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Make Windsor a whine free zone.

Byline: By Jim Levack

SHORT breaks can often leave frazzled parents wanting - no needing - another few days to get over the shock of being thrown together with their children.

Or maybe it's just me.

Usually our 'get away from it all' mini trips end up with me desperate to return to the safe haven of the Mail's newsroom and some half-sensible conversation.

Constant demands and squeals of "we're bored" usually accompany any trip.

But I'll let you into a little secret.

I reckon I've discovered the recipe for the perfect family break - and it's only about 90 minutes from Brum.

First take a top quality hotel where the staff are genuinely pleased to see children, throw in a wonderful relaxing spa, pool and gym... oh, and add a dash of Legoland.

Put the theme park visit in the middle of two adult days - one a guided tour of Eton School and the other a trip to Windsor Castle - and you'll have a whine free trip.

There was plenty of moaning as we pulled into picturesque Eton... "we're at school all week - why are you bringing us to one when we're on holiday?" - that sort of thing.

But within minutes of our guided tour around the learned and ancient halls of this bastion of Englishness, they fell silent.

As they sat in the oldest classroom still in use in the world - dating back to 1510 - they looked in awe at the graffiti in the old oak benches.

"Pickering, 1720" read one inscription - the legacy of a scholar now long gone who had abused the knife given to him to sharpen his quill. Boys were boys even then.

The ornate chapel, built along with the rest of the school by King Henry VI in 1440, was next - the children yawned until they heard how the pupils abused this too.

The buttresses on the outside of the chapel were the first venue for the game of fives, which was later to develop into squash.

Boys at the school which spawned 18 former British Prime Ministers still wear the top hat and tails, much to the amusement of our three in jeans and baseball caps.

But when they saw the armed combat which is the Eton Wall Game, the lads realised that branding them "toffs" to their face might not be such a good idea.

School over, we headed for the sumptuous Runnymede Hotel and Spa, easily the friendliest hotel I have ever stayed in.

After an evening chilling out in the pool, jacuzzi and steam room - the Spa also offers a wide range of therapies and treatments - the children were moaning again.

But Charlie Bell's, one of the hotel's three restaurants, soon calmed them down - it was high quality food, with a kids menu, in an informal setting perfect for families.

As well as being the perfect base for exploring the area, the hotel is close enough to Heathrow for anyone flying out.

Legoland followed the next day and there was more moaning, this time from mum and dad who didn't want to leave the Spa.

The hotel does special two adult, two children room plus theme park packages, and the park - crammed with white knuckle and less testing rides - is just 10 minutes away.

We told our five-year-old she was going to see the Queen the next day - the Royal Standard was flying above Windsor Castle after all.

"Where is she then?" came the constant carping as we wandered like tourists around the largest inhabited castle in the world.

There was, of course, no sign of the monarch but as I strolled through the gilded rooms of this incredible home packed with original works of art that had hosted myriad heads of state, I was caught on a flight of fancy.

I wondered whether Her Madj had ever been tempted to don a disguise and mingle with the crowds, or whether when the Castle was shut, the young royals had ever whizzed around the banqueting halls on a BMX.

Those images were so completely at odds with the sheer history of the place, built by William the Conqueror following his invasion of England in 1066.

If you do go, don't miss the Changing of the Guard at 11am on alternate days between July and March and St George's Chapel built in 1475 by Edward IV.

The lavishly decorated State Apartments featuring works of art by Canaletto, Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyck, is also worth a visit.

The children claimed they hated wandering through room after room, but no one visiting here can leave without thinking about the sights its walls have seen.

Windsor and Eton is an intriguing snapshot of what life used to be like at the seat of power in England, caught in a wonderfully English time-warp.

When children were seen and not heard, I told them.

Fact File

Jim Levack and his family stayed at the four star Runnymede Hotel and Spa (www.runnymedehotel.com) which is offering a two night bed and breakfast spring weekend rate of pounds 99 per room including use of the spa Legoland packages start from pounds 145 for one adult and child, rising to pounds 250 for two adults and three children with entry to the park and use of all hotel facilities included. For more information ring 01784 436171.

Ordinary admission to Eton College for individuals: Adults pounds 4, Seniors/Children under 15 pounds 3.20.

Admission plus one hour guided tour (daily at 2.15pm and 3.15pm): Adults pounds 5, Seniors/Children under 15 pounds 4.20 (children under 8 FREE).

Visit www.etoncollege.com or ring 01753 671177.

Entry to Windsor Castle is Adults pounds 13.50, Children pounds 7.50, Concessions (Seniors/Students) pounds 12, Family tickets pounds 34.50 (two adults, three children). During closure of the State Apartments Adults pounds 7, Children pounds 4, Concessions pounds 6, Family tickets pounds 18.

The charge includes a free audio guide. Visit www.windsor.gov.uk or ring 0207 766 7304.

CAPTION(S):

FASCINATING... Windsor Crooked House.' TOFFS... seat of learning, Eton College.' STICK TOGETHER... Legoland.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 24, 2006
Words:1021
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