There’s something extra festive about Windsor this year — and it’s not the giant Christmas tree, fresh out of Windsor Great Park, that stands beside the castle and a statue of Queen Victoria.
It’s the happy news that the Queen — the 39th monarch to call the castle home since William the Conqueror founded it in the 11th century — will be here for the big day.
A good starting point when visiting this Thames-side town is to stroll down The Long Walk, a straight line of horse chestnut trees that runs 2.6 miles from the George IV castle gates to the Copper Horse statue of George III.
The Daily Mail’s Kate Wickers visited St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where she discovered some surprising secrets
The Long Walk is a straight line of horse chestnut trees that runs 2.6 miles from the George IV castle gates to the Copper Horse statue of George III
Royal visit: The Queen will spend Christmas at Windsor Castle
The absence of stirrups on his horse is presumed by many to be a mistake by sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott. However, it was in fact commissioned this way to represent George as an emperor in the Roman tradition, riding without them.
The Two Brewers on Park Street is the most atmospheric tavern in town. Built in 1709, it has a wonderfully shadowy decor of dark wood, open fires and candlelight, making it perfect for a cosy lunch.
My route to the castle takes me along the High Street, and past the Guildhall (where Prince Charles and Camilla got hitched) with its famous pillars that Sir Christopher Wren added to keep the officials happy.
Next door is the Market Cross House, built in 1718, with its distinctive crookedness caused by unseasoned oak that warped after construction. In the basement, there’s a secret passage that leads to the castle, once used for illicit trysts between Nell Gwynn and Charles II.
In St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, I stand before the ornate quire. ‘Would you like to see something unusual?’ a warden asks me. He draws back a curtain to reveal the ‘elbow’ (arm rest) of the seat reserved for the monarch’s spouse, which bears a naughty carving of a goblin-like man ‘mooning’.
‘I like to think it keeps the Duke of Edinburgh amused during the Knights of the Garter ceremony,’ he says.
There are other secrets too, such as the 15th-century equivalent to CCTV found in a piece of stonework in the ceiling of the south quire — a hidden window in a secret room built by a devout and rather miserly Henry VI, who liked to keep an eye on the alms boxes just below.
Later, in a Victorian horse-drawn hackney carriage driven by Rebecca Seear, whose family began the business in 1849, we ride along in search of the 500-strong herd of red deer that the Duke of Edinburgh introduced to the Great Park in 1979.
Market Cross House has a secret passage in its basement that leads to the castle, once used for illicit trysts between Nell Gwynn and Charles II
During term time you’ll see the schoolboys from Eton College, pictured above, in their white ties and black tail-coats
‘I miss seeing the Duke,’ says Rebecca, referring to the days when the Duke of Edinburgh would drive his horse and buggy through the park in his scruffy tweeds, incognito to tourists.
Back in town, I pass the Edwardian Theatre Royal which opened in 1910.
Nell Gwynn was praised for her comic performances in the 17th-century theatre that stood there before.
Following the route taken by Jane Seymour’s funeral procession in 1537, I cross Windsor Bridge on to Eton High Street, where galleries and antique shops are housed in timber-framed Tudor buildings.
The red-brick buildings of Eton College dominate the remainder of the town, and during term time you’ll see the schoolboys, in their white ties and black tail-coats, sauntering to class like privileged penguins.
To make friends with a royal swan (the Queen owns all the swans around here), I buy a bag of bird food at the Mamma Mia Cafe by Windsor Bridge.
These birds may well be the closest thing to a royal sighting I’ll get this year, but while it’s unlikely that I’ll bump into Her Majesty, it is still rather lovely to know she’s there.