Windsor Great Park, established as a hunting park in Saxon times, has always been an idealised rural landscape. Through Saxon and Norman periods an idealised rural landscape meant somewhere to hunt herds of deer, with plenty of prey to hand. The park's development was encouraged by its proximity to London, and to Windsor Castle, which was established as a royal residence by William the Conqueror's youngest son, Henry I.
Following many centuries of use as a hunting park, Windsor Great Park was to become another kind of idealised rural landscape during the Industrial Revolution. When the time came in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for naturalistic parks to be created near new industrial towns and cities, Windsor Great Park was already suited to this new role. In 1753 the youngest son of George II, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, ordered the building of a huge man-made lake called Virginia Water in the park, surrounded by carefully planned "natural" landscaping. Virginia Water was at that time the largest man-made body of water in Britain. This work represents one of the earliest examples of naturalistic landscape gardening, and helped set what would become a dominant fashion in English garden design. Landscaping continued under George III and George IV, who installed the Leptis Magna ruins near Virginia Water in 1818. Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria continued developments, planting a huge number of trees. He also extended idealised tenant farms, a distant echo of a disappeared medieval farming system. Windsor Great Park is now one of the greatest creations to come out of modern nostalgia for a rural past.
Today Windsor Great Park - now sometimes referred to as "The Royal Landscape" - is a fourteen thousand acre park, eight thousand acres of which are woodland. There are great opportunities for walking, cycling or horse riding (permits are required for horse riding: contact The Crown Estates Office at the number below). There are wonderful views of Windsor Castle from the Long Walk, a grassy avenue two miles in length running towards Windsor Castle, with a statue of George III at the end. Queen Anne's Ride, offers similar views. The park also includes the Savill Ornamental Gardens, developed in the 1930s by Sir Eric Savill, and the Valley Gardens beside Virginia Water. The Savill Building, opened in 2006, interprets Windsor Great Park's naturalistic theme in architectural terms. The building's curved lines are reminiscent of a leaf, and are designed to blend in with surrounding trees.
There is a restaurant and gift shop at the Savill Building.
Directions: Parking is convenient at Savill Gardens, with a small charge, or off the A332 coming from Windsor, where there is no charge. There is also a free car park at Savill Gardens (free for ninety minutes), and pay car parks at Virginia Water and Wick Road. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on Windsor Great Park.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Access: Many paths within the park are suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
The Crown Estate's Office, Windsor Great Park, Windsor SL4 2HT
telephone: 01753 860222
for group visits: 01753 847543
web site: http://www.theroyallandscape.co.uk/