With its legendary reputation and background, Eton College represents one of the great institutions of learning. On its famous playing fields, according to the Duke of Wellington, the Battle of Waterloo was won. Eton has produced 19 British prime ministers, including David Cameron, and princes William and Harry are also Old Etonians.
Founded in 1440 by Henry VI, Eton was modelled on Winchester College. Originally it accommodated 70 poor scholars who were educated free of charge and who would then go on to King’s College, Cambridge, the following year. Today it is an exclusive school for approximately 1,300 boys between the ages of 13 and 18, all of whom are boarders. The boys of Eton College still wear black tailcoats, a tradition that dates back to mourning for George III, a favourite monarch of the school.
The highlight of a public tour is Eton College Chapel, built between 1449 and 1482, and similar in many ways to the chapel of Kings College, Cambridge, which was also founded by Henry VI. Raised 13ft (4m) above ground, the college chapel is safe from flooding should the Thames ever burst its banks. The original plan included a chapel that would be more than twice the size of the finished building, but when Henry was deposed the College found itself in much reduced financial circumstances. The splendid vaulted ceiling and the impressive 15th-century wall paintings are two of the college chapel’s most distinguished features.
Fit for a queen
No visit to Windsor and Eton would be complete without touring its mighty castle, one of the Queen's official residences (a huge standard flies from the battlements when she is at home here). Founded as a fortress by William the Conqueror, the castle has been substantially altered and extended over the centuries and its appearance today is much as it would have been in the 14th century. The dominant feature is its Round Tower, built by Henry II and visible for miles around. The most recent restoration work work followed the much publicised fire in 1992.
The castle is open to the public, though the state apartments are closed when the Queen is in residence. A Changing of the Guard ceremony, similar to (though smaller than) the more famous ceremony at Buckingham Palace, takes place (weather permitting) around 11am from Monday to Saturday, on alternate days from August to March and daily during April, May, June and July, but never on a Sunday. Aim to arrive near the castle gates from around 10.30am to secure a viewing point.
From the railway station, turn right onto Farm Yard, left onto the river path, then right to cross Eton Bridge. Continue along the traffic-free High Street past individual shops and historic properties. The early-17th century Crown and Cushion, left, has been an inn since 1753. Right, at Nos. 47–49, the early-15th century building known as The Cockpit (now The Tiger Garden restaurant) is the oldest in Eton. Note the original fire plaque and stocks in front. The 1856 postbox was the first all-metal design and still functions today. At No. 98, on the left, The Turks Head is a former pub dating from c.1520.
Continue ahead, and at the end of the High Street are the buildings of Eton College. Right is the chapel; opposite is the entrance for public tours; beside it is the grand domed building housing the library. The ornate wrought-iron lamp here is known as 'The Burning Bush'. Return to the bridge.
Turn left onto Thames Side. Go through a set of wrought-iron gates and follow Romney Walk. There are good views from here to Windsor Castle to one side, while on the other bank – foliage permitting – you can catch glimpses of Eton College and the chapel. Continue ahead on a drive, pass a cottage dated 1898, and an octagonal building of 1912 which houses the waterworks for Windsor Castle. On reaching a boatyard, turn left to the water’s edge and go through a kissing gate to walk along the grassy tow path beside the river. Pass under a railway bridge. Keep to the river path, but as you approach the next bridge veer right to the far end of the white railings.
Turn left and follow the pavement over Victoria Bridge. Bear right on the far side and follow the Thames Path through the trees, with views of the Thames and the Home Park and the pinnacles of The Chapel of St George, Windsor Castle. On reaching the road, via a footbridge, turn right along the B470, then left into Queens Road, and walk into the centre of Datchet.
This attractive riverside village has many historic buildings and strong literary associations. The main road to Windsor was the Datchet Lane in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602). Falstaff was transported along this road on his way to face a ducking in the Thames. The village is also mentioned in Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889). Walk along to the green, turn right into High Street and head to the railway station for your return train.
Pavements, drive, tow path, path across meadows and playing fields
Lowland meadows and town outskirts in Thames Valley
Lead required in town streets
AA Leisure Map 17 The Chilterns
Car park at Windsor and Eton Riverside Station
This walk links the stations of Windsor and Eton, and Datchett; the return is via the train.
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Berkshire essentially consists of two distinct parts. The western half is predominantly rural, with the Lambourn Downs spilling down to the River Lambourn and the Berkshire Downs to the majestic Thames. The eastern half of Berkshire may be more urban but here, too, there is the opportunity to get out and savour open spaces. Windsor Great Park and Maidenhead Thicket are prime examples. Threading their way through the county are two of the South’s prettiest rivers – the Lambourn and the Pang. Beyond the tranquil tow paths of the Kennet and Avon Canal, Greenham Common’s famous airbase has been transformed to delight walkers of all ages.
Reading and Newbury are the county’s major towns, and the River Kennet flows through them both. Reading is a vibrant, multicultural centre with great shopping and plenty of history. Oscar Wilde was incarcerated in Reading prison in the late 19th century, and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol about his experience. Newbury is probably best known for its race course, which opened in 1905, although the first recorded racing at Newbury was a century before that. Famous people born in the county include Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Winlset and Ricky Gervais.