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Windsor Great Park - An Overview

Updated Oct 2014 - additional information is always under preparation.
Your contributions will be welcomed

Wildlife & Dawn Chorus
Copper Horse
Long Walk
Queen Anne's Ride
Frogmore Mausoleum
Polo and Smiths Lawn 
Cranbourne Tower
Other Activities
Savill Garden

Little House at Royal Lodge

Rangers Gate

The Valley Gardens

Totem Pole

Blacknest Gate

See also

The Royal Pageant of The Horse - that never was!

Freak Rain - August 2000

Crown Estate Web Site -
The Great Park
Please advise Thamesweb if this link fails - thanks

Horse Riding

Windsor Great Park and the surrounding areas provide superb opportunities for horse riding. Permits are required to ride in the Great Park available upon application to:

The Crown Estates Office, Windsor Great Park, Windsor, SL4 2HT
Tel: 01753 860222

The History of Windsor Great Park and Windsor Forest.
William Menzies.
Longman Green. 1864

Wiliam Menzies was Deputy Surveyor of Windsor Great Park from 1849-1878. The Royal Windsor Website is planning to create a facsimile edition of this rare publication. If you would like to have more information or enjoy a significant discount by registering as a pre-publication subscriber, please contact The Editor.     Also available is W Menzies' son's book, published 40 years later, see below.

Available NOW!
William Menzies
'Windsor Park and Forest' 1904
as an eBook ­ just £4.95

A Short History of the Park and Forest

Details page here

FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING: 'Royal Landscape,' The Gardens and Parks of Windsor, Jane Roberts, Yale University Press, 1997. This book contains a mass of information about the Parks, and is gloriously illustrated.

An Introduction to Windsor Great Park

To the south of Windsor is The Great Park extending over some 14,000 acres of which 8,000 acres are forest.
  Windsor Great Park is the only Royal Park managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners and it is their duty to maintain its unique character .
  The public areas are predominantly woodland or open grassland. A wide variety of forest trees thrive, including beech, oak, sweet chestnut, birch and conifers although the elms have virtually disappeared through Dutch elm disease in recent years.

Oak Trees in the Park, old and young!

A magnificent old oak, perhaps 500 years old or more
with a young oak sapling planted just a year or two ago (1998)

The Park is very carefully managed, with an eye for the very distant future, new plantings being undertaken as and when necessary to replace old and diseased trees, which, in the case of the oak especially, can date back 500 years and more. In the 1700s there was a great demand for English oak for the building of naval ships and the older oaks are not nearly as common as they once were, but regular plantings over the centuries, which continues to this day, will ensure that The Great Park will remain an area of outstanding beauty throughout this Millennium.
 Sign-posting in Windsor Great Park is minimal and discreet, which adds to its charm and character!

Wildlife and The Dawn Chorus

The Great Park offers splendid opportunities for walking, horse riding or cycling and it is a naturalist's paradise. Throughout the spring, at sun rise, the wide variety of bird life makes the dawn chorus an exciting event to experience. Recommended areas are around Smiths Lawn, Blacknest Gate, The Valley Gardens and Virginia Water.
  Deer were kept in the Great Park for many centuries but were taken away in 1940, during the Second World War when additional areas of land were ploughed for food production. In 1979, at the suggestion of The Duke of Edinburgh, The Chief Ranger, 1000 acres of the park were enclosed and the deer reintroduced.

Deer in Great Park

Deer in shade

Deer enjoy the shade of an old oak tree.
Off Queen Anne's Ride 24th June 2003

Virginia Water

The beautiful Virginia Water, which is a large man-made lake, dates back to1753 and forms a most efficient drainage system for the Park. There is an early reference to drainage of 'the Royal Park at Windsor' in the book 'James Brindley and the Early Engineers', 1864, where Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch engineer, was engaged to undertake the work. In 1621 he had successfully stemmed a breach in the Thames embankment at Dagenham, and subsequently installed drainage at Hatfield Level, a royal chase on the borders of Yorkshire, at the invitation of James I.
  It was William, Duke of Cumberland, third son of George II, who, as Ranger, transformed the Surrey bog into glorious parkland. Also involved was the Deputy Ranger, Thomas Sandby, brother to Paul Sandby, R.A. The two brothers lived together at Windsor, and both Paul and Thomas Sandby painted many pictures of the castle and environs in the late 1700s. Many are hung at Windsor Castle.
  The Virginia Water project was continued by Henry, brother of George III.The lake is 130 acres in area, and its total length is slightly over two miles long and one third of a mile wide at its widest point. Its circumference is about seven miles. It was at the time one of the largest artificial lakes in England.

