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Bradshaw’s Guide

Virginia Water

Windsor, ruins at Virginia Water, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

This beautiful lake, situated in Windsor Forest, was planned by the Duke of Cumberland, above 100 years ago. Open daily to the public. It is the largest piece of artificial water in the kingdom, if that can be called artificial where man has only collected the streams of the district into a natural basin. The surrounding scenery is exceedingly pleasing and picturesque. After passing through a woody dell, we come to some serpentine walks, which lead in different directions; those to the right conducting us to a somewhat steep hill, on the summit of which stands a handsome Gothic battlemented building, called Belvidere; and those to the left leading to the margin of the lake. At the head of the lake is a cascade, descending some twenty feet, over massive fragments of stone, into a dark glen or ravine. Near it is an obelisk standing on a small mount, and bearing the following inscription, added by William IV.:– “This obelisk was raised by the command of George II., after the battle of Culloden, in commemoration of the services of his son William, Duke of Cumberland, the success of his arms, and the gratitude of his father.” There is a road hence to the banks of the lake, where we can reach a rustic bridge, and get a fine view of the waterfall and its cavern adjacent, formed of stones brought from Bagshot Heath, where they indicated the ruins of a Saxon cromlech. At the point where the lake is widest, a fishing temple was erected by George IV.

A bold arch carries the public road to Blacknest, over a portion of the grounds, and adjoining is an ornamental rain, called the “Temple of the Gods,” manufactured from some really antique fragments of Greek columns and pediments, that used to lie in the court-yard of the British Museum. The effect is striking, and much more so if the spectator will for a moment let fancy delude him into the belief that he is gazing on a real temple of ancient Athens. The tall trees, clustering round in one part, and in another opening on to glades of truly sylvan aspect, impart, a romantic beauty to the landscape from this point, which utterly defies description. It is worth while to cross the little bridge above alluded to, and, passing one of the streams that feed, the lake, pursue its windings among the underwood, or strike into the path which leads to Bishopsgate, a beautiful village, environed by all the charms of wood and water diversity. Here resided for some time Shelley, who has consecrated the allurements of this spot by some of his finest poems, written in the vicinity. There are several ways of approaching Virginia Water, each so attractive that it is difficult to decide upon the best; but by whichever route the excursionist comes, we would suggest the adoption of another road for the return. About two miles beyond the town of Egham is a neat wayside inn, called the “Wheatsheaf,” from the garden of which therein direct access to the lake. From Egham Hill a road diverges through Windsor Park to Reading, nineteen miles distant, A few hundred yards above the inn is a branch road to the right, leading to Blacknest, where there is also an entrance through the keeper’s lodge. Besides this, there is a delightful drive of five miles to Virginia Water from Chertsey.

Stoke Pogis, two miles from Slough, is hallowed ground, from containing the churchyard which suggested Gray’s well-known “Elegy,” as well as the remains of the pensive poet himself. Gray died on the 30th of July 1771, in the 55th year of his age, and was buried, according to his own affectionate wish, by the side of his mother; thus adding another poetical association to this beautiful and classic region. Burnham is a small but most picturesque village, four miles from Slough, with a marvellous miniature forest, called “Burnham Beeches” – the finest spot in the world for a pic-nic, and absolutely unrivalled for the romantic character of its sylvan scenery. There are the ruins of an Augustine nunnery close by, which though, partly fashioned into a farm-house, had the honour of having been built by an expatriated king of the Romans, in 1228.

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