by Katie Calvert
The River Thames separates Windsor, home to Windsor Castle, and Eton, the town where the exclusive Eton College is situated. Windsor and Eton are splendid spots for sight-seeing excursions, as both offer visitors pleasant ambles along the River and through their charming town centers.
Visitors can also tour the castle and school that have helped shape so much British history.
Connected by a pedestrian-only bridge, it is easy for tourists to combine Windsor and Eton in one day of sight-seeing. A full day ticket on the double decker hop-on hop-off bus tour is a good way to see both Eaton and Windsor.
Windsor Castle dominates the skyline and history of Windsor.
Windsor was an important stronghold during Anglo-Saxon times, and King Edward the Confessor may have kept a manor in Windsor. However, it was William the Conqueror, who by choosing the location as the site for a motte-and-bailey castle, established that Windsor would forever be linked to the monarchy.
The almost 1000-year-old castle (and yes, it has been enlarged and spruced up a few times since Bill's reign) is an occupied royal residence of the monarch, serving as both a weekend retreat as well as a site for formal state events and entertaining.
The town center is made up of cobblestone streets (you might want to wear walking shoes rather than high heels when you visit) and features some interesting buildings including one labeled Nell Gwynn's house.
It is hard to miss The Crooked House of Windsor Café-Tea Room on High Street. The restaurant's notable tilt is the result of unseasoned green oak being used in a renovation project back in 1718. The upstairs tea roomsprovide views of Windsor Castle's Changing of the Guard ceremony.
The impressive building nearby on High Street known as the Guildhall is really a Town Hall, never having served as a guildhall. Construction commenced in 1687 it was designed by Sir Thomas Fitz who died before completion. Sir Christopher Wren completed it in 1689.
A changing of the guard ceremony parades around the Guildhall before passing a statue of Queen Victoria on the way to Windsor Castle. The ceremony's schedule "daily or alternate days" changes with the seasons.
Most of the swans that gracefully glide across the water of the Thames belong to the monarch. Each July, the Queen's Swan Warden oversees the Swan Upping—a week of counting and cataloguing this avian population.
Although it includes some trappings of ceremony that date back to the Middle Ages, the Swan Upping of today is more about conservation and science than royal ownership. The warden weighs and measures young cygnets and checks all the birds for injury (often caused by fishing lines and hooks). The birds are tagged with individual ID numbers so that the health of individual swans as well as the entire population can be monitored.
Arguably the most famous public (read private) school in the UK, Eton College has educated boys and young men since its founding in 1440 by King Henry VI. The school's full name is The King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor.
Its alumni list includes more than a dozen British prime ministers, as well as past and present leaders in business and industry; recent graduates include Prince William and Prince Henry.
Eton is a secondary school for boys ages 13 to 18; the student population is approximately 1,300. To see the Eton boys walk around the campus in their school uniforms of black tailcoat and pinstriped trousers somewhat belies the humble origins of the school's first students.
King Henry VI established Eton College as a school for 70 King's Scholars, all of them poor and on full scholarship from the Crown.
Eton's early history was a bit rocky. Having received lavish subsidies from King Henry VI—he of the House of Lancaster—Eton fell on hard times when its founder was deposed in 1461 by King Edward IV of the House of York.
The grand church that Henry had planned (he had wanted the nave of the college chapel to be bigger than any in Europe) was far from completed and lacked a roof. Protectors (including, legend has it, Jane Shore, who was Edward's mistress) and wealthy benefactors helped the school to survive and grow.
Visitors are welcomed during the "œopen season" of March through September. Admission grants access to the school yard, college chapel, the cloisters, and the Museum of Eton Life. There is an additional charge for optional one-hour guided tours in the afternoons.
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