Windsor with kids – Castles real and fantastic

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Lego crocodile, Legoland, Windsor with kids

Windsor with kids - stone and Lego construction

Our Windsor with kids trip was more diverse that expected.  We travelled in time from the Stone Age at the Henge, through the Norman Conquest at Windsor Castle and into the laser shooting Ninjago Lego-ride future;  touring castles in stone and Lego in lands both real and fantasy.

Virtual world travel is also possible in Lego form from Big Ben in London to Moscow’s St Basil’s. Practically educational.

So, a rainy theme park/history combo – something for everyone!

The Legoland Covid plan - is Legoland safe in Covid?

This year was to have been large. Child 1’s birthday was to be at Disneyland, California. When that whole plan was Covid-binned, his plan B was to suggest Legoland Windsor which had just opened instead. Crowds and shared fairground rides might not be ideal in these virus-filled times but it was outdoors, they would surely have a pretty stringent cleaning plan and maybe smaller queues? We went for it. Especially as its only £33 pp at the minute – bargain. Windsor with kids became plan B.

Checked to see if the Legoland hotel was also cheap but it’s price tuned out to be Covid-inelastic and still way out of our price range. The closest we could get was Bracknell, which didn’t sound very glamorous but did have a pool and the government had kindly decreed that it could open on his birthday.

The day we travelled also turned out to be the day that masks must be worn for most things you’d want to do on a weekend away. Was going to be an odd one. But maybe a tad safer.

What could we tag on to the Windsor with kids trip? Windsor castle – closed. Highclere – set of Downton Abbey? Open, but fully booked. We thought we’d throw in a Wiltshire white horse and maybe Stonehenge. The night before setting off  – Windsor castle opened and we booked a slot. Nice one.

windsor with kids activity 1. Stone Henge for free

On the way over from Bristol to break up the trip to Windsor, we’d decided to swing by Stone Henge. As its about £60 for a family ticket and we’d just paid for the castle, we wondered if you could cheekily see the Henge for free. On Googling we found that you could. Great.

Plugged Fargo Rd, Amesbury into the satnav as instructed, with a vague plan of looking for a gravel path when we got there.

Fargo road is quite long. We drove past some military barracks then into some kind of housing estate. Interest was waning in the whole plan. We drove up and down a few more times only to find there were several gravel paths but most of them instructed us to, “Get off my land,” or words to that effect. We chose one at random without the, “You are trespassing,” sign on it and, contrary to all expectation and much like a spiritual vision ,the Henge came into view.

Top tip: The missing part of our instructions was that you are looking for the junction of Fargo and Willoughby Road

A 15 minute walk takes you past some hippy campervans to a National Trust emblem (never felt so welcome) indicating a perfectly permissible walk though a small field to the stones. You stand on the other side of a knee-high wire fence to the fee paying crowds. I’d say there was a 50/50 split of freeloaders and fee payers. Now obviously you don’t get the full historical picture but last I heard the historians hadn’t worked out its secrets yet anyway. You can practically stand on the metal marker showing the sun’s solstice path, and is it perfect for a flying visit. (You could always make a charitable donation online if you are feeling bad about being a robber by omission.)

After struggling to find the stones, no one was really up for an hour’s diversion to fail to find a white horse so we popped that idea on a shelf for next time and set off for the hotel in Windsor.

Windsor with kids hotel - Bracknell

We arrived to find we had no booking. But it turned out that this was because there are 2 Bracknell Hiltons. Oh. Back in the car with all the luggage again we found the right one. The lady in this second reception, giving with one hand and taking with the other, allowed us to check in but confirmed the pool was not set to open for a week.

Having the bar to ourselves, we didn’t have to take advantage of the very Covid-aware table placements and ordered an ironic Corona.

Windsor with kids activity 2. Legoland

Day 2 in the Windsor with kids plan was the main event – Legoland!

You’re never too old for Lego – be it a house-sized Egyptian Pharaoh or a gun toting monkey shooting water at your face.

Time is limited here – the park opens at 10 and closes at 5, which feels like a really short day if you’ve been to the midnight fireworks show at Disneyland.  As queues for rides can be in excess of an hour (our personal cut off point for not joining one) you have to move quickly and decisively between rides to fit it all in.

We planned to get there early as in the past we had encountered large crowds amassed at the entrance waiting for the gates to open and vying for pole position in the ride queues.

Covid meant the carpark was pretty empty when we rocked up about 9:30. A teenager conducted our forehead temperature checks and we all felt some relief at not inadvertently having one. (I also felt like an extra in a Black Mirror episode, where they have stolen reality and replaced it with something quite similar but also fundamentally very different). 

Taking our new masks out of their plastic wrappers we headed into the shop and posed for a face-masked photo by the TARDIS, thus fusing the fictional and real life sci-fi worlds.

