into a cafe and got a brew, which I was just finishing when I heard a military band spark up. Heading on to the street it was changing of the guard time. The band and the guard marched proudly through the streets with their heavy bear skin hats stuck firmly to their heads. Escorting them were four police armed with their AR rifles, something that is quite sad to see in these changing times. Following the parade they headed into the castle grounds. Heading to the ticket office and through security I was finally inside the grounds.
On the way in I picked up an audio guide and was really glad I did as it was one of the best and most descriptive I have come across. I headed first to the State Appartments. Heading up some steps the first stop was Queen Mary’s doll house that contains over 1500 to-scale-models of everything from cars to a small gramophone. With lights and running water its well worth a look. Unfortunately no photos allowed anywhere inside the buildings. I can however recommend that you take a look at the Royal Collection online at rct.uk.
Every item in the castle is owned by the Royal Collection Trust; the funds raised from us tourists go to maintain it. Wandering from room to room, the whole thing was outstanding and by far the best castle experience I have had. Every room, many bigger than a house, had a story; one king used to have a getting up and going to bed ceremony, which people could pay to come and watch, an idea he got from King Louis XIV of France. The same king had more than ten children, none with the queen, whom must have been rather tolerant.
There was a big fire here in November 1992, which severely damaged this part of the castle. Local staff turned out to rescue a large amount of the art we see here today. They even managed to get the large carpet out of one of the large halls before the fire got to it. Ceilings and floors collapsed – all have been restored using British Craftsmen. Many of the rooms contain large artworks by famous artists. Some walls are lined with swords, pistols and rifles. One display even contains the bullet that killed Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. Looking closely one can see the gold braid from his tunic on the projectile.
There are rooms here where famous people get to stay the night after one of the Queen’s special overnight dinners. This is also where the knights of the garter receive their investiture. Founded by Edward III in 1348 this is the most senior order of knighthood out-ranked only by the Victoria and George Cross. Only 24 living people can be awarded this at any one time.
It was the normal exit at such places “through the shop”. I stopped in at the cafe for some lunch before moving back into the grounds. Opposite the Apartments on the other side of what were the jousting grounds is where the Queen lives. Her standard (flag) flying on the tower indicated she was home today.
I entered a courtyard that overlooks the jousting grounds and the queens residence. Heading through an arch brought me out into the main grounds with St George’s Chapel on my right and the home of the poor knights on my left. The vicar on duty outside the chapel gave me a run down on the poor knights when I asked who lived in the building across the road. Their real name is The Alms Knights, established by King Edward III following the battle of Crecy (1346), when many of the knights were captured by the French. Many were forced to sell their estates to pay a ransom for their release. When the knights of the garter were established in 1348 veterans were called on to serve God continually in prayer. Twenty six alms, or poor, knights were appointed to pray four times a day for the sovereign and the knights of the order of the garter. Originally impoverished military veterans who received a small pension, now they tend to be retired colonels and above who escort the Knights and Ladies of the garter and attend the daily services at the chapel.
The trip through the chapel was stacked with history with quite a few kings and queens entombed in the building, some in the floor and some in large tombs above the ground. The audio tour gave a good idea of who was who and what they had done during their time in power. In one corner lays John Schorn, a vicar who ended a drought by striking his cane on the ground. He had healing powers and was famous for trapping the devil in a boot. This Gothic building was completed in 1575, and with its little statues and large stone blocks it a very attractive building.
After exiting the cathedral it was time for coffee in a little cafe opened in the 1600’s.
Arriving back at the hotel I booked a massage down stairs in the hotel’s elaborate spa. Apparently with their sauna, steam room, salt room and lots of other services they are in the running to be the UK’s top spa this year. Alex, originally from Poland, gave me an excellent, hard massage, relaxing the legs in particular after the 10 miles they had clocked up today.
Sylvia finished at around 6pm and we enjoyed a light meal in the restaurant and a relaxing evening.
Friday 13 May 2022
Yesterday, while chatting to one of the park staff, I had discovered that today in the park was some pretty serious horse racing. I had seen what looked like a show grounds out to the west of the road to the castle yesterday. Starting there today are three races, the first 100 kilometres, the second 75 and the third 60. So I wandered back to the park to have a look. One of the volunteers on duty just inside the park explained that after each round of the park (about 20 kms) there are vet checks carried out on each horse to insure it is still in good shape. If the horse finishes too fast they are disqualified or, if not up to it, can be dropped from the race after a vet check. I forgot to ask exactly what one had to do to win. Taking a stroll further into the park I eventually came across a bunch of horses in the race. Getting along at a controlled canter they weren’t covered in lather as I had expected despite at this point having been going for 3 hours.
