Top 5 Things to See in Windsor

Located in the heart of Berkshire, England’s royal county, is Windsor. It’s location is the royal county is appropriate considering it is home to Windsor Castle, which is one of the official residences of England’s royal family. The town dates back a millennium, originally bearing the name Windlesora as given by the Anglo-Saxons, though the name was changed to Old Windsor by the 12th century. When strolling through Windsor today, you can feel the history surrounding you though it has moved into the 21st century, incorporating modern shops and conveniences with historical buildings seamlessly. If you find yourself traveling to Windsor someday, here are the top five things you should be sure to see.

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Queen Elizabeth II on a phone booth in Windsor, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Windsor Great Park

This large park is part of Windsor’s royal estate and was originally a used as private hunting ground for royalty. Over 5,000 acres large, the park also features a few notable historic buildings such as the Cumberland Lodge dating 1652, the Royal Lodge from 1662, and the Royal Chapel of All Saints built 1825. There are also the beautiful Savill and Valley Gardens, as well as an artificial lake titled the Virginia Water Lake. With all of these attractions and more, the park is a minefield of beauty and history that cannot be missed!

 

  1. The River Thames

Catch a glimpse of the Thames in Windsor and you’ll see a side of the river that you can’t view in London. Flanked by grassy banks and trees, and complete with small, rich islands, the Thames seems like a beautiful rural river in this setting- a stark contrast from the brown industrious river you see in Central London. If you take a boat tour with a guide, you can learn a lot about the history of the town and the surrounding lands from the unique vantage point of the water. And to top it all off, you get some amazing views of Windsor Castle.

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River Thames in Windsor, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Crooked House of Windsor

Built in 1592, the Crooked House of Windsor has functioned as many things, including a tea house, a butcher shop, and a jewelry store. Though it’s unfortunately closed and for sale for the time being, it’s fascinating to see the building, which earns it’s name by it’s distinct slant. It will be exciting to see what this ancient building will function as next, but until then be sure to stop and admire it’s facade, and just try not to tilt your head!

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Crooked House of Windsor, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. St. George’s Chapel

Witness one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in all of England at St. George’s Chapel, on the Windsor Castle grounds. Having been established in 1348 and reportedly holding numerous relics, the chapel was a popular medieval pilgrimage destination. It has also been the site of countless royal weddings and burials, featuring the tomb of one of the most famous monarchs in world history, Henry VIII, as well as nine other sovereigns.

 

  1. Windsor Castle

The Norman castle from the 11th century that is now home to the royal family is the most popular tourist destination in Windsor, and many people visit the town for the sole purpose of coming here.  Like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle was built by William the Conquerer in 1066, and has been a royal residence ever since, making it the longest occupied castle in all of Europe! It’s comprised of multiple towers, a motte, a palace, state apartments, and more. Today it’s one of England’s biggest tourist attractions,and for good reason. The castle is jam packed with rich history and culture and can certainly not be missed on any trip to Windsor.

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View of Windsor Castle from the River Thames, 2014. c. Leah Putz

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Best Traditional Foods and Drinks in the United Kingdom

Sausage Roll

As someone who is not usually a fan of sausage, it’s weird that I swear by the United Kingdom’s sausage rolls. But I do. Typically found in bakeries and breakfast shops, sausage rolls are comprised of warm , melt-in-your-mouth pastry wrapped around a soft sausage. It’s savory, tender, and delicious and makes the perfect bite for breakfast or side for dinner.

 

Scotch Egg

Commonly a picnic food, the Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg coated in sausage meat and breading and then deep-fried. Regrettably I have yet to try this classic dish with origins in 1738, but I’ve been told it’s not something to miss!

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Me with my first glass of Pimms in the Kings Head pub in London, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Pimms

It’s Pimms o’clock! This refreshing summer beverage is perfect for a drink on a patio and enjoying the sunny weather that doesn’t often grace the United Kingdom. The drink is made with a unique combination: Pimms liqueur, lemonade, fruit (examples include strawberries, orange slices, lemon slices, and cucumber slices), and mint leaves. It’s my favorite alcoholic beverage I’ve ever had, and I highly suggest giving it a try. Even if you don’t make it to the U.K., it’s quite an easy drink to make at home!