The Royal Barge at Virginia Water

At one time a Royal Barge was stationed on the lake, 32' long and 6' 2" beam, with a mahogany interior, grained to represent walnut, and the exterior in teak, white painted, with gold scroll work.
Green silk hangings were a feature of the interior, again with gold mouldings and carvings representing the Rose (of England), The Shamrock (for Ireland) and The Thistle (for Scotland). The stern featured the Royal Arms beautifully carved in mahogany. Over the state room was a green silk canopy with elliptic top, supported by six fluted columns each having an ornamental base.
Large brass dolphins were mounted on the gunwales of the barge, their carved tails forming rowlocks. The figurehead was also a dolphin, carved in mahogany and etched with gold. A brass serpent tiller was fixed to the rudder.
About twenty people would have been able to enjoy a trip on this lavish Royal Barge.

As to why the lake is known as Virginia Water is not certain. It is believed to be borrowed from the great State of Virginia, in America, which had been so called in honour of Queen Elizabeth.

Virginia Water

An early engraving showing the Fishing Temple and a three masted frigate 'The Victorine'

1904 Fishing Temple

A postcard view of the Fishing Temple around 1904

The Cascade, or Waterfall, is also notable. It is close by the A30 main road and constructed from stones brought from Bagshot Heath. They are rumoured to be the remains from a Saxon settlement. From the Cascade a stream runs through a glen and ultimately enters the Thames at Chertsey. By the side of the Cascade, immense stones are arranged to form a cavern known as 'The Robber's Cave'.

The Cascade at Virginia Water from 'Picturesque Europe', 1870,
under the heading 'A Tour of Windsor'. The full article is available here

Sir Jeffrey Wyatville was the architect of the handsome bridge over the lake near Blacknest Gate and there are six other bridges.
  In 1816-17 some Corinthian pillars of Roman origin, and perhaps 2000 years old, were brought from North Africa. These were a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV) and had been brought from Lepcis Magna in Tripoli, a Roman town. In 1826-7, following a period of storage in The British Museum, 'The Ruins' were erected by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville so as to suggest the remains of an ancient temple, known as 'The Temple of the Gods'.

Post Card View Virginia Water Ruins

The Ruins at Virginia Water - an early postcard view

Ruins at Virginia Water

The Ruins at Virginia Water through the trees

Virginia Water is about 7 miles in circumference, being around two miles long and one third of a mile wide at its widest point.

Duke of Cumberland's Chinese Junk

The images above are from a drawing c. 1754 by Thomas Sandby, 1721 - 1799, in the Royal Collection, RL 14646.
  This particular print has been spoilt by some insensitive colouring, but it does show the Chinese Yacht also known as the Mandarin Yacht and Chinese Junk on Virginia Water in the company of several other boats.
  Paul Sandby, [approx. 1730 - 1809], Thomas's younger brother, painted a picture in 1749 of 'a hulk' being removed from the river Thames at the Bells of Ouseley for transportation over three days to Windsor Great Park, presumably to Great Meadow Pond which was created in 1749, or Obelisk Pond which was created the following year.
  Virginia Water was completed in 1753 by which time the 'hulk' had been transformed into the Chinese Yacht complete with a colourful dragon along the side. The Yacht was said to be over 40 feet 'in the keel' carried '50 tun' and the main saloon was 20 feet by 12. The deck was enclosed by a fretwork fence and there were four ladders, two each side, one forward, one aft. A number of boats in a variety of styles were built to adorn Virginia Water from that time.
  The Yacht remained on Virginia Water for some years but in September 1768 there was a disastrous flood when the dam that created Virginia Water failed and it seems that the Yacht was moved back to Great Meadow Pond where it appears in a painting of 1780. By 16th April 1783 it was reported to be derelict and may have sunk there.
  I am indebted for the above to a magnificent book by Jane Roberts entitled 'Royal Landscape' which constitutes a definitive history of not only Virginia Water but the whole of Windsor Great Park. Jane Robert's book contains very much more information than I can include here!

