Near the gates of Windsor Castle, a short walk from the Queen’s residence, is a tree full of lime green parakeets. Unlike their infamous cousins in London, they have settled in a fabulously verdant spot: undeterred by the picnics, dog sitters and tourists who congregate beneath them, scream and chat loudly, occasionally flitting between the tall horse chestnuts on the Lungo Cammino – the park created in 1600 by King Charles II.
With their exuberant plumage and ruby red bill, they look more suited to Borneo than Berkshire, but they are part of the decor – I’ve seen them here for over a decade. And who can blame them? When it comes to quality of life, this neighborhood is at the top of the tree.
This week, a national poll confirmed what we locals have always known: that the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) is England’s “happiest area” to live in. The research, conducted by Guardian Carers, evaluated the regions of our country on the basis of eight values considered critical for contentment, such as family income, low crime rates, employment and access to green space. Kate and William apparently chose wisely in their future hometown: out of over 300 local authorities, RBWM prevailed.
The top five of the survey included (in order of ranking) Salisbury, Rutland, Broxbourne and Runnymede, Windsor’s neighbor in neighboring Surrey. At the foot of the table was the city of Boston, Lincolnshire.
It’s all to be taken with armfuls of salt, of course, but I’ll flaunt any excuse to become a lyricist about my adopted home region. Like the parakeets, I have migrated here from afar and, although over the years I have made my wanderings back and forth, to the likes of Surrey, Spain and Dubai, I have always found my way back. In fact, just this week I returned to RBWM after a short move to Worcestershire – as I write this, I am surrounded by boxes, but there is something about this place that already looks familiar. I can see the River Thames from my window, where glittering speedboats flit among huge weeping willows and camera-wielding tourists sunbathing on day-long sightseeing cruises.
While some locals scoff at the steady stream of visitors, the area’s charm is a great source of pride – and income – for most of us. And yes, Heathrow’s noise subsides on some days (especially when planes land eastbound), but the airport puts the whole world on our doorstep and is one of the largest employers in the region.
Pump and circumstance
Even the closeness of the royal family rarely gets old: I’ve seen Republican faithful stunned by the Queen’s gaze driving through Great Park, while the glitz and glitz of Windsor’s changing of the guard ceremony is always uplifting. If you’re having brunch at the excellent Castle Hotel, keep your eyes peeled – the guards march right through the window.
While Windsor monopolizes the limelight, Maidenhead’s charm includes a charming (and much quieter) stretch of riverside, dominated by the fantastic Boathouse at Boulters Lock and the Roux at Skindles restaurants. In the 1970s and 1980s, the latter was a luxurious nightclub, where upscale clientele – including Princess Margaret, John Lennon and President Nixon – indulged. These days, it’s a celebrated outpost of the Roux restaurant empire, just upstream from the lavish River Arts Club hotel.
You see, while the “happiest area” survey focuses on the quality of life, the quality of the area vacation there is another string to his bow. For families, Legoland Windsor is always a hit, and there’s also Thorpe Park just across the border in Surrey. For long weekends, the newly opened Fairmont Windsor Park is a self-contained idyll of fine dining, sumptuous accommodations and impeccable spa facilities – a setting so opulent that even taking a short stroll into the surrounding park requires willpower. ‘steel.
If you drag yourself from the hotel, the 90-minute walk to Windsor Castle leads through Deer Park, where statuary herds graze among towering oak trees, seemingly undisturbed by the view of Berkshire from their elevated pastures. Overlooking the scene, the “Copper Horse” monument captures the likeness of King George III, astride his verdigris steed, one arm outstretched to Windsor’s bustling shops, theaters and hotels. As a Royal Borough, this wilderness certainly has the monarchy’s seal of approval, but for the rest of us, parakeets included, it truly is a very happy home – and vacation -.