January 2024

Is this England’s greatest plane-spotting town?

Jonjo Maudsley
Jonjo Maudsley


We love heading around the UK (and the world, for that matter) to explore primetime plane-spotting destinations. Windsor shows off the best of T5 traffic while being a bustling tourist beehive in its own right. Local writer Jonjo Maudsley takes us on a tour

It’s a clear, blue, frosty winter’s morning and the wind is blowing in from the east, and there’s a similarly eastern approach for today’s run of traffic into London Heathrow. Boeing 777s and Airbus A380s are like a parade of birds flying over England’s most royal market town. From here on the town’s curving, café-laden high street, the planes’ short, final approach seem to take their passengers directly over the bastions of Windsor Castle and its clean-cut courtyards, seeming almost to brush the Royal Standard as they descend out of sight.

For plane-spotting anoraks like me, living in Windsor is an endless source of pleasure. This is a town that has a long association with the wonders of aviation. It was where the first airmail delivery arrived in 1911, brought by Gustav Hamel in a plucky Blériot XI, which he landed directly on the Long Walk. And it’s the town that birthed engineer Sydney Camm, whose Hawker Hurricane became ‘the plane that saved Britain’ in World War II. 

One can steal a sublime view of the busiest two-runway airport in the world

Nowadays, everyone in town has their favourite spot from which to watch the jets toing-and-froing. Cooper’s Hill (not to be confused with the famous cheese-rolling site of the same name) on the outskirts of Old Windsor is mine. At its summit is the Air Forces Memorial, built by Edward Maufe in 1953 in the style of a flight control tower and dedicated to the men and women of World War II who sadly never got to make that final, safe landing back home. 

From the observation deck atop this monument, one can steal a sublime view of the traffic queuing for the busiest two-runway airport in the world. My flight tracker app tells me the provenance of these mighty aircraft: the first comes from Kuala Lumpur, then it’s Pittsburgh and Santiago bringing up the rear. Bangalore and Beirut come in hot pursuit.

As you read this, you may be fresh from your cushiony-soft landing into Heathrow. I hope, if you are, that you’ll stop by our delightful town soon. And if plane-spotting isn’t quite your cup of tea, perhaps you’ll enjoy some of these other hidden gems, hand-picked from my new book, 111 Places In Windsor That You Shouldn’t Miss, instead.

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The Copper Horse (a monument to George III) stands in the grounds of Windsor Castle

Where to go in Windsor

Eton College Museums
While only open between 2:30pm–5pm on Sundays, Eton College proudly offers three museums – all totally free to enter. There’s the Natural History Museum, where you’ll find a taxidermy kakapo parrot, and the Museum of Antiquities, home to a cartouche of Rameses II. But the standout exhibit is the Museum of Eton Life, where you can learn what really goes on inside the world’s most prestigious school.

Thomas Hardy’s Altarpiece 
Before Thomas Hardy became the legendary author he’s remembered as today, he was a humble church architect. This altarpiece at All Saints’ Church is one of his finest works. Rather inexplicably, it was hidden by wood panelling for almost 100 years, until parishioners Stuart Tunstall and Don Church stumbled upon it by accident in 2017. 

Windsor & Eton Brewery
Windsor was once known throughout the land for its beer and was a major supplier to the millions of thirsty Londoners downriver. That bubble burst in the early 20th century, but now Windsor & Eton Brewery is poised to revive the legacy. Along with Indie Rabble and Two Flints, it’s the final stop on what is fast becoming known as the ‘Windsor Beer Mile’. 

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The Windsor Lady 
Windsor is chock-a-block with statues of royals from generations of British history, but none is as intimate nor as humble as Lydia Karpinska’s interpretation of Queen Elizabeth II. The late queen sits quietly in the corner of Bachelor’s Acre, dressed not in regal garb, but in her trademark Barbour coat and glittery headscarf, cuddling her favourite corgi Susan. It was said to be the Queen’s favourite statue of herself. 

The Crooked House 
Windsor’s other most iconic house earned its trademark nine-degree tilt from a hilarious historical hash-up. After accidentally knocking part of the building down during construction of the adjacent Guildhall, local builders hastily rebuilt this house using unseasoned green oak, which warped before hardening. Its current proprietors, The Shambles Bar, invite you to experience the full force of this crookedness over a glass of their locally sourced libations.

Do you have a favourite plane-spotting location? Email The Club magazine inbox at theclub@cedarcom.co.uk to tell us all about it – and you might just see your name in our next issue

This article has been tagged BA, Destination