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Windsor & Eton

Windsor Castle (© David Joyner | iStockphoto.com)

Introduction

The twin towns of Windsor and Eton (combined population 60,000) are located in Berkshire, just west of London's ring road.

Windsor is a must see on anyone's sightseeing list of Britain. While its enormous medieval stone castle is one of the official residences of the British royal family, Eton College is judged by many to be the country's most prestigious school.

Attractions

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle (© Lisa Kyle Young | iStockphoto.com)

Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. Its construction began in 1075, soon after the Norman conquest of Britain, and expanded over the following centuries. It now covers an area of 26 acres (10.5 hectares).

Though built as a stone fortress intended for war, Windsor later became a residential palace for the Royal family. This is why unlike other medieval fortresses its interior is not far from spartan, but on the contrary is sumptuously decorated.

The State Apartments are furnished with magnificent pieces of arts, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto, Gainsborough, Holbein, Van Dyck and Lawrence, tapestries, porcelains, sculptures and armours.

On 20 November 1992, a fire ravaged about one fifth of the castle. Restoration works took five years and were completed six months ahead of schedule on 20 November 1997 at a cost of 37 million (US $59.2 million), 3 million below budget.

From September to March, visitors can access the richly decorated Semi-State Rooms (George IV's private apartments).

The ethereal Gothic style of the 15th-century St George's Chapel contrasts with the hefty walls of the Norman-era castle. The chapel, which looks like a small cathedral, contains the tombs of ten sovereigns, including Henry VIII and Charles I. It is also considered the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, the most prestigious order of British Chivalry, established in 1348 by Edward III and still existing.

The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11:00 am (except on Sundays), weather permitting.

Practicalities

The castle is open from 9:45 am to 5:15 pm (last admission at 4:00 pm) from March to October, and closes one hour earlier the rest of the year. The castle and chapel are closed several days of the year. Please check Windsor Castle's official website for the exact dates, which vary each year.

As of 2010 the admission price is 16 for adults, 14.50 for students and people over 60, 9.5 under 17 years old. It is free for children under 5 years of age.

State Apartments, Windsor Castle (© Albert Speelman | iStockphoto.com)
St. George Chapel, Windsor Castle (© Worakit Sirijinda | Dreamstime.com)

Eton College

Eton College is one of the UK's most elitist secondary school. It is a boys only establishment attended mainly by the children of the upper-class.

The school was founded in 1440 by Henry VI as a charity school, which is why, like many other exclusive private schools in Britain that grew from ancient charity schools, it is officially known as a "public school", which is in the UK is the opposite of a state-funded school.

Contrarily to most British schools, Eton is fee-paying, and the annual cost per student is of approximately 30,000 (about €35,000 or $45,000). The 12 elite independent schools in the United Kingdom are refered to as the 'Eton Group'. Students from these schools typically go on to leading British universities. About a third of Eton alumni attend either Oxford or Cambridge.

Eton is a boarding school, with 25 houses accommodating the 1300 pupils. Each house is headed by a housemaster, selected from the more senior members of the teaching staff, who number some 160. The compulsory uniform consists of a black tailcoat with a waistcoat, a false-collar, a white tie and pinstriped trousers. Etonian dress originated in the the 19th century and was reserved for formal occasions, though nwadays boys wear it for classes. Class sizes start at around 20 to 25 in the first year and are often below 10 by the final year.

For much of Eton's history, junior boys had to act as fags, or servants, to older boys. Their duties included cleaning, cooking, and running errands. Corporal punishment, generally known as "beating", was a common practice until the early 1980's, when it was abolished. It typically involved "birching" or "caning", that is to say flogging of bare buttocks with a rod.

Past pupils of Eton College are known as Old Etonians. The list of famous alumni is long. It includes such a wide range of people as the writer George Orwell, the economist John Maynard Keynes, the novelist Aldous Huxley, the actor Hugh Laurie, pioneer geneticist J. B. S. Haldane, or the 1st Duke of Wellington (the one who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo). 19 British Prime Ministers graduated from Eton, among whom Robert Walpole, William Pitt, William Ewart Gladstone and David Cameron. Eton also educated many monarchs, such as King Leopold III of Belgium and several kings or prices of Nepal and Thailand, and numerous members of the British Royal family (the latest being the Princes of Wales, William and Harry).

Eton College (© Karen Gentry | Dreamstime.com)
Chapel of Eton College (© Maciej Gozdzielewski | Dreamstime.com)

How to get there

The twin towns have two train stations served by different train lines. Windsor & Eton Riverside station is connected to London Waterloo station (50min), while Windsor & Eton Central has shuttle trains to/from Slough station, with connections to Reading and London Paddington.

By car, take the M4 (London-Bristol). is about an hours drive from central London.

               

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