We would not have squandered precious time in this manner if we had realised that in these socially distanced times, there is no corralling you in the park entrance until official opening time at 10am. Once you are through the ticket gates, you can head straight to your favourite attraction and start your day of ride queuing immediately. Seeing this, we headed for the Viking Ride and squatted down in cagoules in watery anticipation of both the forecast rain and log flume fun.

Queuing in Covid

 

There are markers on the ground for each family to stand on, but the snaking railings are still in the same pre-Covid position so you find yourself filing shoulder to shoulder past people moving in the opposite direction in the aisle ahead of you. Masks must be worn for some rides which have queues indoors, but not all. Rides are stopped every so often for a full clean, but not each carriage after each rider. If you are in anyway nervous about the virus or are a recent shielder, it may not be time for you to visit. But then I guess you wouldn’t really be looking at Legoland anyway at the minute.

Legoland rides

Water rides

Enjoyed being twirled around on a torrent of Viking water and then being shot down Pirate Log flumes. These are our firm favourites. Prepare to be fired upon at any point by a Lego pirate.

Roller coasters

This time we were all brave enough to try the Dragon Roller coaster in the pretend castle with no one having to wait, miserable and alone at the bottom. A win for this visit.

You pass tableaux of Lego characters, including a smoking red dragon before rocketing around a woodland track in a dragon carriage.

Laser shooty rides

Wandering into the new Ninjago ride – we weren’t really paying attention to the walls until we noticed that they weren’t just telling us about Ninja Characters but were issuing us with instructions for the shooty laser ride which lay in store. Whip-lashed our heads in the nick of time to learn that you were not to move your arms sideways. Missed the other 3 pictures showing us what you were supposed to do. Oh well.

Climbed into a large Ninja logo’d red carriage and proceeded to be bombarded with 3D snake monsters, which we shook our arms in vain at in what we imagined to be regulation Ninja moves, for the duration of the ride.Quite hard work for a very low score. Top tip: look at the pictures, they are not just decorative.

There is a sizeable Egyptian theme going on in the Land of the Pharaohs who are incongruously linked to another laser shooty ride. Here you fire red light, from a traditional gun this time, at snakes in urns and a towering animated Tutankhamun. Mummies are available in small, medium and large.

Lego City

The rain really started to drum down as we wandered the mini-Lego cities where we got to revisit sites of former holidays in Lego form. Master Lego builders had clearly been at work here.

It was bitter sweet to see the Lego Las Vegas Luxor hotel, were we should have been staying for our wedding anniversary, next to a Lego Las Vegas sign we would have renewed our vows under the following week had Covid not stolen our US summer road trip. Still, we will see them in better weather next year. Hopefully.

Legoland Cafes

When the rain was running down the phone to the extent that it was inoperable and no longer recognised my finger instructions, we sought shelter. The boys found a crocodile but although large, it was no good for 4.

Most on site cafes are now take away and, like Disneyland at parade time, seeing the seats all stacked and out of bounds in the corners felt like an unfun game of musical chairs.

We eventually found a bench under a tree with seats over which water still flowed, and ate a soggy birthday waffle.

To cheer the troops, we then tried our hand at hooking a duck to win a mega fluffy birthday lama prize, but a tenner poorer we walked away with a disappointingly unfluffy gonk toy.

Was it home time yet we wondered? It was about 4 O’ clock and the rain and the Covid meant that most people had given up. For those still standing we could now walk straight on to rides that earlier would have had hour long queues. Brilliant. Squeezed in 2 more pirate log flumes and had the equivalent of 2 buckets of water poured over our already sopping heads from the backspray. As this was not a mask ride, we bought the photo (masks do tend to take the fun out of the facial expression but could make a novelty factor souvenir for those with a darker sense of humour?).

Saving the very best til last, we paid the 2 pounds for the whole family human hair drier, turning our faces to the warm red light , damp coats billowing  in the hot breeze. Bliss

Time for a final coffee in the café near the car park (noting to self for next time – this is where you find indoor seats), and a photo shoot with a Simpsons–esque Lego family. No making your own Lego figure in the shop this time – all that rummaging strictly disallowed.

Our work here was done, time to peel off the semi-sodden waterproofs, change into dry clothes in the car and move on to the next Windsor with kids holiday agenda – the birthday tea.

Birthday tea in Windsor

So the advice here is to book ahead. In a somewhat horse already bolted scenario, we’d decided to avoid crowds at restaurants, and go for a take-out pizza by the river. It not being the sunny day envisaged in our pre-planning scenario, dining al fresco was not really on the cards. Everyone else in Windsor had  foreseen this and been busy pre-booking the dry restaurant tables. A post-Legoland circuit of the town pretty much killed off the cheer and legs and revealed that there was no room at any inn. We ended up in a kebab shop with a broken window. Happy birthday!

Windsor with kids activity 3. Windsor Castle

By day 2 of the Windsor with kids trip the children were hobbling around, so booking a castle tour may not have been the wisest of plans. But the Queen visits here most weekends – maybe we would catch a glimpse. And we’d pre-paid, so we had to go.

