England is a land full of castles. There are dozens of them, littering the landscape. Hundreds, if you include those where little of them remains. Some are grand, others less so and quite a few in ruins. For castle nuts, there are some choice classics to visit. Leeds Castle in Kent. The Tower of London. Herstmonceux and Bodiam Castles. Mrs P and I went to see one the weekend before Christmas. The granddaddy of castles. We went to Windsor. If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, who calls it home, then it’s probably good enough for us.
It’s an impressive beast that has benefited from the patronage of numerous Kings and Queens, who have taken it on and redeveloped it over the centuries. It might have been founded by William the Conqueror but I suspect there’s little to nothing left from his day. Subsequent monarchs have added/ rebuilt/ restored a splendid palace inside the grounds.
The surrounding area is pretty glorious too, although there is one view that smarts a little. And begs the question – who on earth decided to put ghastly Slough there? Aside from having one of the ugliest towns in the country as a neighbour, Windsor does have another little issue, which begs a second question – who on earth decided to put Heathrow’s flight path directly over the castle? Seriously. World’s most famous castle, right underneath the world’s busiest airport’s flight path. It beggars belief.
Windsor Castle has had its ups and downs over the years. Mostly ups. But there has been a significant down in recent times. Twenty years ago, a fire ripped through some of the most spectacular rooms of the castle, bringing down floors and turning numerous, priceless treasures into smouldering embers. More than a hundred rooms were utterly destroyed. The Great Fire of Windsor. For whatever reason, we British like to refer to anything of magnitude or importance as being great, even when it is quite patently not great at all. This was most certainly an event of magnitude. A national cultural tragedy indeed.
But our dear Royal Family are a resilient lot. I dare say that Phil, Chaz, Eddie and Andy were out and about to hire some tools to restore Windsor to its full glory within hours. That’s how I imagined it happened. It probably required some slightly more sophisticated tools than a few saws and screwdrivers, and perhaps even a degree of expertise. I suspect some professionals were called in. I suspect they brought in some pretty high spec tools with them. And they did a splendid job. It also turned out to be a significant turning point in the restoration of the monarchy itself.
My last visit to Windor was pre-fire, as a school age child. My memories of it are quite dim, to be perfectly honest. I think I may have been more impressed had we been allowed to fire off some cannon balls, or loose off a few arrows. Or had we been allowed to set fire to stuff. Boys in general, and me in particular, are like that. I’ll hasten to add that I had nothing to do with this fire. I have a number of alibis, thank you very much.
Restoring a castle of the grandeur of Windsor is a big ask. The walls were ok. Twenty three foot thick stone can take a few licks of fire without too much trouble. The wooden ceilings and interior fared less well. But no matter how big an ask something is, if you throw sufficient cash at it, it can be done. And a fine job they’ve done. Using unseasoned oak, just as had been done originally, the roofs and panelling have been reconstructed. You can see the cracking and imperfections that come with this old fashioned style of construction.
The restoration wasn’t an attempt to create (or recreate) an aged interior. It was simply rebuilt as new, and will be allowed to age naturally. As it did before. I was mightily impressed. Mind you, anyone who could stroll through the State Apartments with all their pomp, splendour and indulgence without being impressed is a soulless creature. Photos? Of course. You can see much Windsor Castle set by clicking here.