On the bonnet of one of the helper’s cars was a promotion for the Mongol Derby, which is a 1000km relay race held in Mongolia to re enact Genghis Khan’s messaging service. THEADVENTURISTS.COM
Back at the hotel I checked out of our room and headed to the tea room to do some blog writing. While seated there I noticed a young guy learning to set the tables, his boss showing him in detail exactly where to place each plate and utensil so it’s all lined up perfectly. A little later Ryan, the hotel manager popped in and said hi. He had greeted us in the lobby yesterday and explained how he likes to meet all the guests. Next a group of nice ladies arrived for a high tea, chatting and enjoying the well-placed sandwiches and little cakes all laid out in detail, along with a glass of bubbles.
When Sylvia arrived having finished her conference, we went out to wait for our cab. The poor young waiter had to come and get me as I had walked out without paying. It was only his fifth day on the job; all credit to him he handled the situation very well and soon we were aboard an Uber and on our way to London city. An Uber driver with a Mercedes had picked us up and drove us to the Charlotte Street hotel without using the car mapping system.
Having checked into Sylvia’s favourite hotel we took a stroll to Oxford street for a bit of shopping. The town is very quiet with hardly a car in the streets we walked through. Even the many pubs only have a few patrons. It’s a lot different than the last Friday evening I was in London before the pandemic. Apparently lots of people in are only coming into London’s many offices Tuesday to Thursday so the pub night is now Thursday. Great for us but I wonder how these bars pay their rent.
Arriving at Oxford street it was packed with thousands of people. Don’t tell me people have given up the pubs in place of shopping! Large union jacks hang from wires strung high above the street celebrating the Queen’s up and coming Jubilee. It sounds like that is going to be a pretty big deal; let’s hope the Queen is in good enough health to get to the many celebrations.
Shopping over we headed back to the hotel and sat outside, where Sylvia enjoyed a high tea and me a glass of wine as we watched the few people that were out pass by.
Saturday 14 May 2022
After a delicious english breakfast (something one can’t find in the south of France) we took the tube out to Clapham to visit Molly, my cousin, and her husband Murray. Last time I was in town both had been struck down with a few medical issues and Murray was still in hospital. Both are now recovered and Murray was off to the local tennis club for a doubles game early afternoon. We had a good catch up over a coffee or two along with Hugh, a school friend of Murray’s who was visiting from Devon.
Next we wandered down the road and caught the #137 bus to Battersea by the Thames river. Well that was after getting on the first bus and going to the other side of town, the driver telling us to get off as we reached the end of the line. Battersea, originally a coal-fired power station was completed in 1935 and operated until 1980. Being the largest brick building in Europe with four 101 meter high chimneys, it is an impressive building. After closing in the 80’s it fell into a state of disrepair but in the last few years has been turned into apartments and an entertainment area with many bars and restaurants. We stopped and enjoyed a bite to eat at one of these while watching hundreds of people go by. The last few days in London had been exceptionally sunny so many people had taken to grabbing a piece of lawn and stripping down to their togs to absorb the sun’s rays. This was noticeable not just here but at the Clapham Common also.
We took a boat down the river to Vauxhall from where we caught the tube to Oxford street and a short walk back to the hotel. We spent the evening sitting outside watching the people go by.
Sunday 15 May 2022
After a late breakfast we caught a black cab to the airport for the flight home. The driver was an interesting and chatty bloke, who was very willing to share his knowledge. As we headed along Oxford street he explained how prisioners, destined for the gallows, used to be held at one end of the street prior to making the journey along the street to the gallows by Marble Arch where they would be strung up. On the way apparently they were allowed to do a bit of a pub crawl to enjoy their last few hours of life, hence the saying “one for the road.” When they had had their fill and could no longer walk they were put “on the wagon”.
I asked him why many of the black type cabs are now covered in sign writing. Apparently these are the cabs that are rented by the drivers. He also went on to say that drivers still have to do a test on where every street in London is to get their taxi badge. It takes several years to learn this and often people work part-time while studying. One has to be able to recite the directions to the examiner. The car this guy had was only weeks old and a hybrid. On a good day he can get 60 miles on a charge before having to run the generator (motor) but in the cold of winter that will drop to 30 miles.
Landing back in Marseille we noticed on the drive back that the grapes are starting to flower.
In the last couple of days, when out walking, I have noticed lots of work going on in the vineyards – from large tractors that straddle the vines with spray booms dousing the crop to workers, mainly woman, out with hoes taking care of the weeds. Today there was a tractor heading along the vines with a couple of what looked like brooms which omitted a spray to kill off any lower stems sprouting from the main vine.