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Meat Pie from Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn in Nottingham, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Meat Pie

Though immortalized in the legend of Sweeney Todd, you may not want to think about that story while digging in to your first meat pie. Meat pies are exactly as they sounds; savory pies filled with meat. It was a staple dish in the middle ages and it’s popularity has continued into the modern age, though I’m sure they probably taste a lot better today than they did 500 years ago!

 

Tea

Tea is a symbol of British culture worldwide. Having an afternoon tea meal has been a tradition since the 1800s. Though ‘afternoon tea’ is considered a meal mainly served between 3 and 6pm, many Brits choose to drink tea all day long, rather than only indulging once a day.

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Traditional Sunday roast in a London pub, 2017. c. Leah Putz

Sunday Roast

If traditional is what you’re after, you won’t find much that’s more traditional than a Sunday roast. A standard Sunday roast is comprised of yorkshire pudding, greens and vegetables, roasted meat, and gravy. It originated as an after church meal on Sundays and dates back to medieval times.

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Fish and Chips in Windsor, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Fish and Chips

Fish and chips are synonymous with the United Kingdom, and for good reason. With hundred of coastal fishing villages, fresh fish easy to come by. The large piece of fish is traditionally fried and often served with homade tartar sauce and thick, savory chips (aka fries to Americans). You definitely can’t take a trip to the U.K. without trying this classic dish.

My Cardiff Top 5

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, was a only a small town until the 1800s, though its origins date back to Neolithic times. In the 19th century, the Cardiff port began to bustle and the city grew until it became the largest in Wales. Today, it’s known for it’s bustling metropolitan area, and it’s capacity to preserve Welsh culture. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cardiff, and have compiled a list of my top five places to go if you find yourself in this beautiful Welsh capital.

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Cardiff Central Square, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay the area surrounding the water fed by the two rivers in Cardiff. The area around the bay is beautiful, with many shops and restaurants nearby, and is a focal point for many events in Cardiff.

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Cardiff Bay, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

Cardiff Story Museum

The best way to get to know a city is to explore its history, especially a city with as long and rich a history as Cardiff. Thankfully, you can visit the Cardiff Story Museum to learn all about Cardiff through the ages, complete with numerous artifacts and objects to view.

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Wales Millennium Centre, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Wales Millennium Centre

Fans of BBC show Torchwood will recognize the Wales Millennium Centre. Comprised of multiple shops, restaurants, and arts centers, it’s the perfect place to stop and shop in the Cardiff Bay area as it also features the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre.

 

Bute Park

Once a part of the Cardiff Castle grounds, Bute Park is a whopping 130 acres of park and gardens. It was originally landscaped in the 17-1800s and sits near Cardiff Castle and along the River Taff. The park is dotted with sculptures, bridges, and immense natural beauty that is rare to find in the heart of a city.

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Sculpture on the street in Cardiff, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

Cardiff Castle

If you’re going just about anywhere in the UK your trip isn’t complete without a visit to  a castle, and Cardiff is no exception. The castle, which was built by the Normans in the 11th century, can be found in the city centre, along with a Victorian mansion. It’s not only a main attraction of the city of Cardiff, but of Wales as a country as well.  

The Holy Grail of Scotland- Duone Castle

I’m happy to admit that Scotland is probably my favorite country I’ve ever visited. I’ve loved every trip there and almost as soon as I leave I start looking forward to the next opportunity that will bring me back to it’s rolling green Highlands and magical landscape. And most definitely my favorite site I’ve been to in Scotland is Duone Castle.

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Gates of Duone Castle, 2014. c. Leah Putz

You see, I love Monty Python. I mean, I really love Monty Python. The first time I saw ‘The Holy Grail’ my mind was blown, and I was certain I had just discovered the funniest movie in all of human existence. I’m still of this opinion. There is nothing to me that makes me laugh so hard, even after seeing it a hundred times. Just quoting it (and believe me, it’s incredibly quotable) can have my friends and I in stitches. It is without a doubt my favorite comedy, and has been since I was probably about 8 years old.

Knowing this, it’s not a surprise that Duone Castle had me fangirling and squealing with excitement like nowhere ever had before, because Monty Python filmed a majority of the footage of ‘The Holy Grail’ in or around Duone Castle. The comedy group had little to no budget for the film, which featured several different castles in the script. They could only afford to rent out one castle, and thus filmed every castle scene in Doune Castle, simply dressing up different rooms to make it look like a whole different location in the movie. Nearly every room is recognizable for a ‘Holy Grail’ fan, and the Castle gift shop is full of Monty Python memorabilia (including a large bottle of beer cleverly called ‘The Holy Ail’).

