I remember as a child, we’d hop in the car (often with my grandparents and their awesome labrador Sam – I try not to take offence at that name…) and head off to lots of parks in the area for me to run off my energy and explore the outdoors. I have a lot of fond memories of this time, but my favourite childhood escape was Virginia Water Lake, a wonderful part of Windsor Great Park.
As well as offering pure out there natural beauty, and a manageable set of trails to ramble, it also has a few surprises up its sleeve which left my open-mouthed with wonder every time. Here’s what to do at Virginia Water.
Take a turn around the lake
Virginia Water is a man made lake, created in the 18th Century first by William Augustus the Duke of Cumberland, and then after a few disasters along the way, completed under the guidance of King George III. It was designed as a place of pomp and pageantry, and you can still see that in amongst its wide pathways and beautiful scenery.
Virginia Water reminds me of the sort of place the upper class characters of a Jane Austen novel would take a turn around in the afternoon sun. With their big dresses and parasols, walking slowly and gossiping about the events of the day. But it’s ok, you don’t need a fancy parasol to enjoy a walk around the lake – at 4.5miles in circumference it’s a manageable place for anyone to have a leisurely stroll.
Uncover the secret Totem Pole
If you take an anti-clockwise walk around the lake from the entrance, it won’t be long before you happen upon one of the most surprising features of Virginia Water. It has its very own Totem Pole! Gifted to Queen Elizabeth II by Canada, the Totem Pole was carved by Chief Mungo Martin of the Kwakiutl Federation.
It stands at 100ft tall and is impossibly hard to look up at as it spikes into the blue sky. Erected as part of the centenary of the province of British Colombia becoming a Crown Colony, it still delights and fascinates not only children, but adults too. It’s amazing to see how the carving and the colours have stood the test of time, as well as the British Weather!
Explore the Roman-style ruins
On the other side of the lake the next installation will also make you gasp a little if you aren’t expecting it. Roman ruins in Surrey of all places? Well not exactly. Installed in 1818 to mimic a genuine Roman relic of the past, this folly is known as the Leptis Magna Ruins.
So where is Leptis Magna? Well, it was actually a city in Roman Libya, and is the source of many of the stones you’ll find at Virginia Water. Some of the stones are from the principal basilica, an arcade and several minor palaces in Leptis Magna, which has its own interesting history as part of the Roman Empire.
The Leptis Magna Ruins have already undergone much restoration works, but they are such a beautiful focus point of Virginia Water, set against the expansive lake.Everyone has their favourite childhood escape. Here's what to do at Virginia Water in Surrey.Click To Tweet
Walk through the dense woodland
Whilst part of Virginia Water is all wide pathways, there is another part that is gorgeous woodland and gardens, which feel completely magical to explore. A mix of dense wooded areas and grassy paths and gorgeously planted gardens, Virginia Water leads to the Valley Gardens.
In fact, so much of Windsor Great Park is completely connected, and you may just decide to stray off the path towards 250 acres of landscaped beauty at the Valley Gardens, instead of completing your circuit around the lake. If you do, you’ll be greeted by impossibly tall beech trees, or if you visit in the spring, the Azalea Walk filled with varieties of coloured azaleas.
There are a number of trails through the Valley Gardens, but to get the most of Virginia Water you should choose the Lakeside Route which gives amazing views over the whole lake.
Snap a picture next to the waterfall
Like much of Virginia Water, the Cascade Waterfall is all man made beauty, but what you can see there to day isn’t the first waterfall to be there. In fact, the first got destroyed and so was rebuilt in the 1780s. It’s a wonderfully shady part of the lake walk, and on a hot day provides some excellent respite from the sun.
Virginia Water is free to visit, and is open year round, with slightly shorter opening hours during the winter. There is a car park, which charges £2.50 per hour. After you’ve explored what to do in Virginia Water and all its surprises, there is also a cafe and pavilion to have a well earned cuppa in!
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