Tag Archives | history

Guided walk of Windsor Great Park

There is a place that I very much enjoy returning to, every opportunity I get.  This is Windsor Great Park which is one of the biggest landscaped gardens in the country. Whilst I haven’t yet taken a group there yet, it is my great desire that one day I can show off the beauty of this place to a group.

 

It was William the Conqueror who, on seeing the beauty of the then Windsor Forest, decided to build a royal residence next to it. The walls of modern time Windsor Castle are the same as built by William in the 13th century and the grounds of the forest were his hunting grounds (deer, in particular, have been kept on the grounds for many centuries). His decision marked the start of a long term royal romance with the landscape of the area which was added to, changed and improved over the years making it into what we nowadays call Windsor Great Park.

 

 

Charles II (otherwise known as the Merry Monarch after the austerity of the Cromwellian interregnum) had a love for French architecture which later influenced him to add to the Windsor landscape by creating a 3 miles long avenue lined with trees, leading from the gate of the Castle into the Great Park. The avenue ends with a statue of George III (popularly known as Farmer George for his interest in rural affairs, science and industry), commissioned by his son George IV. George III was particularly fond of Windsor where he spent the final years of his life in seclusion, plagued by illness, taking long walks amongst the trees in the Great Park.

 

In the 1700s the then Duke of Cumberland set about creating the largest man-made lake in the country – Virginia Water. He enlisted the help of architect Henry Flitcroft. Images of the lake at the time tell tales of merriment and elegance – the lake was adorned with follies, Turkish tents (introduced by George IV), an ornamental waterfall, a Chinese tea house, an oriental style fishing temple and a beautiful floating mandarin yacht. Also during the reign of George IV the Lake was further developed with the addition of the Five Arch Bridge which affords marvellous views across the lake and the installation of the Leptis Magna Roman Ruins. It is no wonder that the shores of the lake were favourite entertaining grounds for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

As a little girl Queen Victoria enjoyed many visits and picnics on the shores of Virgina Water, a place she very much loved. In fact, Windsor was one of her favourite residences. After her marriage with Prince Albert, he threw himself into projects meant to improve the lives of the people living and working at Windsor on the Crown Estate – he built cottages and established the Royal School, all of which are still very much in use nowadays.

 

In more modern times the landscape of the Great Park was further enhanced with additions such as the Savill Gardens, one of England’s biggest ornamental and exotic gardens, Smith’s Lawn, the biggest area devoted to polo in Europe, a 100 feet high totem pole which was a gift to HM the Queen from native people of the northern part of Vancouver Island and statues of Prince Albert and HM the Queen.

 

While a visit to Windsor Great Park is a must for anyone interested in history and royalty alongside landscape gardening and rambling, do remember that the grounds are extensive (aprox 4800 acres) and so you will need to be reasonably fit and well if you are hoping to see most of it in just one day. Only the stroll around Virginia Water Lake is likely to take between 1.5 – 2 hours and you should ideally allocate a similar amount of time to see the Savill Garden.

 

For enquiries about a walking tour of Windsor Great Park (in part or in full) or other Windsor based guided walking tours please get in touch using the Contact details on this site.

A sunny day out at Hever Castle

I have been thinking about taking tour groups to Hever Castle for a while now so today I decided to share with you some details of our recent visit and see whether I can persuade you all to visit this amazing magical place, childhood place of Anne Boleyn (the second in the line of 6 wives of Henry VIII).

As you gather, the whole day was nothing short of brilliant. The journey there takes you on small country lanes, past Churchill’s beloved Chartwell (about this other gorgeous place look out for another blog) and through tunnels of trees and greenery. There’s a reason they call Kent ‘the garden of England’ and it certainly didn’t take us long to see it.

On arrival, the 38 acres lake was one of the first sights our eyes fell upon. That and the rowing boats out on the water were a most promising sight on a hot summer’s day. Then there was the Loggia which we were to discover is much bigger and more imposing than our eyes first lead us to believe. The walk around the lake took about an hour, about as long as the boat hire – great if, like us, you have a divided party of fairly firm land lovers mixed with would be water creatures. The lake walk was a great introduction to the large grounds of the estate with magnificent views of the Loggia and the Japanese Tea House across the lake.

Before returning to the boat hire the lake walk leads you through the well-tended gardens the Waldorf Astors took great pride in. I say gardens because the one very large garden is cleverly divided into several areas: the Italian Garden, the Rose Garden, a sunken garden and so on. There is something for everyone so there is no surprise that the recommended visiting time for the garden is about 1.5 hours. Our party (adults and children) just had to stop by the water maze and see if we were up to the challenge of reaching the heart of the maze and back out again without getting wet.

Next, we headed for the Castle, which is a proper castle, complete with ghosts and surrounded by a moat inhabited by very large koi. The recommended visiting time for the Castle is 1 hour and audio guides are available for hire. If you are of the organised type and particularly keen on your history then a guide can be pre-booked in advance to cater to your particular interest (or you can book me to accompany your group). For now, however, I leave you with just a few facts which I hope will be sufficient to pique your interest:

  • Hever’s history spans more than 700 years during which it saw 37 owners from 13 different families. Of those owners, the Boleyns were certainly some of the most famous. Thomas Boleyn, father to Anne, made this into a lovely family home where the family received a few visits from Henry VIII and Anne received 7 of his love letters.
  • In the early 20th century the Castle belonged to the Waldorf Astor family who spent a lot of time and money carefully restoring it close to its 16th century glory. During the restauration, they made sure that the materials used were in keeping with those of the 16th
  • According to David Starkey the Castle has “one of the best collections of Tudor portraits after the National Portrait Gallery”. This comprises a portrait of Henry VIII as well as portraits of each of his 6 wives.

If you are still undecided then check out the Castle website for the dates on which you can pre-book your afternoon cream tea, check out the “festival of theatre” programme and consider also taking your children to the new playground due to open at the end of July and which promises to be amazing. Hever Castle really offers something for everyone and makes for an excellent day out.