The 'Edward VII' or 'The Brig' 1904 - 1919

The Brig Postcard

A postcard view of Virginia Water post-marked 1909

Hidden in the mists of the picture above is one of the last non-motorised boat to sail on Virginia Water. Named the Edward VII, she was a 10 gun brig, converted to scale from a 42' cutter at Sheerness Dockyard in 1904 and sailed to Brentford on the Thames before being brought to Virginia Water by road. The royal children, including The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, and the Duke of Kent, all enjoyed playing on her but she was scrapped in 1919 on the orders of the Admiralty when she was found to be infested extensively from dry rot. Requests to launch boats on Virginia Water were normally refused although Sandhurst cadets were allowed to practice rowing on the lake in 1919. Later the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales, along with their friends, were to use speed boats on Virginia Water in 1931 but after an accident or two, and concern that wading ashore would be unsafe due to the 'vegetable ooze' on the bottom, it was agreed that all boating should be stopped in 1936. Indeed Edward VIII ordered that all boats be dispersed to Portsmouth, Chatham and Dartmouth and that the Fishing Cottage, now in a very bad state of repair, be demolished. (Sources: South, Royal Lake and Roberts Royal Landscape)

The Brig Postcard - Detail

Detail from the postcard above showing the Edward VII circa 1909


The Launch of the Frigate 'Adelaide'

In May 1834 the frigate 'Adelaide' was launched on Virginia Water in the presence of several thousand Windsorians and Eton boys. A contemporary report from the Windsor Express of the day is reproduced here.


Arriving by Car

Visitors by car from Windsor may take either the Old Windsor road, or Ascot/Bracknell road out of Windsor and drive around to the south of Windsor Great Park where there is a choice of parking areas and park entrance gates, the main ones being along the A30 adjacent to The Wheatsheaf and Wentworth Golf Course.

Walking and Cycling

Walkers may enjoy an extended walk from The Long Walk, turning left at The Copper Horse, past Royal Lodge and Cumberland Lodge and onwards to Virginia Water via Smith's Lawn. Please note, cycling is not permitted on the Long Walk. Cyclists should take the road either to Old Windsor and follow the signs to Savill Gardens, or follow the cycle routes through the park, to the west of the Long Walk, or east through Old Windsor. Cycling in Windsor is planned as a future update to The Royal Windsor Web Site.

Horse Riding

Windsor Great Park and the surrounding areas provide superb opportunities for horse riding. Permits are required to ride in the Great Park upon application to:

The Crown Estates Office, Windsor Great Park, Windsor, SL4 2HT
Tel: 01753 860222

The Copper Horse and Snow Hill

The Copper Horse on Snow Hill, and the view north along the Long Walk towards Windsor Castle
and the George IV gateway.

This picture was taken in the 1940s and shows the young horse chestnut trees
shortly after the replanting of the Long Walk.

The Copper Horse

It is said that Henry VIII stood on Snow Hill awaiting news of Anne Boleyn's execution which was to be signalled by gunfire from The Round Tower.

The Copper Horse, a statue of George III on horseback, was erected on Snow Hill by his son, George IV and created by Sir Richard Westmacott in the years 1824-1830. The statue is the source of a rumour that the sculptor hanged himself after realising he had forgotten the stirrups! As Sir Richard lived to a ripe old age the story is not founded in truth!

George IV wanted the statue of his father to resemble that of Peter the Great in St Petersburgh, hence the massive base.

Before the Copper Horse could be erected, it was damaged in transit when the cart carrying it broke down near Snow Hill, and a furnace was set up on the spot and repairs made to the damaged leg.

There are superb views of the Castle from The Copper Horse along The Long Walk, another avenue similar to Queen Anne's Ride, some two miles long. Well worth a - long - walk!