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Standing in the kitchen where Monty Python filmed many of the ‘Castle Anthrax’ scenes, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Since I visited back in 2014, the castle has become even more popular with tourists, attracting not only Monty Python fans, but fans of Game of Thrones (some Winterfell scenes were filmed there) and the Starz series Outlander, in which the castle portrays the MacKenzie home of Castle Leoch.

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Duone Castle courtyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Television and movies aren’t the only reason to visit Duone Castle, though. In remarkable condition for a building that over 800 years old (thanks to Historic Scotland), the castle gives visitors a glimpse into medieval life, and was formerly a hunting lodge for Scottish monarchs. One of the most striking aspects of the castle is the fully restored Lord’s Hall, which now appears just as it would have when the castle was inhabited nearly a millennium ago.

View of the serving room from a high staircase and Castle toilet, 2014. c. Leah Putz

So whether you’re a fan of Monty Python, Outlander, Game of Thrones, or Scottish history, you must put Duone Castle on your bucket list.

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Top of Duone Castle and the Scottish countryside, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Edinburgh- a Haunted City

If you’re intrigued by the paranormal and love traveling to places with a dark and ghostly history, look no further than Edinburgh, Scotland! The Scottish capital has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in the world. The city’s history is full of violence and tragedy, from wars, to an infestation of the black plague, and many more, so it’s not surprising that Edinburgh is rumored to have paranormal energies.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Greyfriars Kirkyard has been proclaimed the most haunted cemetery in the world. Established in the 1560s, the cemetery is home to thousands of graves, and countless restless spirits. The entrance to the graveyard is marked the by headstone of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who slept on his master’s grave in the cemetery for 14 years in the 1800s, until his own death. The cemetery itself is made up of vaults, tombs, and mausoleums. Many of the graves have mortsafes (iron cages) to deter grave robbers, who had become a serious issue in the early 1800s. The cemetery has many notable residents, but the most notorious is Sir George MacKenzie, who has become the MacKenzie Poltergeist. For those who dare to enter the cemetery and the MacKenzie mausoleum after dark, beware, for many have reported leaving with scrapes, bruises, and sometimes worse, all at the hands of the MacKenzie poltergeist.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

But not just the cemeteries in Edinburgh are ghostly- beneath the buildings in the Old Town sits Mary King’s Close, which has had a reputation for being haunted since as early as the 17th century. According the legend, the hauntings began with plague victims being quarantined and left to die in the Close. The Close is now a tourist attraction, presenting an accurate representation of Edinburgh as it was from the 1500s-1700s.

The Edinburgh Vaults have generated such buzz that  they’ve been visited by the show Ghost Adventures! The Vaults were built under the South Bridge arches in 1788, and functioned for a period as taverns and storage spaces, and became Edinburgh’s slums. Today, most of the vaults are closed. The few that are left open are used for ghost tours, concerts, and private events. I toured the Vaults with a Ghost Tour, and though I didn’t myself have any paranormal experiences, many visitors have reported strange sounds, cold patches, and there are countless eerie photos from the area.

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Orbs in the Edinburgh Vaults, 2014. c. Leah Putz

TIME magazine has ranked Edinburgh Castle #3 on their list of Top 10 Most Haunted Places. In 2001 when a large scale paranormal investigation of the castle took place, over half of the participants reported experiencing some sort of paranormal phenomena. The castle, having been built in the 12th century, has seen its fair share of war, executions, and death. Today, it is Edinburgh’s most visited tourist attraction, and many of those visitors report paranormal experiences, including seeing apparitions. Greyfriars Bobby is a regular sighting, as well as a headless drummer boy, and a piper.

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Edinburgh Castle and Princes’ Street Gardens, 2014. c. Leah Putz
So if you’re feeling courageous, head to Scotland, and brave the haunted streets of Edinburgh. Who knows, you might meet someone from another century!

A Historic Gem: Stirling

Stirling, Scotland, otherwise known as ‘The Gateway of the Highlands,’ has a history stretching all the way back to the Stone Age. It’s position at the border between the Lowlands and the Highlands of Scotland made it an desirable point of conquest, attracting both the Vikings and the English over the course of history. The most well-known battles taking place during the Wars of Scottish Independence at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The film Braveheart may come to mind, and rightfully so, as in Stirling nearby in the village of Bannockburn William Wallace and Robert the Bruce attacked the English.

