It was hot in Windsor yesterday. Very hot. It seemed only sensible to contemplate the enormity of the castle from a table outside the ancient pub with a cold drink. It would, in fact, have been almost impolite not to do so. Holiday or not, we were busy researching a theory and Windsor held one or two things we needed to see.
The castle is a stunning edifice… a huge piece of the collective imagination, the sempiternal English Castle of dream, myth and fairytale, begun by William the Conqueror and evolving over a thousand years into a palace, fortress and symbol of monarchy. It is, however, full of tourists.. so we looked and admired… but did not enter. Over the gate ancient faces looked down, with some amusement, at the hot and thirsty visitors.
We chose not to join them. Instead we visited the Parish Church… a quiet place, a pool of silence in a busy town. The cool interior was a welcome respite from the blazing sun. Though not a particularly attractive church, as churches go, it is replete with history. The screen behind the altar, however, is quite spectacular and some of the stained glass is stunningly beautiful. To the right of the sanctuary are the thrones reserved for royalty when they visit the little church, placed behind carvings of the pelican sacrificing its own blood to feed its children. It is often forgotten, I think, that those in such power are, or should be, servants of those they rule in this respect, for with power comes responsibility.
It is often abused, of course, power can corrupt or debase the human who wields it very easily. Ego becomes a driving force and tyrannies are born, sometimes from those who began with the noblest of ideals. It is a human frailty and our history is littered with such tales.
Having exhausted the relevant possibilities of the town we headed back to base, being waylaid by an old coaching inn in the tiny village of West Wycombe, from whence we emerged some time later refreshed.
It is the smaller places that hold the charm for me. The grandeur of the castle, like the magnificence of a cathedral, is something to gaze upon in awe.. which, I suppose, is the point. But the history of people and place comes alive in the simple, everyday places.. the tiny villages, the isolated chapels and the homes that have held our personal stories for hundreds of years, seeing families come and go, watching children laugh and learn, holding our hearts and emotions within their haphazard walls.
Yet even these are transient, as impermanent in the wider life of the world as mere castles in the air. The lands upon which these places are built hold a deeper memory and it is in the landscape itself, though we forget it sometimes, that we have our home.