What are English Weekends for? The British love their weekends for football, rugby or for a timeout with family & friends.
There are numerous such places in England where one can spend quality time with their family & friends, share a couple of pints of beer, lie around, walk, do fishing, play with kids of their mates, have a sumptuous meal and then head off to their homes; happy & relaxed.
It is said that; “When in Rome; do as the Romans do”; I was no exception either. I craved for weekends when I can head out in search of some place which is calm, quiet & can offer relaxed surroundings amidst nature. One such place which ticked every box was Virginia Water. I must have visited this place umpteen times when I was living in England.
This place never disappointed me one bit, the reason for this was the vast expanse of the man-made lake from which this place derives its name; surrounded by acres and acres of lush green trees which date back 150-200 years. Long pathways carved out amidst the woods giving one the feeling of being in the perfect company of oneself.
After all, you work all week long to earn the money; what good is it if you decide to spend your weekends shopping in malls, walking or driving in the cacophony that the urban set up has to offer.
Brief History of Virginia Water
Virginia Water Lake Is located in the southern edge of Windsor Great Park, in the Borough of Runnymede in Surrey. The village of Virginia Water extends to the east of the lake. The grounds of the lake, nearby Fort Belvedere and the Clock-case are all Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of England. Virginia Water Lake was originally a small stream, originating in the 17th century and might have been named after Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
The construction of the lake began in 1746 by William, Duke of Cumberland who was then Ranger of the Park. It is said that the prisoners of the Jacobite Risings were involved in the actual construction of the lake and its surroundings; however, very few details to this effect is available. The original lake was much smaller than the current form and was destroyed in a flood in the year 1768.
Later in 1780; Paul and Thomas Sandby began construction of more bigger lake; an artificial waterfall, Meadow Pond, and Obelisk Pond were added at many later stages. When World War II was raging badly in Europe this lake was drained out. The shape of this lake and its expanse could have guided the enemy up to Windsor and other strategic military points.
The water for this lake is provided by River Bourne which exits at the lake after the cascading waterfall.
How to reach Virginia Water
Nearest railway stations are Egham, Windsor Central, and Windsor Riverside, Ascot and Virginia Water. From London Paddington – First Great Western trains to Windsor Central via a change at Slough.
Use Post Code GU25 4QF in TomTom for Virginia Water car park and SL5 7SB for Virginia Water South car park.
Virginia Water lake is approximately 6 miles from Windsor town center and 2 miles from Egham town center.
Accessible from J13 of M25 via the A30.
There are ample parking spots available from 7.45am to 7 pm at Virginia Water South & Virginia Water all 7 days of the week at very affordable prices. However, there are height restrictions at some parking spaces.
Getting around Virginia Water
First of all, let me tell you that it is free to visit Virginia Water lake and explore the surrounding woodland all year round. However, there are time restrictions to visit Virginia Water which don’t allow any visitors before 7.45am and after 7 pm in summer times and 6.45pm in Winter.
Once you enter through the Virginia Water Car Park off A30; on your left the pathway leads to THE CASCADE. This is an impressively rugged 10-meter waterfall which is one of the grandest remaining features in this Royal Landscape. First built in the 1750s which were unfortunately swept away in 1768 by a violent storm was rebuilt in late 1780s.
The Cascade is a popular landmark in Virginia Water Lake for the visitors who cannot help themselves for stopping to stare at this marvelous creation of man and take photos. The entire pathway is dotted with huge trees on one side with a picturesque view of the Virginia Water Lake. Whenever I visited this place I used to fancy myself sitting on the banks of the lake with a book to read with me.
The pleasant wind and the peaceful surroundings make it for a perfect setting to read the book with a nice cup of coffee from the local Cafe’s which are located as we enter through the car park on our right.
As we keep walking ahead from The Cascade through the pathway which meanders through tall trees overlooking the Virginia Water Lake we stumble upon Roman Ruins. These are the ruins of the Roman City Leptis Magna which were originally found in the Libyan Desert; now brought to this place as a project of reconstructing this glorious city of erstwhile.
