Virginia Water Lake in Windsor Great Park: another ‘jolly.’
I’ve been off on another ‘jolly.’ You know what that means; photos and blurb.
Somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and enjoy.
Virginia Water Lake.
The lake, not the small town, though I’d like to visit that when I get chance.
Apparently I visited there as a child but I cannot recall it, and anyway, even if I had been there as a child, I couldn’t have appreciated it the way I can, and have, as an adult.
For those without a clue where Virginia Water is, here is the blurb:
The town of Virginia Water is a commuter town in Surrey, England. It might rings some bells if I mention The Wentworth Estate and The Wentworth Club, where the first Ryder Cup was played.
It is also home to the headquarters of the PGA European Tour (pro golf) and the estate was in the headlines in 1998 when General Augusto Pinochet was kept under house arrest in one of the properties there, prior to his extradition.
The estate is situated in the Borough of Runnymede; you know the place, where the Magna Carter was signed by King John.
The town takes its name from the lake in the nearby Windsor Great Park and the lake’s name was transferred from a previous stream which was probably named after the ‘Virgin Queen.’ Elizabeth l.
The River Bourne provides water for the lake and it exits the lake at the eastern end after cascading down a waterfall.
The bodies of water stretch over the boarders of Runnymede, Old Windsor, Sunninghill and Ascot. Think rich and famous and you’ll get the idea – the area oozes wealth. Sir Elton John has lived in the area and author Bill Bryson spent his early married life in the village, to name but a couple of well-known names.
Windsor Great Park was once part of a vast Norman hunting forest. It was enclosed in the late 13th century. It is the only Royal Park managed by The Crown Estate.
Covering 2,020 hectares of parkland, it includes a mix of formal avenues, gardens, woodland, open grassland and a Deer Park.
The Great Park and its forest are renowned for its scattering of ancient oaks, which all add to the magnificent history of the Great Park.
Windsor Castle can be seen at the end of the long drive. We all know who lives there: HM The Queen.
It is open to the public for walking, running, dog walking, cycling and rollerblading, fishing, flying model aircraft, horse riding and picnicking, plus so much more.
Virginia Water Lake:
From Saxon times through to the present day, every century has left its mark on the landscape. One of the most interesting areas to explore is the southern shore of Virginia Water Lake.
The artificial lake was created in the 18th century under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the Ranger of the Park at the time. It was first dammed and flooded in 1753. Until the creation of the great reservoirs, it was the largest man-made body of water in the British Isles. Few details exist of the building of the lake but it has been suggested that prisoners of war from the Jacobite risings, who were encamped at nearby Breakheart Hill, were involved.
Check for changes but The Valley Gardens and Virginia Water is open all year round from dusk until dawn, entry fees apply, and there is a car park fee.
There is a restaurant at the entrance. In 2013 the Virginia Water Pavilion, an impressive structure fabricated by sustainable timber supplies from the Windsor Forest, was opened and offers improved visitor facilities to the area. As well as public conveniences (with baby changing and disabled facilities ) there’s a Visitor Services Team available to help and advise and also seating with stunning views across the lake and a place to take refuge if the weather turns bad. There is seating outside also.
Some trivia for you to digest:
The shores of the lake have been used for lakeside scenes in the Harry Potter films, and for boat scenes in Robin Hood. It seems that the Scottish alternative was unsuitable because of the number of midges.
The lake is also the site of the British Record capture of a Pike (fish) weighing 58lbs 5ozs.
During WW2 the lake was drained, as its recognisable shape was thought likely to provide enemy guidance at night to Windsor and to important military targets in the area.
No point in doing that these days; they can use Google Earth.
Anyway, back to our walk around the lake.
The circuit around the lake is about 4.5 miles (7.2Km) about half of which is paved and the other half is ‘natural’ path. Wheelchairs and pushchairs should manage it easily.
The famous cascade, a short walk from the Virginia Water car park, next to a fab pub where they serve food, also dates from that time. There used to be an earlier cascade a little further east apparently, on a previous pond head, but it seems it collapsed.
