WINDSOR: Enjoying a right royal weekend

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WE - that’s the Royal ‘we’ - are in Windsor, writes Sarah Crabtree

The Queen isn’t. ‘One’ can tell from the flying of the flag above Windsor Castle whether Her Majesty is in residence at her favourite weekend abode and, this weekend it appears, she isn’t.

Not to worry. There’s so much to do in and around this most beautiful of English towns we probably wouldn’t have had time to meet up with her anyway.

Windsor - just three-and-a-half hours’ drive from South Yorkshire down the M1 and round the M25 - is the perfect destination for a wonderful weekend break. There’s sightseeing and history, olde worlde pubs and modern shops, boat trips to enjoy and beautiful streets to wander.

And, in between exploring, our hotel - the Macdonald Berystede, just 15 minutes’ drive outside Windsor in neighbouring Ascot - was a haven of relaxation, with its own swimming pool and spa.

Within an hour of parking and checking-in to our comfortable room we were relaxing with a back massage and a facial, enjoying a refreshing dip in the pool, having our aching muscles pummelled by water jets in the indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool and garden hot tub, and reclining in the steam room, hot rock sauna, and invigorating ice cave.

In the evening we ate a delicious gourmet silver service meal in the hotel’s Hyperion restaurant, and enjoyed after-dinner drinks on the terrace outside.

We started our day next morning at Windsor Castle itself - and found it’s best to get there early. Six thousand tourists of every nationality pour into the castle every day and, even at 10am, the queue to get in snakes around the block.

The security screening once we’d collected our tickets was as rigorous as at any airport but, once inside the castle walls, the crowds seemed to disappear.

We spent a wonderful three hours exploring the castle, its stately rooms, and its eminently superior gift shops, our tour made all the more interesting by the entertaining Changing of the Guard ceremony and the audio-guide included in the admission price.

After a quick break for lunch in Windsor itself it was on to Eton College.

The six-centuries-old institution where princes and prime ministers have been schooled is open for short guided tours - and a visit is like stepping into another world.

We touched ancient oak desks carved with boys’ initials going back half a millennium, wandered the pebbled central courtyard, visited the dining room where the scholars eat their meals, and rested on pews in the college chapel while a choir prepared for an old Etonian’s wedding ceremony later the same afternoon.

After so much history it was time for shopping and a drink in a pub in quaint and pretty Ascot village, followed by an ice cream and a boat trip on the Thames. And so we rounded off our day with an hour’s trip and commentary, taking in views of the Castle, spotting the homes of celebs, and watching swans glide along gracefully as the evening sun shimmered on the river.