“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 the 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. 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.