We entered from the car park, resisted the pub – until later – and took off around the lake taking a left turn from the entrance.
A word of warning, wear good shoes, especially if it is wet underfoot. The walk around the lake is easy but good shoes or boots make life worth living.
The landscape design was developed further during the reign of George lll. It was Thomas Sandby, the renowned topographical draughtsman, who was responsible for most of it.
In 1818, George lV installed the Leptis Magna ruins. Which is the next place of interest we stopped at, having spent a few minutes watching the cascade not too far from our entry point.
Leptis Magna ruins – a Roman Temple – built from columns and lintels brought from the ancient city of Leptis Magna, in the early 19th century.
Interesting, but a bit of a puzzle. Why you ask? Sorry, no reason that I can think of except for the passion back then for all things ancient and classical, and the fact that many rich noblemen took the ‘Grand Tour,’ of Europe and had to bring back a few souvenirs.
Think Butlins holidays and ‘Kiss me Quick,’ hats from the 1950s and 1960s, postcards and silly ornaments with the name of the seaside resort printed on them. I guess, in the 19th century, bringing a Leptis Magna home was something to remember the trip by.
Following the lake (on the right of us) we found the site of the Chinese fishing temple.…well where it once was; we think. It’s one of the most elaborate adornments to the lake’s shore apparently. A Mandarin yacht, known as a Chinese junk, plied the waters, adding to the exotic effect so we were told by a notice. I have no idea what I was supposed to be looking at, but the yacht had definitely sailed. Typical.
Later on in the 1930s and 1940s The Savill Garden and Valley Gardens were established, continuing the grand landscaping traditions. I seem to recall a trip out to Savill Gardens, one Sunday afternoon, some years ago, with my mother and one of my numerous siblings, when we had a fab pub lunch (we always end up in a watering hole) and a very long and delightful walk around the gardens.
We didn’t enter from the Virginia Water end of the estate, but somewhere else and so missed seeing the lake on that occasion. The gardens are well worth a visit, especially in the Spring and Summer, but actually there is something to see all year round. It’s that sort of place.
Stunningly beautiful and so very peaceful. It’s food for the soul.
Virginia Water is a must in Autumn. The trees were magnificent in their golden splendour, though some were yet to change. So wonderful in fact, that my phone camera couldn’t cope with the sheer brilliance of the colour contrasts. We hadn’t planned on a trip to Virginia Waters, so I didn’t think to bring my proper camera, and I am so upset that many photos didn’t come out clearly. Still, my brother had his iPhone and that seemed to cope brilliantly.
We came across few people on our 2 hour walk, although judging from the car park, there were dozens of people visiting.
We had the lake and woodland paths to ourselves and the sun shone right up until the last 15 minutes of our walk, when it tried to drizzle, but it gave up and the evening sky started to come in.
I was so excited that we managed to find the Totem Pole which I’d heard so much about as a youngster. It is 100 feet high, and was a gift to HM The Queen from the Government of British Columbia, Canada. It didn’t disappoint.
The woodlands surrounding the lake have been continuously planted since the middle of the 18th century. The Frost Farm Plantation at the south-western end of the lake) is also a designated SSI (Site of Special Interest) because of the maturity and biodiversity of the area.
Well, apart from raving about the beauty of the scenery, the tranquility and sense of open space, there’s not much more to say. I think I’ll allow the photos to tell the rest of the story. After an approximate 8 mile and 2 hour walk, we headed to the pub by the entrance for a well deserved vino collapso. Luckily we’d eaten at a lovely restaurant on the way there, so there wasn’t any need to have dinner.
I slept like a log that night. All the fresh air and exercise knocked me for six.
If you get the chance, especially if you find yourself visiting Windsor Great Park, do make a point of seeing The Savill Gardens, The Valley Gardens and the magnificent
Virginia Water Lake.
You won’t be disappointed.
The Crown Estate Windsor Great Park Tel: +44 (0)1753 860222
I hope you have enjoyed my trip around the lake – do let me know.
All photos (c) Jane Risdon 2015 All Rights Reserved.