Today we did something completely different. A few weeks ago, on our Friday staff email, I noticed that the Borough had been given some tickets to watch the procession for the Order of the Garter Ceremony within the grounds of Windsor Castle and had a small number available for staff. I emailed to ask for tickets and was delighted to be given two to attend the event with my husband.
The Order of the Garter is the oldest order of British Chivalry, dating back to 1348. The members of the Order are appointed for public service or for personal service to the Sovereign. I am not in favour of the inherited privilege and position embodied by the outdated hereditary nobility, but I am interested in the history involved and the pomp and circumstance of Garter Day was something I was interested in seeing.
Garter Day was also an opportunity for a day out. We dressed up, and headed into Windsor early. I’d booked for us to go on a Duck Tour, having picked up cheap tickets on Groupon some time back. Before we headed off on our Duck Tour we wandered up to the Castle to make sure we knew where the entrance was we needed to go in by and were astonished by the length of the queue of people waiting to be let in to watch the procession.
We explored the beautiful parish church, before heading back down Castle Hill to catch our duck for a River Splash Tour.
The “duck” is an amphibious vehicle, not one of the old military vehicles, but a purpose built model from 2010. We clambered up into the vehicle and were soon off, our duck commanders giving an interesting commentary as we headed through Windsor and out to the leisure centre before driving down the public slipway and into the river. We’ve taken our land rover through long fords and into deep water before, but I’ve never felt anything like the moment when the vehicle started floating and turned from bus into boat- I loved it!
We travelled down the river and under the Windsor and Eton Bridge into the Pool of Windsor, watching swans, geese, great crested grebes and even cormorants on the water. We had fantastic views of Windsor Castle with the huge flag flying, showing the Queen was in residence and on official business. Apparently, the flag is the size of half a tennis court, and it certainly looked wonderful flowing in the wind. We really enjoyed our tour and the lively and humorous guides gave us lots of interesting tit bits of information along the way.
Back on dry land, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy lunch at an Italian café, seated out on the street, continental style, with a cold beer, paninis and chips to share. It felt like a mini holiday, sitting there, sipping our drinks and chatting, looking at the beautiful tree we were sitting under.
After lunch, it was time for the main event, and we headed into the Castle. I have visited the castle before, but as a very small child, and I only really remember the dolls houses. It is much bigger inside than I had imagined, with wide open spaces. I was pleased to see pollinator friendly planting, with bees buzzing happily on the geraniums. As we had waited until later, the crowds had already entered and we were able to take our time wandering through the castle to our appointed area, which was right opposite the side entrance to St George’s Chapel and the Albert Memorial Chapel. The area was already busy with people, sitting in their folding chairs. As we arrived, along with other people, castle staff were asking people to move closer together and there was soon a space for us, sitting comfortably on the grass.
We took in the surroundings and chatted while waiting for the procession to get started. A band played, including music from Indiana Jones and Star Trek, prompting us to muse on a squadron of storm trooper marching past. Soon stunningly dressed soldiers, with sparkling helmets with large plumes marched down and took up position. It was all very impressive.
Well dressed invitees to the service itself arrived, with people gathering by the side entrance to the chapel. There was a lot of excitement and a whirr of clicking cameras as Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall arrived, and again every time Camilla turned her face to the crowds.
Then finally a procession, including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince William passed by, all resplendent in the cloaks of the Order of the Garter.
The service from the Chapel was played out on loudspeakers for the benefit of the crowds, and everyone stood while God Save the Queen rang out through the castle grounds. Once the service was over, the Royals and others came past in carriages, led by beautiful calvary horses, they looked wonderful as they flashed past. This was followed by others in cars, and finally the troops came off their guard positions, formed up and marched away.
We had a lovely time, and enjoyed the opportunity to watch something completely different.
Information about our day:
Duck tours can be booked at www.windsorducktours.co.uk or you can turn up and go if there is space available. They leave from the bus stop opposite the Theatre Royal in Windsor. Tours cost £18 each for adults, although I got ours for £11 each from a Groupon offer. It’s worth keeping an eye out on the deal sites if you do want to take a tour as they come up fairly often.
We got our tickets for Garter Day through my work. However, there is a ballot for (free) tickets every year. More information can be found here Good luck in your applications, if you would like to go!