Park Life: A Visit to The Royal Landscape


“We’re not walking on real land,” Felix volunteered as we hared up towards the totem pole.

This is, in one way, true.

For we were walking on landscaped royal park land. While Capability Brown was not the one who made the earth move for the Royals, he inspired the man who did. William Augustus, a younger son of George II, was known to have been moved to create great picturesque vistas after those created by the great master himself.

Thus, Felix was probably walking on land shifted to the specifications of a discerning Ranger of Windsor Great Park.

And what vistas he made. Every view, it seems, could be framed. Virginia Water – a lake dug in the middle of the eighteenth century – covers 150 acres, the largest artificial lake in Britain, and its shores are planted with the exotic and the beautiful. Scattered throughout are elements which declare this a vast pleasure garden: an artificial cascade water fall and Roman ruins from Leptis Magna. At one time the lake boasted a grotto, a Chinese temple and, sailing on the lake itself, George IV incorporated a Chinese fishing junk.

So large was it that in World War II it had to be drained; for on a moonlit night it would have led enemy bombers straight to Windsor Castle.

Still, the land felt real enough as we strolled towards a relatively modern addition to the pleasure gardens. In June 1958, the Totem Pole arrived as a gift from the people of Canada on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of British Columbia. Towering 100 feet high, it was carved by members of theย Kwakiutl tribes of Vancouver Island, Canada. They even came over to repaint it in the fullness of time.

It is half term, and the park hummed with life. This was the land of the promenade, and there were mutts everywhere, interspersed with the occasional runner. Children brandished scooters, for many of the roads are metalled. And as we pottered along, we three and the dog, all human life passed by.

The sun was shining, you see. We have not seen her much of late and everyone was wandering round in dazed incredulity.

We stood at the Totem Pole, which grinned affably back at us from a plethora of angles. ย From the base beamed Cedar man, and on top of him sat Halibut Man. After a smile from a mythical creature there were the whale, the raven, the sea otter and the thunderbird. And right up there, if you squint, you could catch the old man, the beaver and the man with a very large hat.

An eclectic bunch, but all brazenly joyful. As were Maddie and Felix and the dog; it was a beautiful afternoon, what was not to like? Though the dog would have liked to christen the base, if truth be told.

Thence to the cascade waterfall. The sun had just set when we arrived at this lavish folly designed to grace Their Grace’s picnics. But the rushing sound of water never fails to excite, and both children and dogs would not countenance anything less than an extended stay in this place that smells of damp lake water and moss.

And finally as we emerged from the drama of the waterfall the dwindling sun gave the greatest show of all. The days are growing longer, at last. And at half past five there was a delicate salmon haze over the lake, throwing William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland’s vistas into an impossibly perfect light.

It looked as it should: a royal fairy tale, glimpsed by three plebeians and a scruffy dog.

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42 thoughts on “Park Life: A Visit to The Royal Landscape

    1. The Royals use it anyway, Wanderlust ๐Ÿ˜€ There’s a wonderful piece in the Telegraph by Sir Roy Strong which describes the Queen Mother bombing about the estate in her battered old land rover with friends: According to Thomas Love Peacock the park has been open to the public for as long as anyone can remember, with the exception of the Regency and reign of George IV when high fences were put up to stop people getting in. In the old days people used to get in through The Wheatsheaf, a huge pub on the A30 which sits on the park’s borders. You can find Peacock’s account here:

  1. Ah, Virginia Water. As a child we used to visit by bus during the school holidays, while father was at work. A ramble and a picnic, then home worn out. Now we live nearer, but haven’t visited for ages….. Glad you had a good day for it because it’s a delightful spot.

  2. A royal fairy tale, with salmon colored skies, indeed, Kate – and me sitting here with snow falling, enjoying your post from afar.

    I’m wondering if this outing inspired Maddie’s owl totem.

  3. I can’t believe how big Maddie is getting. They both are, but she looks like such a teenager in these pictures. (Please don’t let her read this comment. I always hated it when adults made much of my progress in life. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    Reading this post was a relaxing stroll for me, too, Kate. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for reading, Andra. Both Maddie and Felix have shot up: Maddie is fast approaching my height, though still only twelve, and Felix will follow soon I feel sure. It’s a brave new world.

  4. Dear Kate, I learn so much from you about not just merry old England but the items, crafts, and treasures of cultures long past. Thank you for sharing with us your curiosity and research and, of course, your strolls with the children and Macauley and your visits far and wee. Peace

  5. Love your historical notes — in this case, the lake being drained during the war. Who’d have thought to do that? Have always loved those Northwestern totem poles, but certainly never expected to see one in England. And what a funny juxtaposition — a serene, beautiful swan and a soggy, shaggy Mac.

  6. What a beautiful spot! I love the cascading water, and the sunset must have been ethereal. I’m also just so glad to hear you had a day with a bit of sunshine. Everything about this spot makes me relax and luxuriate in beauty meets history. That’s the perfect outing, I believe. ๐Ÿ™‚ I adore the photo of the two children standing so close. That’s a keeper!

  7. The first time I visited England I stayed with friends who lived in Virginia Water. But I had no idea there was a park with such an interesting history. Macaulay looks like he was having a very nice time.

    1. He was transported by birds, Weebles. They make him lose all sense of who he is and he just becomes this wild bird-catcheing moustachio’d wood sprite, only he couldn’t catch a bird to save his life.

  8. Wonderful post and photos! So great to see Mac running…love the pic where you capture him mid- shake, ears flying… Stina

  9. And only last week we were strolling round the Great Court of the British Museum, one corner dominated by their … totem poles. Thanks for another enlightening post, Kate, which now clothes my mind’s Virginia Water meme with real images and associated tales.

  10. What a wonderful place for a stroll. The lake and woods remind me so much of a place I loved to take long walks in back home.

    “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.” (Robert Frost.

  11. We have our own local versions of Capability visions of English Countryside…. he was an mazing man! That totem pole is wonderful

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