LONDON.- For over 800 years, Windsor Castle’s world-famous Round Tower has dominated the surrounding landscape. Now a new guided tour, ‘Conquer the Tower’, takes visitors inside the Round Tower and up 200 steps to the top of one of the nation’s iconic landmarks. From a height of 65.5 metres above the River Thames, they can enjoy breathtaking views of the Castle and historic parkland, the Thames Valley, the London skyline and across several counties. The tour runs daily throughout August and September 2011.
Windsor Castle was first established by William the Conqueror in 1070-86 as one of a chain of fortifications around London, securing the western approach to the capital. At the heart of the Castle was an artificial mound (motte) formed by chalk spoil from the surrounding ditch and topped by a wooden keep. In 1170, Henry II replaced the Norman keep with the Round Tower, built with heath stone from nearby Bagshot.
The appearance of the Round Tower today dates from George IV’s major remodelling of Windsor in the 1820s. In line with the King’s romantic notion of castle architecture, the tower was heightened by nine metres and given gothic-style battlements. In 1988 a new floor was constructed over the Round Tower’s internal courtyard to provide accommodation for the Royal Archives and the foundations of the tower were reinforced.
The first stop on the ‘Conquer the Tower’ tour is a visit to the external ‘gallery’ at the base of the tower’s drum. If an attacking army had breached the Castle’s walls, bowmen would be stationed here to supplement those behind the arrow slits in the keep. Now known as the ‘cannonade’, the gallery is equipped with sixteen 18th-century bronze field guns mounted on cast-iron carriages.
From the top of the Round Tower, 40 metres above the town of Windsor, visitors can fully appreciate the extent of the Castle. Covering an area of 5.3 hectares, the site comprises the Lower Ward, including medieval St George’s Chapel and the residences of the Military Knights; the Middle Ward, built around the original Norman motte and crowned by the Round Tower; and the Upper Ward, containing the State Apartments and royal apartments arranged around the Quadrangle.
At the top of the Round Tower visitors also enjoy a close-up view of the Castle’s 15-metre flagpole, which flies the Royal Standard when The Queen is in residence and the Union Flag when Her Majesty is not at Windsor. When the current flagpole was first raised in 1892, workmen buried a box containing one shilling and five pence in pennies and ha’pennies beneath it. They followed the naval tradition of ‘mast stepping’, when coins were placed below the main mast of a ship. Any sailor who lost his life could use the money as payment to Charon, the ferryman of Hades in Greek mythology, who would row him across the River Styx into the world of the dead.
To the south of the Round Tower lies the Home Park and beyond this stretches the beautiful landscape of Windsor’s Great Park, once part of the hunting forest of the Saxon kings. Nestling among the trees in the Home Park are Frogmore House, a private retreat for the royal family since the 18th century, and the Royal Mausoleum, the burial place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In the distance is Runnymede, to where King John rode from Windsor Castle to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
The view to the south is dominated by the spectacular five-kilometre Long Walk, created by Charles II. In the late 17th century the King embarked upon a major transformation of Windsor to create a palace that would rival the achievements of his cousin Louis XIV at Versailles. The Long Walk linked the Castle to the Great Park and was subsequently extended by George IV. At the end of the Long Walk, on Snow Hill, stands the colossal statue of George III on horseback, known as the Copper Horse.
Conquer the Tower tours last approximately 45 minutes and run daily from 1 August to 30 September 2011. They are available to Windsor Castle ticket-holders only with the purchase of an additional timed ticket. Pre-booking is essential.
Conquer the Tower tickets: Adults £7.00, Concession £6.30, Under 17 £4.20, Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £17.75.
Combined Windsor Castle and Conquer the Tower tickets: Adults £23.00, Concession £20.80, Under 17 £13.25, Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £60.00.