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River Forth, Where Many Battles of the Wars of Scottish Independence were Fought, 2014. c. Leah Putz

One of the most wonderful things about Stirling, to me, is that this rich history hasn’t been forgotten over the course of so many hundreds of years. I came to Stirling intending to just pass through and head further north immediately, but when I got a sense of where I was, I decided to stick around and explore for a bit before continuing on. From my experience the citizens are eager to share what Stirling has to offer with tourists. On the way into Stirling from the nearby village of Duone, my cab driver pointed to the river near Stirling bridge and said “There’s the spot where William Wallace ambushed the English army.” He also pointed out the Wallace Monument, which holds William’s sword, and mentioned that there’s a statue that bears “striking resemblance to Mel Gibson” of Wallace near the monument.

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Wallace Monument and the Highlands, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Speaking of the Wallace Monument, a hike up to the top of Stirling hill, where the Stirling Castle is perched, lends a breathtaking view of both the Monument and the surrounding jagged hills that are so characteristic of Scotland. Stirling Castle itself is also a thing of majesty, being one of the largest and most historically significant castles in all of Scotland, and is considered a Scheduled Ancient Monument by the U.K. Among the events that have occurred at the castle are the crowning of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542, and a failed attempt to take the castle from the English by Bonnie Prince Charlie toward the end of the doomed Jacobite Rising in Scotland in 1745.

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Stirling Castle and cemetery, 2014. c. Leah Putz

I found my time strolling aimlessly through Stirling incredibly enriching and well spent. Just down from the castle the heart of the Old Town (called locally Top of the Town) survives, giving Stirling a distinct and medieval look. I also stopped by the Church of the Holy Rude, which has stood near Stirling cemetery since 1129. I tried to take everything in, admiring how much history was beneath my feet, and still standing.

Into a Magical Forest: Puzzlewood

Have you ever felt the desire to step into a fantasy land? Where magic and fairies and wonder seem possible? Look no further than a special section of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England known as Puzzlewood. Maze-like pathways were built into the forest in the 1800s, allowing tourists to witness the ancient trees and moss-covered rock formations that are unique to Puzzlewood.

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Pathway in Puzzlewood forest, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Upon setting foot in this enchanting forest, it feels like you’re walking into Middle-Earth, or some sort of magical fairy land. The twisted roots and trees, growing moss covered over nearly everything, and the centuries-old pathways make it a very whimsical place to wander through.

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Puzzlewood forest, 2014. c. Leah Putz

The best thing about the forest, to me, though, is the fact that it was often visited by my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien. His descriptions of Fangorn Forest, the Old Forest, and even Mirkwood are a bit reminiscent of Puzzlewood, and it’s easy to believe that the Forest of Dean may have been an inspiration for him. I like to believe that because while inside Puzzlewood, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the depths of Fangorn Forest, half expecting an elf to pop out from behind a tree or an Ent to spring to life.

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Sign at Puzzlewood, 2014. c. Leah Putz

The beauty of the forest hasn’t been missed by Hollywood or the BBC, either. If any of my photos from Puzzlewood look familiar, it may be because you’ve seen it on film. The forest has been featured in Doctor Who, Merlin, and most recently Star Wars: the Force Awakens. After I had visited I made it a game to try to find Puzzlewood in the Star Wars movie (hint: when Rey and Kylo Ren are fighting there about halfway through the film) and in the Doctor Who episode ‘Flesh and Stone.’ I don’t blame directors for choosing Puzzlewood as a filming location- of my dozens of photos I took during my hours of ambling through the 14 acres of wood, I didn’t have a single bad shot.

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Puzzlewood Forest, 2014. c. Leah Putz

After about a two hour train journey from London to Lydney, and then a taxi from the Lydney train station, I arrived at Puzzlewood on a slightly rainy day in August, but even though the weather wasn’t ideal, the forest and the surrounding areas were still incredibly lovely. The entrance to Puzzlewood is adorned with an adorable cafe (called Puzzlewood Cafe) and farm animals including Highland cattle, ponies, sheep, ducks, and goats. There are also numerous outdoor and indoor play areas, making it a very family-friendly outing.