Parking is an issue. The castle, being built when the list of potential visitors was more modest in size, it doesn’t have a car park. In town the first one we tried was 16 pounds and cash only (who has 16 pound coins even in pre-cashless Covid?). The next one took cards (yay) but was 18 pounds. Yikes. Only having a 40 minutes before our allotted entry time and there still being a Weatherspoons breakfast to fit in – there was no option but to go for it.

As we rushed towards the castle, we could see that it dominated the top of the town. You could hear the mutters of other tourists who had also recently checked online and been told castle was closed, frantically trying to book tickets on their phones.

Popped on our masks, waited in the very small queue and entered the practically deserted home of the Queen.

Prince Charles himself welcomes you (albeit through the medium of a head set). Facts I did not know – Windsor castle has been a palace for 900 years, has been home to 39 monarchs and is the final resting place for 10 of them. This includes opponents in the Wars of the Roses (who are parked on opposite sides of the church to calm them down and preventing them starting another fight, like naughty children).

There are 2 sections open to the public, the State Apartments and the Chapel, where, on a Sunday you can pop into a service for free and maybe spot a Royal.

On the way to the State Apartments, peep over the stone walls guarding the former moat and wonder who sits on the bench. Then walk in the footsteps of Henry VIII along the North Terrace taking in the views over Windsor and the former hunting grounds.

 

Windsor Castle - state apartments

In the State Apartments you can see all manner of wonders – including Hawaiian armour made of matting, presented by the King and Queen of Hawaii on their visit to London, before the sadly contracted chicken pox and promptly died. This bit may not be true as I only half heard it being told by a member of staff to another visitor as I was too cowardly to talk to them myself.

A glass case houses a giant golden Indian tiger with crystal teeth. On the wall hangs a painting of a light footed King Charles dancing on his tippy toes, and in the window of a room decorated in gold sits a Russian Urn you could hide a man in (maybe they did? – would be a great Russian Trojan horse). The crystal goblets would not look out of place in the n Game of Thrones or Dumbledore’s potions lab.  We wondered if they used the smaller ones for camping.

If only photographs were allowed!

We walked through the rooms were men are transformed into Knights of the Garter and and where royals old and new go to dance: an historic ball room and site of Megan Markle’s wedding reception.

The ceilings are alternately encrusted with gold and festooned with wooden shields. Wooden knights sit astride near life-sized horses, looking down on you from the rafters.

As you exit you have the option to eat like a king in the stone arched café. Visit in Covid to have the place pretty much to yourself, and pretend it’s really all yours.

Windsor Castle - St George's Chapel

In the chapel there are so many heraldic flags, golden plaques, jewel encrusted panels and turned wooden posts wearing mini crowns you don’t know where to start.  There are also many dead monarchs.

Chapel facts: 

  • The bones of Henry VIII are interred with the lucky surviving wife Jane Seymour. 
  • It has been a site of pilgrimage for 500 years due to the burial of part of the cross within the chapel and also the draw of the grave of a celebrity priest who managed to trap the devil in his boot. I wanted his plaque to say more about this.
  • The Queen has her own very special 800 year old red and gold doorway.

Our tour over, it was time for our grand exit and to return to the land of the commoners.

 

And they all lived happily ever after

Just after giving away the remainder of our golden parking ticket, we discovered that the car was refusing to reverse. It just whined instead. Perhaps it had been exhausted by too much action too. Hmm. In a tightly packed city centre car park this was not ideal. Would we be buying a second 18 pound ticket? It might be the family/camel’s final straw.

We phoned a friend for instructions, yanked a few wires, swore, effectively de-activated the handbrake and set off nervously with red light flashing for the 2 hour journey home.

Windsor with kids - lessons learned

Covid:

  • Don’t wing it in Covid – book ahead for Legoland, Windsor Castle and birthday teas. If you are really organised you can hang out in Downton.

Stonehenge:

  • You really can see Stone Henge for free – go for Fargo and Willoughby at Amesbury. Leave your guilt in the car.

Legoland:

  • The human hairdrier is the best.
  • Pirates and Viking rides win the day.
  • You will get wet whatever the weather. Pack dry clothes in the car (or an on-site locker).
  • Locate the cafe with chairs in advance.
  • Learn how to be a Ninja.

Castle:

  • Don’t book the castle day back to back with Legoland (we failed to learn this lesson with Disneyland Paris – little and big legs will need a day off.)
  • Be ready to pay big money for parking in Windsor.
  • If you have one child who is interested in history an another who won’t even turn on the head set (both slightly  tired/edgy) it is possible (just) to wear your earphones is such a way that you have one plugged to your ear to answer complicated questions and the other ear free, to simultaneously entertain the other child looking at big goblets and shields. This is as tricky as it sounds and in no way relaxing.

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