Rendezvous With Water Retreat

Virginia Water Lake

With its glittering waters and abundance of wildlife. The ornamental Cascade waterfall is always a favourite feature among tourists and visitors at the Virginia Water Lake

By Seema Anand Chopra

In the quiet of the afternoon we walked over a carpet of lush grass that rolled all the way down to hug the shimmering clear water of the vast Lake with the backdrop of ancient dark woods that had a history of its own. We were at Virginia Water Lake on the edge of the Windsor Great Park England and its spectacle is incredible with dramatic views. A favoured retreat for Royalty for over 200 years, today it is a family destination for walking enthusiasts.  Unaffected by time confines we set out on exploring the Lake path in a relaxed manner to unveil the centuries old past and enjoy the magnificent landscape with marked key-points of interest.


Next we stopped by at an endearing sketch of a fleet of richly decorated Boats including Duke of Cumberland’s Yacht that offered a brief input to the journey of transformation of the small Virginia Brook to the vast Lake we saw today. William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland was the Ranger of this Park and created the largest manmade Lake- Virginia Water by damming the east end of the small Virginia Brook in 1753. Some earlier Prints show ornamental bridges, Chinese fishing temple and Turkish Tents as well in and around the Lake! But the Lake that we saw now had been restored later in 1780 with efforts of King George III after the disastrous floods of 1768.


Admiring the vista and walking along the Lake edge we heard the sound of water rushing over rocks and soon a rugged Cascade came into view. This 10meter high picturesque Cascade was remade in1780 as part of restoration of the beautiful area after the devastating storm. We noticed River Bourne exiting the Virginia water area near the Cascade. The river has few sources in form of streams in Windsor Great Park. Clicking away photographs from scores of angles we proceeded on our trek.


The tree covered path led to a vast open space of unmatched dazzling natural beauty. We were at the east end of the Lake and walked towards the first Pond head beyond which the Lake stretched for miles. We admired Duke of Cumberland’s vision to further beautify the already fabulous landscape with such additions- first the Cascade and then this Pond Head to give birth to the largest manmade Lake then in Britain, from the serpentine Virginia Brook! The natural calamity in form of torrential rain and storm on 1st September 1768 obliterated the Pond Head and several locals lost their lives. King George’s architects brought back its glory in the 1780’s.


The subsequent part of our nature trek transformed with the unlikely appearance of the remains of the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna! There was arrangement of Pillars, Arches, Cornices and much more was, as if we were transported to an ancient city….brought here way back in 1826 from the sun filled North Africa. Leptis Magna had been a prosperous classical city of Before- Christ period near Tripoli, now in Libya with most of it buried in sand after being abandoned following the fall of the Roman Empire.

In 1816 Colonel Warrington found the ruins of the city’s Theatre, Colonnades, Temple and Market. He undertook  the colossal task of  taking permission to transport 22 granite pillars, 15 marble columns , 25 pedestals, 5 inscribed slabs, cornices and many more to England’s  newly built British Museum to decorate its portico . Later, appearing unsuitable for this purpose they were sent to Windsor Great Park and with the partial ruins; the Roman City of Leptis Magna was reborn near the Virginia Water Lake, thousands of miles away from its actual destination on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea!

We stood near a formation of an ancient Roman Temple of Serapes reset here in the 1800’s as an imperative element of the natural panorama of the Lake. Serapes is an ancient Egyptian God as well as a Greek God whose popularity continued to increase during the Roman period. By the 20th century the rebuilt Leptis Magna was again damaged by visitors and vandals toppling the beautiful structures and was further spoiled by wild plants, roots and erosion. We were so impressed to know that a Ruin Repair Project was organized by the Crown Estate team to re-erect the Portico and site by using stones and bricks found from the site itself, remove trees that obscured or had encroached the site and erect a new rail around it in Georgian style!


Next we walked back in the direction of the Car park towards the 100 foot Canadian Totem Pole that was visible from a distance. As we approached closer the colourful carved figures of a Man with hat, an old Man, Thunderbird, Sea- otter, Raven, Whale, double headed Snake and more men came into view with the verdant greenery in the background. This Totem Pole was a gift to Queen Elizabeth second commemorating the Centenary, 1858 to 1958, of British Columbia. Totem Poles are creative art pieces made by the native people of the Pacific coast of North America and Canada in form of a Family tree.


In the pre sunset we had tea in the large restaurant built with eco friendly material and glass walls on 3 sides to admire the beautiful lake reflecting the sunset colours of the kaleidoscopic sky. A chat with the staff revealed that the attractive Lake had been used for shooting of scenes for Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban movie with Water Midges. He added that this perfect picnic destination had a circuit of 7.2 km, partially paved and the rest is a Walking path! He suggested that we visit the Duke of Cumberland’s Obelisk Memorial from the Savill Garden entrance down the road outside.


Soon we were at the other landmark of Virginia Water Lake – the tall Obelisk Memorial to the Duke of Cumberland that was a poignant reminder and homage to the Ranger of the Great Windsor Park who worked for 14 years on the make-over of the Virginia Water landscape by commissioning bridges, buildings and planting exotic trees along with the native trees. This monument was built by King George the Second to honour the military successes of his son – the Duke of Cumberland.

As we drove back it was hard to believe that the area had been just a couple of streams, ditches and beautiful untamed wilderness before the year 1700. It has been the vision of the Royals and the sheer hard work of their Gardeners that this serene beauty destination was created.

(Author is a Punjab-based tour and travel writer and an alumnus of the Delhi School of Journalism)