There’s something particularly festive about Windsor this year – and it’s not the huge Christmas tree fresh from Windsor Great Park that sits next to the castle and a statue of Queen Victoria.
The good news is that the Queen – the 39th monarch who has called the palace her home since it was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century – will be here for the big day.
A good starting point to visit this city on the River Thames is to stroll the Long Walk, a straight line of horse chestnut trees that runs 2.6 miles from the castle gates of George IV to the copper horse statue of George III.
Daily Mail’s Kate Wickers visited St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and discovered some surprising secrets
The Long Walk is a straight line of horse chestnut trees that runs 2.6 miles from the castle gates of George IV to the copper horse statue of George III
Royal visit: The Queen will be spending Christmas at Windsor Castle
The lack of stirrups on his horse is considered by many to be a fault of the sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott. In fact, however, it was commissioned that way to depict George as emperor in the Roman tradition and to ride without them.
The Two Brewers on Park Street is the most atmospheric tavern in town. Built in 1709, it has wonderfully shady decor of dark wood, open fire, and candlelight, which makes it perfect for a leisurely lunch.
My way to the castle takes me along the High Street and past the Guildhall (where Prince Charles and Camilla stopped) with its famous pillars that Sir Christopher Wren added to keep the officials happy.
Next door is the Market Cross House, built in 1718, whose characteristic curvature is caused by unseasoned oak that has warped after construction. There is a secret passage in the basement that leads to the castle that was once used for illegal trysts between Nell Gwynn and Charles II.
In St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle I stand before the ornate ban. “Would you like to see something unusual?” A director asks me. He pulls back a curtain to reveal the “elbow” (armrest) of the seat, reserved for the monarch’s spouse, which features a cheeky carving of a goblin-like man “Moon”.
“I like to think that the Duke of Edinburgh is amused during the Knights of the Garter ceremony,” he says.
There are other secrets too, like the 15th-century video surveillance equivalent found in brickwork on the ceiling of the South Quire – a hidden window in a secret room owned by a pious and rather stingy Henry VI. Was built who liked to keep an eye on the alms boxes directly below.
Later we ride in a Victorian horse-drawn carriage driven by Rebecca Seear, whose family took up the business in 1849, in search of the 500-strong herd of red deer that the Duke of Edinburgh introduced to Great Park in 1979.
The Market Cross House has a secret passage in its basement that leads to the castle that was once used for illegal trysts between Nell Gwynn and Charles II
During school days you can see the Eton College students pictured above in their white ties and black tailcoats
Double rooms at the Macdonald Windsor Hotel start at £ 118 (macdonaldhotels.co.uk). Entry to Windsor Castle, currently closed, is £ 23.50 per person, children under five are free (rct.uk).
“I miss seeing the Duke,” says Rebecca, referring to the days when the Duke of Edinburgh drove his horse and buggy through the park incognito for tourists in his unkempt tweeds.
Back in town, I pass the Edwardian Theater Royal, which opened in 1910.
Nell Gwynn was recognized for her comic book performances in the 17th century theater that previously stood there.
On the route taken by Jane Seymour’s funeral procession in 1537, I cross Windsor Bridge to Eton High Street, where galleries and antique shops are housed in Tudor half-timbered houses.
The red brick buildings of Eton College dominate the rest of the city, and during school hours you can see students in their white ties and black tailcoats strolling to class like privileged penguins.
To befriend a royal swan (the queen owns all of the swans here), I buy a bag of birdseed at the Mamma Mia Cafe near Windsor Bridge.
These birds may be the closest thing to a royal sighting I’m getting this year, but while Her Majesty is unlikely to come across, it’s still very nice to know she is there.