The Copper Horse in the 1920s

The Copper Horse in the 1920s. One of the hand coloured
post cards that were sold at that time.

Views of Windsor
Engravings and Post Cards

We are always keen to receive either scans (JPG) of Windsor as it was, or old post cards, engravings or books and booklets to form the basis of new Windsor Web Site stories. Please contact The Editor

The Long Walk

The Long Walk has been moved to a story of its own. Please click here

Queen Anne's Ride

Queen Anne's Ride SW

Queen Anne's Ride looking south west

Queen Anne's Ride, dating from 1708, is a grand avenue similar to The Long Walk, also three miles in length, but unlike its more famous counterpart, it features only a single row of trees on each side. It runs south-west towards Ascot. In the 18th Century it was known as Queen's Walk, the name changing during the nineteenth century.
    A local furore erupted in 1993 when some of the older oaks adjacent to the A332 road to Bracknell were felled in order to restore The Ride. The Association of High Sherriffs had provided 1000 oak trees for the avenue, celebrating 1000 years of the office of High Sherriff. Many residents misunderstood the project and complained about the felling of the older oaks, but in truth it was an example of how Windsor Great Park is managed with an eye to the distant future, the restoration project being undertaken for the undoubted pleasure of visitors to the park one hundred years from now, and more. Even in the 1880s and 1890s trees in the ride were reported as dead and dying, and so this regular replanting is a standard task in forestry.
  Queen Anne's Ride makes a splendid walk in the summer, from Queen Anne's Gate, at the end of King's Road, to the boundary of the Park near Ascot Heath and the Racecourse, famous for Royal Ascot Week, passing by The Village, within The Great Park.

Queen Anne Ride towards castle

Queen Anne's Ride from near The Village in the Great Park
looking towards Windsor Castle

Queen Anne Ride to south west

Queen Anne's Ride from near The Village in the Great Park
looking south west

Rangers Gate

Beyond Queen Anne's Ride on the A332 road to Bracknell there lies Rangers Gate with Rangers Lodge beyond. Parking is normally possible opposite this gate with a pleasant walk over the hill towards The Village and through to the Copper Horse beyond.

Rangers Gate

Rangers Gate and Rangers Lodge



Frogmore from the Long Walk

Frogmore Mausoleum from the Long Walk

This article has been moved to a page of its own.
Please see Frogmore Mausoleum and Opening Times

In the gardens of Frogmore House is the Royal Mausoleum where both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried. The Mausoleum is easily seen from the Long Walk, on the eastern side.

The Valley Gardens

The Valley Gardens article has been moved to a page of its own. The Valley Gardens

Bears Rails

To the east of the Park, near Old Windsor, is Bears Rails.

The Pond at Bears Rails

The Pond at Bears Rails


Smiths Lawn

The history of Smiths Lawn deserves an extensive article in its own right which we hope to prepare at some point in the future. In the meantime we have found some references and images which we hope are of interest. First, its name. As with all these things it is impossible to be 100% certain, but the name was first recorded as 'Smith's Lawn Plantation' around 1748, a 'lawn' in this case being a glade or pasture in a deer park. There is no mention of Smith's Lawn prior to 1748 but it could have been named after Thomas Smith, keeper at Manor Lodge at the time of the Restoration. Some suggest it was named after Bernard Smith, stud groom - an important position to a Royal Family keen on horse-racing - between 1745 and 1765 but these dates are a little late.
  At the far end of Smith's Lawn is The Obelisk, and the Statue of Prince Albert, The Prince Consort, placed there as the Jubilee Offering of the Women of England to Queen Victoria. The Savill Gardens are beyond.

