||17.0km (10.6 miles), if ending the walk at Windsor Riverside railway station: 16.6 km (10.3 miles) if ending at Windsor Central, and 16.8 km (10.4 miles) if ending at Staines. Allow 4 hours for the walk. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow 8 hours – or 9 hours if visiting Savill Gardens.
||2 out of 10.
||Explorer 160 or Landranger 175 (nearly all the route is on 176 too). Sunningdale, map reference SU 953 667, is in Surrey, 15km south-west of Heathrow Airport. Windsor is in Berkshire.
This walk explores Virginia Water (a lake), Valley Gardens (which overlooks it), Windsor Great Park (a forest and deer park), and the Long Walk to Windsor Castle.
Near the start of this walk, you go through Coworth Park, with its polo playing fields, to enter the 4,800 acres of Windsor Great Park (no entrance charge), near the Virginia Water lake.
You pass through Valley Gardens, overlooking the lake, which have a vast collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, which flower spectacularly in May or June. Check @WindsorGtPk
Lunch is in a pleasant cafeteria overlooking the Savill Gardens (you have to pay to enter the gardens).
After lunch, the route is up Rhododendron Ride to Cow Pond, which is covered in an array of water lilies. From here, it is through some light woods and on to the Royal Lodge, to pass through gates into Windsor Deer Park.
You now have a choice of route onwards: make for the Copper Horse statue and simply embark on the full 4km of the Long Walk (which feels a bit long after a while), or follow the original (and more complicated) route through the park, joining it 1km further along.
When you eventually reach the gates of Windsor Castle you turn left into the town, to walk through some of its oldest streets and their many inns, cafes and restaurants are all suitable for a tea stop.
This walk may be undertaken all year round and it is relatively mud-free in winter. However, the best time to try it is in mid-May, when the azaleas are in full bloom, and the rhododendrons are coming into flower.
Alternative ending via Runnymede and Thames Path to Staines
This alternative afternoon route diverts through fields and along quiet lanes and tracks to the historical Magna Carta site at Runnymede Meadows (Wikipedia, National Trust ) where there are several memorials. It then follows the Thames Path to Staines. It starts from the suggested lunchtime stop at the Savill Garden Restaurant, and offers an alternative lunch stop nearby for those preferring a pub lunch.
It does not visit the smaller site on the east bank of the Thames (also NT: Magna Carta Island and the Ankerwycke Yew), as there is no nearby bridge, and no towpath on the opposite bank. [May-19] There is plan to create a pedestrian ferry crossing here.
Shorten the walk
You can phone for a taxi at lunchtime from the Savill Gardens cafeteria, to take you to Windsor.
|Windsor Great Park
Windsor Great Park is managed by the Crown Estate. It consists of:
- Windsor Great Park - A forest. Autumn is good for the deer rutting in October, and the maple's leaf fall
- The Long Walk and deer park - Towards the north of the park, on a rise, is the copper horse statue. From there, the 4km Long Walk, an iconic tree lined path, slopes downhill to Windsor Castle, besides the Thames
- Savill Gardens - A botanic garden, with a new iconic pavillion / visitor centre, with a feature 'rippling leaf' roof made from timber from the park. Admission (2018) is £11.00 (parking refunded, free: 01-Dec to 28-Feb). Open March to October from 10.00am to 6.00 pm, November to February from 10.00am to 4.30pm.
- Valley Gardens - On a 'punch bowl' hillside overlooking the lake, magnolias in spring, and spectacular rhododendrons and azaleas in May/June
- Virgina Water - A 3km long but narrow lake south of the Park, surrounded by woodland
- Swinley Forest - To the west of the Great Park, popular with mountain bikers, and not on this walk
There are several expensive car parks (£10 a day). Limited free parking on the A30 - get there early!
Sunningdale Parish Church was built in 1840 at a cost of a mere £1,600.
The 100 foot high Totem Pole in Windsor Great Park was a gift to the Queen in 1958 from British Columbia, and is made from a 600 year-old western red cedar tree. The giant Obelisk in the park was put up by King George II to commemorate ‘the success in arms of his son, William’.
Savill Gardens (tel 01753 860 222) are named in honour of Eric Savill who, with encouragement from King George V, created the gardens on inauspicious, fast-draining sandy soil. Later, in 1947, Eric Savill began work on Valley Gardens, created on the site of an old gravel pit.
The Copper Horse in the park is a huge equestrian statue to King George III which was commissioned by his son, George IV.
A Castle was first built at Windsor by William the Conqueror in 1070. Windsor Castle fell to a siege by John, King Richard I’s brother, in 1193, and was captured, without a defence being mounted, by the Parliamentarians in 1642, the first year of the Civil War. It suffered badly in the fire of 1992, Queen Elizabeth II’s ‘annus horribilis’. Windsor Castle (tel 01753 831 118) is open daily: March to October from 9.45am to 5.15pm, November to February from 9.45am to 4.15pm (last admission one hour earlier, both periods). Check before visiting as the Castle is closed on a number of days during the year. Admission (2018) is £21.20.
Take the train nearest to 9.50am from Waterloo Station to Sunningdale. Journey time 47 minutes. Trains back from Windsor and Eton Riverside Station to Waterloo run twice an hour. Journey time 58 minutes. If your ticket allows it, you could also return from Windsor Central Station to Paddington, changing at Slough. This service is also half-hourly, with a shorter journey time of around 32 minutes.
The most flexible ticket is a day return to Windsor (all stations), covering both return routes but this is not sufficient for the full outward journey and you will also need to buy a single from Staines to Sunningdale. If instead you buy a return to Sunningdale, you will again need to buy an extra single ticket, this time on the return journey: to Staines if returning from Windsor Riverside, but to London from Windsor Central. If you are ending your walk in Staines, then a day return to Sunningdale should suffice.
The only lunchtime stop on the main walk is the Savill Garden Restaurant (tel 01784 432 326) in the Savill Building. Run by Leiths, spacious but a bit pricey. Open 10am - 5.30pm. You don't have to pay to enter Savill Gardens to use it.
If you are taking the alternative afternoon walk to Staines, you should stop first for lunch at the Savill Garden Restaurant. The pub on this route, The Sun Inn, in Englefield Green, closed in 2018 and there are no signs (May 2019) of it re-opening.
There are plenty of pubs and tea shops in Windsor to choose from for a post-walk tea stop. If the weather is fine, one suggested venue is The Boatman (tel 01753 620 010), a gastropub and riverside restaurant located directly behind the Riverside railway station. Per Trip Advisor, this pub is proud to be the only proper pub on the Thames (in Windsor) with uninterrupted views of the river overlooking Eton bridge.
||No major changes. Boatman pub details, and closure of Sun Inn, added May 2019 The alternative ending to Staines added February 2018.