Over the past year, Dave and I have become activity enthusiasts when on holiday. Last summer, we went on a kayaking trip of Dubrovnik and went hiking through Plitvice Lakes and Buçaco in Croatia. This is where our obsession with holiday activities really began.
So it was with glee that I went on a recent complimentary biking trip to Windsor with Mind the Gap Tours. Unfortunately Dave couldn’t make it, but I took my fitness fanatic friend Dom along with me instead, and she loved it.
Even if she had a hangover. And it was freezing cold. With snow forecast.
I must admit, I was a little apprehensive and worried about cycling in such conditions. Thankfully, our guide, John, provided us with lots of banter and laughter to keep us warm on the bike ride through the Windsor countryside.
Windsor is picturesque. According to a recent survey by The Sunday Times, the most millionaires in all of the UK reside in the region, including Elton John, and it’s easy to see why.
Windsor is also home to another Queen – Queen Elizabeth II, who has her official residence, Windsor Castle, there. Another famous landmark is Eton College.
The good thing about the trip is that John likes to keep tour sizes small, so there were only five of us on the bike ride.
You can watch a one minute video of the tour above.
We started our adventure at Paddington Station next to the Paddington Bear statue. I’ve always thought of Paddington Bear as having Wellington boots on his feet, but John told us that the original bear didn’t wear any clothes at all – or boots. The designer, who happens to be the mother of Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame, only plonked Paddington Bear into wellies to help him stand upright. Just one of the many quirky facts we were to learn on the tour.
We took the train to a station close to Windsor where we picked up our bikes from the back of the Mind the Gap Tours’ van. Wearing a helmet was optional but if there are any helmets you’d like to be seen in, it’s these ones, as they’re rather trendy and have the Union Jack flag painted on them. I opted for the helmet for two reasons. When I was nine I nearly died from a biking accident but thanks to my helmet I was saved. The second reason was that I wanted to attach my GoPro camera to it.
We wound down a narrow dirt track adjacent to the river and enjoyed views of the countryside. Although it was a 12km ride to our final destination – Windsor Castle – it took us most of the morning to complete the ride because we took it slowly.
John stopped us every 10 minutes or so to explain places along our route. He told us that if you kill a swan that’s treason against the Queen and you’ll be sent to court for doing so. Interesting fact!
John also pointed out White Lilies Island, some of the most expensive real estate in the whole of Windsor. To rent a five bedroom house on the island would cost you about £7,500 a month. That’s £90,000 a year. You could buy a place in some parts of England for the same price…
White Lilies are the emblem of Eton College, where the island gets its name, and every year students from the college still visit the Tower of London on the eve of the anniversary of Henry VI’s death. Henry VI founded both Eton College and King’s College in Cambridge, which is why the students take the time each year to remember him.
We rode on to Eton College’s rowing lake which, John told us, is deemed one of the best rowing facilities in the world. Dorney Lake was used as the rowing venue during the Olympic and Paralympic Games for London 2012 and is now open to the public.
Dorney Lake cost £17 million to build and 10 years to complete. Although it costs about £30,000 a year to send your son to Eton, the lake was also funded by grants. Because the school is so old (it was founded in 1440) it’s still open to public funding. This might seem ludicrous, and it’s certainly been debated as to whether it’s government funds well spent, but the upside is that the public get to use the facilities too. We certainly enjoyed a pleasant bike ride around the lake.
Next stop was the manor house Dorney Court, which dates back to 1440 – the same year Eton was founded. John told us that it’s one of the few houses in the country still privately owned by the same family. The Palmer family have passed down Dorney Court to each generation throughout the years.
Many films have been made at the house, including The Other Boleyn Girl and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Unfortunately it’s only open two months of the year and April isn’t one of those, so we weren’t able to go inside. We did get a chance to have a quick pit stop at the Dorney Court Kitchen Garden however, which sells quaint trinkets and garden plants. John told us the Palmer family needs to open the house for functions and open days to pay for its upkeep, which is very expensive.
By this stage we were reaching the end of our bike ride and our pedalling brought us to a stunning view of Windsor Castle, overlooking the lake. It was a prime spot to take photos and from this view it was easy to see why Windsor Castle was built where it is – it’s the highest point in the area.
We left the bikes locked up and went from a jaunt through Eton itself. The town is very charming and is one of the last few remaining high streets without chain stores but instead unique boutiques.
We had a quick bite to eat in a café before heading off to Windsor Castle for our visit… Not before John told us where to have a drink afterwards though! Being the helpful guide, he ensured we made the most out of our day trip once more.
On our way back from Windsor that evening, Dom and I reflected on our time and decided it was certainly a worthwhile day out. We arrived back at Paddington nearly 12 hours after we’d left, with happy smiles on our faces. The hangover Dom had had in the morning had been blown away on our cycle and the places I’d seen had given me inspiration for my writing.
But it did leave me wondering… where in the UK should I go next?! Stay tuned…
What you need to know:
Cost: It costs £69 for a day trip on the Mind the Gap Tours trip to Windsor and it’s certainly worth it, as this includes train travel to and from London, entry fee into Windsor Castle (normally more than £17) and bike hire. Of course, it also includes your guide. John was with us from 9am until we entered the castle at 3:30pm, so we certainly got our money’s worth!
When to go: The Mind the Gap Tours trip to Windsor runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the warmer months of March – September. Even though it snowed on the day we went, we rugged up warm and it was still very enjoyable.
How to get there: The Mind the Gap Tours trip to Windsor starts and finishes at Paddington Station, which is on the Bakerloo, Hammersmith and City, Circle and District tube lines. It’s also on the overground train line.
Mind the Gap tours paid kindly provided us with a complimentary Windsor tour but as always, our views are our own.