Windsor’s a win, win for groups

Venue: Windsor
Date: 24 Sep 2011

Rob Yandell joined a large group of readers to explore Windsor and the surrounding area.

I arrived in Windsor early and knew straight away it was going to be a good day. I had made good time on what was a straightforward journey and sat at the open window of a coffee shop gazing across at the majestic walls of the castle as the September sun shone brightly. I’m definitely coming back here, I thought.

Windsor will charm you as soon as you step off the coach with its picturesque lanes and cobbled streets dotted with quaint shops, restaurants, bars and pubs. I was due to meet readers also eager to explore and so walked into the lounge of the Mecure Windsor Castle Hotel, which as the name suggests is right in the heart of the action on the High Street. After I had met both new and familiar group organisers, Julia White, visitor manager for The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead welcomed us.

The travel team are on hand should you want to find out more about taking a group to Windsor and the surrounding area. They can help source the right accommodation at the right price and assist with group itineraries, guided tours and attractions. We also had time to see the bedrooms at the Mecure Windsor Castle Hotel, which is a property with appealing character.

“I think it’s been excellent. I’ve been here before but I’ve seen things I don’t normally see. And as a result I’m looking at doing a trip, certainly on the river and possibly more. In Windsor we went down a side road and saw Windsor Great Park. We live fairly local and we never realised it was so close to the town.”

Sue Poole, Wooburn Outings, Buckinghamshire

Today, our first stop would be the wonderful Savill Garden located in Windsor Great Park, just a short coach ride out of the centre of town. There is plenty of coach parking and the sight of the Savill Building is highly impressive and home to a large, well stocked shop, a small plant centre, restaurant and the all important group admission desk. Our welcome was a warm one and readers had the choice of wandering the gardens under their own steam or joining Harvey Stevens for a taster guided tour, which is exactly what I chose to do.

Harvey’s skill at walking backwards whilst sharing a seemingly endless array of facts and stories without tripping over, only highlighted how well he knows the place. Albeit we were between seasons we still saw plenty of colour as we toured the Summer Gardens, Rose Garden and Hidden Gardens to name but three. And, as Harvey explained, you can visit numerous times throughout the year and always get a different experience. Not only is The Savill Garden a wonderful place to visit, but they know how to care for coach groups. Different catering options, discounted rates, a meet and greet, and various combination tour options with local attractions are just some of the things to chew over. Frogmore House wasn’t a part of this familiarisation but is another combination option for visiting groups. The house is only open to the general public on two occasions each year but you can make arrangements for a private tour and add this to your itinerary.

Back in Windsor, we had a very small taster to what a walking tour might entail. Professional Blue Badge Guide, Laura Comley-Smith led us down charming streets as tourists and locals dined alfresco in the warm sunshine. Laura is available to hire from £140 for a half day (four hours) and can be as involved as you like. She is also accredited to guide you around Windsor Castle and also revealed how close the marvellous Long Walk is from the centre of town. There are so many benefits of using a professional guide with local knowledge.

“We seem to have seen so much. The boat ride was very good and The Savill Garden was lovely as I’ve never been there before and I intend to go back. I’m thinking about bringing a group next May and do The Savill Garden in the morning and then we’ve got to decide whether to do a boat trip or the castle in the afternoon. I’m thinking at the moment the castle as there’s far more here.”

Jill Moyes, Harlow U3A

A short stroll down what were now very busy streets (it was a Saturday after all) took us to the river for our lunch cruise with French Brothers. The family operator can offer a number of different trip options taking you from Windsor to Runnymede, Maidenhead, Hampton Court and Henley. Jazz cruises, Christmas parties and sing-a-long suppers were just some of the ideas we were presented with as we meandered down the river whilst enjoying lunch and live commentary. You can also combine a cruise with admission to other local attractions and group organisers go free on the cruise if you take enough people, with various catering options available.

The latter half of the afternoon took us to perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in Windsor and the official residence of The Queen. Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and its location in the heart of the town is simply breathtaking. You may opt for a live Blue Badge tour, but the audio guides are excellent. With not much time on our hands most of us headed to St George’s Chapel which is intimate and yet majestic all at the same time.

The State Apartments are one of the obvious highlights and I thoroughly enjoyed touring them. Introduced this year, small groups have also been able to climb the 200 steps to the top of the Round Tower during August and September, and it is hoped you will be able to do so again next summer. For groups you can always experience something a little special. The private guided tour of the Great Kitchens to the State Apartments is one alternative, and you can even take a private evening tour during certain periods if booked in advance.

“It’s been very successful, interesting, picturesque and full of different ideas. We’re definitely bringing a group here in the New Year. The boat trip was lovely and we’re thinking of doing that as a Christmas special, which we wouldn’t have thought of before.”

Deirdre Nicholls, Enfield Bowling Club

There is so much to see and do in Windsor one day isn’t enough. A short break would give your group a hugely enjoyable few days in my view. Plus, it is a good base to explore further afield and I include London in that too. Reader feedback was really good and I for one will certainly return – hopefully sooner rather than later.

Useful contact:
The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead:
01753-743918
www.windsor.gov.uk

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