The Ruins are arranged along a central ride which runs from Virginia Water lake up to the Belvedere Woods. All of the columns and many of the decorated pieces of the lintels are from Leptis Magna but in order to complete the monument, stones are also taken from the recently demolished Carlton House; either to construct walls or roughly carved to imitate the Romans capitals.
The Ruins are not a reconstruction of a temple, but a ‘picturesque’ style designed set piece using materials from Leptis Magna and elsewhere. These ruins are recognized as a Grade II Listed Building.
The road from here on leads up to the Belvedere Woods. Those who wish to keep on walking or cycling can do so on this pathway. Many of the visitors choose to return back once they visit these ruins back towards the car park from where on the second section of this place can be explored.
As we move on towards the right from the car park we come to the densely wooded part of the park which huge trees forming a natural canopy for the visitors.Walking or cycling in such a canopy has its own perks. As we continue to walk we come to a very unique patch of the park where a 100 feet Totem Pole is erected. This Totem Pole was erected in 1958 to mark the Centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a Crown Colony.
The unique feature of the pole is that it is carved from a single 600-year-old log of Western Red Cedar from the forests of Queen Charlotte Islands; located some 500 miles to the north of Vancouver in Canada. In 1985 the original carvers known as Kwakiutl’s; came back to this place to refresh the paintwork. The unique thing is that this paintwork remains fresh to this day.
As we walk in the park we can clearly see that many of the trees are very old yet they are standing firmly facing the test of the time. The most unique thing that I observed over here is that the branches of the trees; when they fall off are not simply disposed of. These branches were strong and its girth being big; are used very creatively to carve out benches which are kept at various locations in the park> these benches are extremely quirky and have a wow factor.
This way the bounties that Mother Nature has to offer are used judiciously without resorting to the unnecessary felling of the trees. One can sit here reading a book or sipping hot cuppa tea or coffee.
Virginia Water Lake and its surroundings are not complete if you don’t visit “The Savill Garden Kitchen” which serves mouth-watering food extending from breakfast to late lunch. I always made a point that I reach the doors of this place at 9.30am to grab their first coffee of the day.
Once you enter this place I am sure that you will feel as peckish as me and would straightaway pick up the cakes or pastries which are handmade with love by bakers who have mastered the craft of cake making. If you fancy a Full English Breakfast like I do; then think no further – this is the place where you can pamper your taste buds for that very important meal of the day. Guess what they also have Gluten Free option in the breakfast.
Like the Breakfast; The Savill Garden Kitchen has a vast choice of Lunch items ranging from Wood Fired Pizzas to Grilled food to specialty burgers. Specially crafted kids menu along with Gluten Free option for the health conscious people. All this is available with a view that overlooks the expansive gardens.
For the people with dogs; there is a separate sit-out wherein the dogs can stretch their legs in the gardens and their owners can chill out in the designated terrace area.
In totality I would like to sum up by saying that this magnificent lake & its gardens are hugely popular amongst people who love to take part in the wide range of activities ranging from walking or running along the wooded pathway, to simply relaxing and enjoying the view. This area is has a rich history that spans centuries from ancient monuments to cascading waterfalls and stunning views it has to offer.
I would highly recommend this place to all of those who live in the United Kingdom or to those who are planning to visit England. Take out a couple of days to visit this place which is very close by to Good Old London.
Summer – 10 am to 6 pm daily. Last admission at 5 pm.
Winter – 10 am to 4.30pm daily. Last admission at 3.30pm.
Summer – 9.30am to 5.30pm daily.
Winter – 9.30am to 4 pm daily.
The Saville Garden Gift Shop and Plant Centre
Summer – 9.30am to 6 pm daily. The plant center opens at 10 am.
Winter – 9.30am to 4.30pm daily. The plant center opens at 10 am.
The Saville Garden Kitchen
Summer – 10am to 5:30pm daily.
Winter – 10 am to 4 pm daily.
Ameya Tarde, Travel Blogger.