Anna Tyzack gets a breath of fresh air as she heads to the Royals’ favourite stomping ground – Windsor. She finds excellent schools, spacious family homes and a communal feel all within a stunning country setting.
Let’s Move To… Windsor
The ultimate work-life balance
With its undulating meadows, ancient forests and deer park, it’s easy to forget that Windsor Great Park is just 35 minutes from London. Surrounding it are polo fields, lakes, villages with charming pubs and a farm shop selling produce from Her Majesty’s 15,800 Windsor Estate. Meanwhile, Windsor itself has cobbled pedestrianised streets with artisan bakeries and boutiques and restaurants overlooking the Thames. ‘Windsor offers the ultimate work-life balance: you have stunning scenery, wide open spaces and historic architecture and yet you can still get into London quickly for a meeting,’ explains David Adams of David Adams Luxury Property.
It’s a favourite of the royals
No wonder, then, that the Royal family is so fond of Windsor. During lockdown, the Queen declared Windsor Castle, the longest occupied palace in Europe (it dates from the 11th century), as her primary residence. If rumours are to be believed, it’s only a matter of time before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge make the move down the M4 from Kensington, too. They’re thought to be eyeing up Fort Belvedere, a turreted residence within Windsor Great Park, which used to belong to Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson.
‘Windsor makes perfect sense for anyone wanting to combine working in London with space and fresh air,’ maintains Sue Barnes of Lavender Green Flowers, who does floristry for local royals. ‘We’re used to celebrities here; no one makes any fuss and children can have a proper Swallows and Amazons childhood.’
It’s also an ideal spot for a second home
Indeed, so synonymous is Windsor with royalty and celebrities (Elton John and George Clooney and his wife, Amal, live in the area) that many London leavers overlook it, considering it out of their league. Yet Windsor suits commuting families for all the same reasons it suits the Royals, David says. London is genuinely within easy reach – 35 minutes by train to Paddington or 55 minutes to Waterloo and a similar journey time by car. Once Crossrail, the new high-speed rail service starts running, the City will be even more accessible. Meanwhile, Heathrow is just 20 minutes by car, and Gatwick is 50 minutes. ‘Windsor has long attracted those that like to regularly travel to a second home in Portugal or Spain or a chalet in the Alps,’ David continues.
It’s got excellent schools
The schools are another draw. There are league-topping state and independent schools offering more space and better facilities than London equivalents. Eton College, Prince William and Harry’s alma mater, is a short walk from the centre of Windsor, and Wycombe Abbey, Wellington College, St George’s and St Mary’s Ascot and Downe House are nearby. For prep schools there’s Sunningdale, Papplewick, Lambrook and Bishopsgate. Meanwhile Holyport College, an Eton-sponsored free school, Windsor Girls’ and Boys’ schools, and Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School in Marlow are highly regarded state schools.
There’s a communal feel packed with country pursuits
Windsor isn’t suburban in a dull way, though, insists Belinda Rolling, who moved from Barnes to a five-bedroom house in Virginia Water during lockdown with her husband, Dermot, and two young sons. There are plenty opportunities for all the traditional country pursuits, she says: walking, Pony Club, polo at Guards Polo Club and the Royal Berkshire Polo Club, golf at Sunningdale and Wentworth, while the cafés, spas and gyms are a home from home for London leavers.
It’s a hot spot for cuisine
The restaurants, too, are on a par with the capital: the village of Bray, just over five miles away, has multiple Michelin-starred restaurants including the Waterside Inn, the Fat Duck and the Hinds Head, while Soho House has pitched a safari tent in the grounds of the Oakley Court hotel on the outskirts of Windsor, which is packed every weekend. ‘Newcomers are often surprised to find their social lives become even busier than before,’ Sue comments.
The homes are lustworthy and spacious
A house such as the Rollings’, which has nearly an acre of gardens and a garage with nanny flat above, costs between £1.5 million and £3 million. Many London leavers decide to base themselves within Windsor itself, however, where there is a wealth of four-bedroom period houses with gardens. ‘A major attraction for those moving out from Fulham and Wandsworth is that you get more house, for less money, and with grounds for the children,’ says David. There are large detached and semi-detached houses from £850,000 upwards on the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Frances Road, Kings Road and Adelaide Square, while elegant Georgian houses on Park Street have sold for more than £2.5 million. ‘You can trade up your four-storey London terrace for a wide six-bedroom detached period home surrounded by its own grounds,’ David continues. The quaint pockets of riverside homes are also much sought after, particularly around Old Windsor, adds Stuart Mun-Gavin, Northern Home Counties expert at Middleton Advisors, although houses with water frontage sell for a premium.
Also sought after are homes with large gardens in villages around the riverside towns of Henley, Marlow and Goring. ‘These are picture-postcard towns with an eclectic mix of shops and cafés on their high streets and the benefit from River Thames bridle paths and views,’ David says. At the top end of the market, a house on the river with grounds will cost anything from £4 million up to £8 million for a historic home or a small estate. ‘The market has risen sharply since the lockdowns started in March 2020,’ David explains. ‘Best in class have risen 20 per cent and are continuing to rise at 1 per cent a month.’
The final word
For the Rollings, the move to Windsor has ensured they can give their children the country prep school experience while still working full time in London. ‘I go to dinner and the theatre in London, we have Sunday lunch in Barnes with our old friends but when we arrive back in our driveway, with its enormous weeping willow, I feel my shoulders drop,’ Belinda says. ‘I don’t think any of us realised how much we were craving space and greenery.’
A walk in the park
After walking the Long Walk to the Copper Horse statue in Windsor Great Park head for lunch at The Fox and Hounds in Englefield Green. thefoxandhoundsrestaurant.com
Exhausted the gourmet offering at Bray? The Hand & Flowers at Marlow, with two Michelin stars, is the ideal alternative. thehandandflowers.co.uk
The five-star Coworth Park, where Prince Harry spent the night before the royal wedding, has a spa, indoor pool and polo fields. dorchestercollection.com
A history lesson
Wander across the bridge from Windsor to Eton and join a heritage tour of Eton College Collections. etoncollege.com
The Windsor Farm Shop, housed in a row of former Victorian potting sheds sells produce from the Royal Farms and a good flat white. windsorfarmshop.co.uk