Gentlemen in cream linen jackets and white hats, ladies in floral dresses fluttered by the solitary zephyr to stir a baking hot summer morning in the southern end of Windsor Great Park.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Lord, what a beautiful day! The Royal Landscape (Savill Gardens, Valley Gardens and Virginia Water) looked absolutely at its peak, the Savill Gardens especially. Their many decades of scrupulous landscaping, planting and pruning were bursting out in this Diamond Jubilee weather in a carefully crafted ‘sweet disorder’ of rhododendrons – purple, pink, orange, peach, white, mauve. The gardens, created in the 1930s, only occupy 35 acres of ground, but I could happily have lost myself all day following the trails to the Hidden Gardens and the intensely scented Rose Garden, through Spring Wood and Summer Wood, past the coot sailing in the Obelisk Pond and the flood of psychedelic colour from the senetti magenta in the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House.
At last I tore myself away, paused in the Savill Building for a glass of lemonade that hardly touched the sides going down, and set out through the glades and lawns of Windsor’s wider Great Park. This is one of England’s oldest parks, founded by William the Conqueror and embellished over a thousand years by his successors. After the beautifully sculpted formality and simmering heat of the Savill Gardens, it was like throwing off a heavy cloak to wander in the shade of the oaks and sweet chestnuts, past Cow Pond (a unique Baroque water feature, recently restored from dereliction), and to see what artless nature had scattered in the grass – bluebells, milkmaids, red campion, buttercups.
Up at Snow Hill, King George III in green bronze looked out from his seat on a pawing horse over the Great Park, where the Long Walk ran arrow-straight between newly mown verges towards the distant towers and battlements of Windsor Castle nearly three miles away. Back south through the woods and down beside the wide empty polo field, and a final saunter through hilly Valley Gardens and along the tree-lined banks of Virginia Water, that vast man-made lake, in a blue simmering haze of heat so arcadian I might just have dreamed the whole walk up.
Start & finish: Savill Gardens car park, Englefield Green, Berks TW20 0XD (OS ref SU 977707)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Egham (2½ miles). Road: Savill Gardens (car park: about £5 cash) signposted from A30 (M25 Jct 13)
Walk (7½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 160): Start with circuit of Savill Gardens (adult £8.50, senior £7.95, child 6-16 £3.75, family of 4 £21; includes leaflet map). Return to car park; leaving Savill Building, left (north) along tarmac track. In 300m, ahead past ‘No Cycling’ notice (977710). In 400 m, left past end of Cow Pond. Left on track from pond’s left (west) edge; in 300 m, right (972715) up tarmac drive. In half a mile pass pink lodge (976722); through gates (press button); over Spring Hill to equestrian statue on Snow Hill (967727). Left (south) on grassy ride for ½ mile into trees. In 250 m, 7 tracks meet (967717); left on gravel path bisecting 2 tarmac drives. In 400 m, at 5-way junction (971715), right on gravel path; on beside Smith’s Lawn for 1 mile. Just before bridge over Virginia Water, bear left (966695; ‘Lakeside Walk’). Follow along shore for 1½ miles; left past Totem Pole (980696); follow ‘Savill Gardens’ to car park.