Virginia Water is an artificial lake at the southern end of Windsor Great Park. It was created in the eighteenth century by George II’s son William, Duke of Cumberland who saw the potential in a landscape that contained numerous streams. He had a dam built at the southern end of the park near the hamlet of Harpesford and dug out an area to form the lake. When it was first formed it was the largest area of artificial water in the country.
It is part of the Crown Estate and in the past provided royalty with a vast, private pleasure garden containing numerous strange and unusual buildings, most of which have now disappeared.
A severe storm in 1768 breached the dam holding back the waters of the lake, which caused much destruction downstream. A new and more robust dam was built in a slightly different location, causing the hamlet of Harpesford to disappear beneath the waters of the lake.
There are good paths all the way round on mainly level ground and I walked in a clockwise direction and passed the Cascade, a man-made waterfall built at the pond head. Unfortunately the water wasn’t running so what is usually a cool and attractive feature, looked sad and neglected, with stagnant water in the pool beneath.
The Cascade 2017 and below how it looks in the snow
The area around the lake has beeen used in many films including a fight scene on the cascades in Into the Woods, the Harry Potter films and the 2010 version of Robin Hood. King John’s castle was build on the Moated Island and a fleet of boats set sail down what was supposed to be the Thames estuary, but was actually Virginia Water Lake.
A little further on I passed the rather surprising sight of some of the ruins of Leptis Magna, which date from Roman times and were originally located at Lebida overlooking the Mediterranean to the east of Tripoli in Libya.
Although I couldn’t see it, a ride has recently been cleared between the lake and Fort Belvedere. This was one of the royal residences and home to Edward VIII. I believe he was residing there at the time of his abdication, and where he signed the letter relinquishing his right to the throne.
The path took me through wooded areas with pine trees and bracken and a variety of wild flowers. At the north western end of the lake, the water looked still with a coppery coloured tinge to it.
I crossed the Five Arch Bridge near Blacknest Gate and turned to walk down the eastern shore.
I walked to the edge of the water along a path cut through dense bracken and realised I was standing on the side of a moat. Before the lake was formed a manor house had been built on a moated island. At a later date the south and eastern side of the moat were swallowed up by the lake. In the early part of the nineteenth century George IV had a fishing temple built on the island. I couldn’t see any sign of that but an attractive house, boathouse and bridge were visible.
As I neared the Punchbowl, one of the breathtaking sights of Spring, a red deer ran out of the undergrowth but I wasn’t quick enough to get a good photograph of it. I was surprised to see the Punchbowl valley closed but it appears this area is undergoing a replanting programme.
Punchbowl 2017 and below how it looked in 2008
My final interesting sight is the Totem Pole, which was installed in 1958. Given to Queen Elizabeth II to mark the centenary of British Columbia as a Crown Colony. It is made from a single log of a Western Red Cedar Tree from Canada.