Virginia Water Lake is on the southern edge of Windsor Great Park and is six miles from Windsor town centre. It is easily reached from the M25 motorway and there is a large car park close to the A30 main road. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year who walk in the woodlands and view the spectacular gardens. It may well have been named after Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. It extends to 160 acres and forms a circuit of four and a half miles. It is not to be confused with the nearby town of Virginia Water, which takes its name from the Lake. The owners of the land, The Crown Estate, have given this area the title, ‘The Royal Landscape’, which includes Virginia Water Lake and the internationally famous Valley Gardens and Savill Gardens, including the surrounding Georgian woodlands. Windsor Great Park was laid out in 1746 by the Duke of Cumberland. The Lake, when completed in 1753, was the largest man-made body of water in Britain before reservoirs were built. The Lake was drained during World War II to avoid it being used by enemy bombers to pinpoint Windsor town.
There is a Totem Pole, 100 feet high, which was erected in 1958 to mark the centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a Crown Colony. It was carved from a single six hundred year old log of Western Red Cedar from a forest on Queen Charlotte Island, north of Vancouver. The original carvers were Kwakiutls Indians from British Columbia and a delegation returned in July 1985 to refresh the paintwork. There is an avenue of red oak trees, known as the Canadian Avenue, leading to the Totem Pole from the Valley Gardens. These trees were planted by the Canadian Forestry Battalion which was stationed in Windsor Great Park during the First World War.
The Valley Gardens cover over 250 acres and offer a dramatic and varied landscape, where visitors can wander for hours on the slopes and twisting paths. The gardens were created after the Second World War by Sir Eric Savill and head gardener, Hope Findlay, supported by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. The garden is full of interest in all the seasons, but Spring is the most spectacular. In April and May, there is a beautiful display of rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias, as well as flowering Japanese cherry trees. The most famous area is The Punch Bowl, where thousands of Kurume azaleas burst into bloom each year. Autumn brings the glory of the russet reds, oranges and yellows from the leaves of maple trees and sweet gums.
On Obelisk Lawn near The Savill Garden, is an Obelisk erected in 1750 by King George II, in memory of his son, Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland, who had been instrumental in creating Virginia Water Lake. It was also to commemorate the victory by the Duke of Cumberland over the Scots at the Battle of Culloden 1746. Reference to the Battle of Culloden was erased on the instructions of Queen Victoria. It now bears a moving inscription to his son from his father.
On the south shore of Virginia Water Lake are the Leptis Magna Ruins. Leptis Magna was a Roman city on the shores of the Mediterranean near Tripoli in Libya. These ruins were imported in 1816 after the local governor was persuaded by the British Consul General that the Prince Regent, who was destined to become King George IV, should be allowed to take the stones as a gift. They were initially stored at the British Museum, but later erected at Virginia Water in 1826 in a way thought to represent a ruined Roman temple – ‘The Temple of the Gods’. The columns and stones were from several different buildings. The ruins are, therefore, not a reconstruction from a temple, but the creation of a picturesque structure. Work was conducted under the direction of the Royal Architect, Sir Jeffry Wyatville.
There is a rugged 10 metre waterfall known as the Cascade, near the main car park on the A30 road. The Cascade was constructed in the late 1780s by Thomas Sandby, King George III’s architect. It replaced an earlier one, which was swept away by a violent storm in 1768.
Virginia Water is popular with film producers, in view of its scenery and proximity to studios and good communications. Amongst other films, it was used for the boat scene of the 2010 version of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and the 2005 film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.