diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 26, 2017

A place you can visit: Virginia Water

What is there? A very big lake with landscaped gardens.

Is it pretty? Yes, that's the main reason for going.

Where is it? In the southern half of Windsor Great Park, where Surrey meets Berkshire.

How do you get there? If you live locally you probably drive. The car parks get absolutely packed out.

I do not live locally: There's always the train. Virginia Water station is about half an hour's walk from the lake.

That doesn't sound like a very interesting walk: Christchurch Road runs direct, and is lined by all sorts of million pound houses, plus gateways to the private Wentworth Estate which surrounds the famous golf course and is where Bruce Forsyth lived. It's not quite so interesting on the walk back.

Where is the entrance? There are several, but the main one is on the A30 where you'll also find the Virginia Water Pavilion, a new timbered cafe/kiosk/toilets combo. Pasta Plus Pesto costs £6, but if you've any sense you'll have brought a picnic.

What to do? Most people walk around the lake. It's a big lake, so the path around the edge is 4½ miles long. If you're fit enough to commit to a circuit, it's ideal for a good stroll, or a cycle, or for the walking of a dog. Less committed visitors tend to merely saunter up to the ice cream van by the totem pole and back.

Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Obviously either, but I'd recommend clockwise because there's only one path along the south side of the lake but a multitude of options on the north side on the way back.

Is there a scenic cascade? Why yes there is, at the point where the River Bourne exits the lake. It's ten metres high and was built by King George III's architect in the 1780s as part of the landscaping of Windsor Great Park. There's now a little viewing platform, perfect for photos and gushing selfies.

Has anyone stolen a city from Libya and dumped it by the lake? Technically the British colonel who acquired the stones of Leptis Magna would say they were a gift to the King, but these days the three dozen columns look very much like brazen cultural appropriation. The current set-up is a repair job following much-needed restoration in 2009.

Was any of Harry Potter filmed here? Some lakeside scenes from The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire were shot by the lakeside, but bits you probably don't remember, so don't come here just for that.

Hang on, did you mention a totem pole? Indeed. 100 feet tall and cut from a single log of red cedar, the pole was a gift from Canada to the Queen in 1958, and is carved with ten staring faces.

What are The Valley Gardens? 220 acres of forested gardens on the northern side of the lake, part of The Royal Landscape, and a glorious place to wander, rest and admire.

I thought that was The Savill Garden: No, that's half a mile to the north. The Savill Garden is a lot more ornamental with a lot more flowers. It's gorgeous but it costs £10.50 to get in, whereas The Valley Gardens are six times larger and you can explore for nothing.

When were The Valley Gardens created? Immediately after the Second World War at the request of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, as a splash of brightness amid the austerity, freely open for all.

What's the best way to explore The Valley Gardens? You can wander anywhere, but two waymarked paths weave across the the tumbling contours, full details of which can be found in an excellent free leaflet dispensed on site. The red path is the Hilltop Route, via the Heather Garden, and has the best views down each of the micro-valleys. The yellow path is the Discovery Route, which explores the horticultural dips and hillcrests in a more undulating way. The blue Lakeside Route is positively dull by comparison.

Where do the Royal family play polo? That'd be at the Guards Polo Club, a large exclusive complex of ten pitches behind the Heather Garden. It costs mere mortals a five figure sum to join, and over £6000 a year to play, so don't think you're going to be welcome.

When's the best time to visit The Valley Gardens? Probably spring, when the national collections of rhododendrons and azaleas are doing their thing. Autumn colours are often very impressive, given the combinations of trees on site. Summer is more about verdant foliage - lush, but not as colourful.

What's special about the tiny stream down Daffodil Valley? It marks the boundary between Berkshire and Surrey. For a month it's also surrounded by the largest display of daffodils in Britain, allegedly.

Best thing about Virginia Water? The Valley Gardens, as part of a wander round the lake and perhaps a wider exploration of Windsor Great Park.

I really must visit Virginia Water sometime: Yes indeed.

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