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Windsor

Like its most famous resident, Windsor has a well-known public face but a complex personality. The town is dominated, in every sense, by its world-famous castle, which lords it over the high street and remains home to the Queen more often than not. Just down the road lies Eton College, alma mater to 19 Prime Ministers (including David Cameron), while five minutes’ drive away is Legoland, a battle-cry for children all over the South East.

The result? Seven million visitors (plus the odd French president) every year, all jostling with the well-heeled denizens of this prime slice of commuter belt. Factor in the dreamy stretches of Thames Valley and deer-grazed parkland that surround the town, and you have a fair microcosm of modern Britain: a roguish mix of pageantry and shopping, rural grandeur and toe-curling tourist schmaltz. Now that’s surely worth a weekend of anyone’s life.

History

The history of Windsor is really the history of England, or at least its monarchy. The castle was first established by William the Conqueror around 1070, as one of nine bastions circling London, and has been extended and tinkered by almost every monarch since. In 1215, King John rode out from the castle to meet his revolting barons and sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede – the basis for constitutional freedoms in the English-speaking world. Eton was founded by Henry VI in 1440, and the school and castle have gone hand-in-hand ever since.

The town languished through the Shakespearian era, but the 18th and 19th centuries saw a flurry of developments: first under George III (who introduced army barracks which still flavour local life today), and then Queen Victoria, whose residence made Windsor the official centre of Empire. Both train stations and many of the town’s streets date from her reign. During the First World War, the royal family bowed to anti-German sentiment and changed their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor, cementing their allegiance to the town. The castle survived the Second World War relatively unscathed (it was rumoured Hitler was eyeing it as his future base in the UK), but it was badly damaged by fire in 1992. However, a superb five-year restoration process has ensured that you will be hard-pressed to tell old from new.

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