camp 1915

Troops camped out on Smiths Lawn in August 1915

The picture above illustrates a military camp on Smith's Lawn in 1915. It seems likely that the camp was for training purposes before the troops set off for the 'front' in northern France.
  Later during the First World War, in 1916, the Canadian Forestry Corps, sent by Canada in support of the war effort, made their headquarters at Smith's Lawn and started felling trees at the Virginia Water, Clockcase Plantation. Fully funded by the Canadian government, and with over 70 locations for the CFC around the UK, the organisation was responsible for the felling of around 70% of the UK's timber needs during World War One. For a short time after the war, Smith's Lawn was was known as the Canadian Camp.
It is said that the Canadians were amazed at the size of some of the oaks in the Great Park, one having a circumference of 38 feet and which was probably around 1000 years old. The CFC website, linked below, claims to have cut down 'William The Conqueror's Oak' though, if true, it would probably be better to keep quiet about that these days. It was probably one of a number of trees that claimed to be William The Conqueror's Oak. What is certainly true is that oaks remain in Windsor Great Park that are old enough to have been around in William's time. [As of 2006].
  Canadian Forestry Corps at Smiths Lawn Please let us know if this link no longer works by emailing the editor here.
  Records exist of a grass airfield being prepared in the 1920s for the use of the Prince of Wales - later to become Edward VIII, and in World War II, Smith's Lawn continued to be used as an aerodrome. Uppermost was the security of the monarch, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth, and their children, the two princesses. The airfield would have permitted a quick escape route in the event of a German invasion. A painting by Charles Cundall, dating from 1944, illustrates
'Planes of the United States Air Force on Smith's Lawn'.
  The Duke of Edinburgh is said to have undertaken some of his flying lessons at Smith's Lawn and for many years cricket was played here. In 1955 The Household Brigade Polo Club was formed, and renamed The Guards Polo Club in 1969. The area is now the largest area devoted to polo in Europe, with 12 grounds.


Polo is played most days on Smith's Lawn during the summer. Teams from all over the country, and abroad, even as far as Argentina, compete with their entourage of ponies. Polo ponies are renowned for their agility, and makes for a game of great speed and excitement. The balls are large and heavy, and in the 1950s used to be made from wood although these days they are plastic. The game is divided into time periods known as 'chukkas'. Between chukkas the riders may take a few moments to leave the field and change ponies. In the 1950s the spectators were invited to walk onto the pitch during the intervals to 'tread the divots', saving the groundsmen much work in restoring the surface of the pitch after countless hooves had gouged great holes in the turf. The Queen was often to be seen watching, as was Princess Diana in more recent years. Both Prince Charles and The Duke of Edinburgh were skilled players in their day. Prince William and Prince Harry are also accomplished players today.  
  There is a web site here The Guards Polo Club for more information BUT a word of warning! The last time I visited their site my ears were blasted by some unexpected and inappropriate music!!! I am no fan of music of any sort on web pages at the best of times!!! Sorry.

The Totem Pole

The Totem Pole article has a page of its own. The Totem Pole

Cranbourne Tower

Cranbourne Tower

Cranbourne Tower

Cranbourne Tower is visible to the north west of the A332, Windsor-Bracknell road, at the top of the hill before the forested area, and has been greatly altered. It was built by the Earl of Ranelagh in the reign of Charles II and used to be known as Cranbourne Lodge. William, Duke of Cumberland, subsequently occupied it and the last Royal personage to reside in it was the Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV. Part of the building was pulled down and the Tower is all that remains.
As the area is quite high, water from Romney Lock Pumping Station was stored in this area to supply water to Windsor Castle, using a gravity feed system.

Other activities in the Great Park

There is an area set aside to the north of the A332 to Bracknell for both model aircraft and kite flying. A popular hobby for many Windsorian children, flying takes place at weekends and weekday evenings - weather permitting!
A variety of events take place in the Park every year, including the Carriage Driving Championships and a Half Marathon.

Kite Flying - Article by Karen Theobald

Savill Garden

Savill Garden

To the east of the Great Park is The Savill Garden, which is well worth a visit in March - May time, when the rhododendrons and azaleas are at their best, although the garden has much to offer throughout the year. Here too there is a lake, reflecting the colour all along its banks.

There is a Temperate House featuring many rare plants.

Approximate opening times:
10am-6pm Mar-Oct
10am-4pm Nov-Feb

Contact: 044 (0)1753 860222

Savill Garden, Crown Estate Office, The Great Park, Windsor, Berkshire.

More about the Savill Garden


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