Thursday, 14 June 2012

Windsor Great Park Running Route


Click here for route map 
Length 8 km (5 miles) for the Long Walk out-and-back, and 21.4 km (13.3 miles) if you add the loop through the southern Great Park

For other running routes, see Route List.

Historic Windsor is a great running spot. Dominated by the spectacular, sprawling castle, it's located on the scenic Thames River, with paths going along both banks. And Eton College is just across the bridge in its own scenic village. You could (and should) have a few good runs just following the river and zig-zagging through the two towns to either side.

But there is one more run that is even more inspiring: the Windsor Great Park. This is a huge green area stretching directly south of the castle, where you can run for hours if you like. The Long Walk, a tree-lined alley, leads 4 kilometers south through fields and woods before splitting into a system of many miles more of trails to the east and west.
The castle, with finger over the lens
The south end of the Great Park is a patchwork of ponds, gardens, woods and pastures. Some of it is fenced-in as the Royal Landscape, and you can only enter during opening hours after paying the entrance fee. But the rest invites runners to go exploring the old royal hunting grounds to your heart's content. Indeed it is a Great Park, but it is quite a long run.

That's why I've divided this run into 2 sections: a simple 8-km out-and-back along the Long Walk, and then the added 13-km-long loop through the southern part of the Great Park. You decide if you feel like continuing on the loop.

This route begins, as any decent Windsor route should, at the main gate at the castle, on Castle Hill. At the main entrance, take St. Alban's Street southwards (always staying towards your left, turning into Park Street) to the next big entrance gate. Here is where the Long Walk begins, heading south in a seemingly endless stretch.

NOTE: if you get there before 7:30 a.m. or after 9 p.m., the gate will be locked, and you'll need to keep running south along Sheet Street, then Kings Road for a few blocks, past the light-blue Royal Adelaide Hotel and the elegant Georgian row-houses, where you'll meet the park again, but the park fence just ends there, so you can go in any time of day.

So, cut over to the tree-lined asphalt Long Walk trail, and let's just turn right here (to the south) and go!
Heading out the Long Walk
Maybe it would be more interesting to take one of the various roads leading off to the left rather than this straight paved path, but that's all fenced-off royal land. First comes the Home Park, belonging to the castle, with its golf course. Then come a string of royal farms and mansions and the royal burial grounds, at Frogmore. The whole eastern edge of the park is reserved for the royal family.

So we'll have to content ourselves with running this bee-line through the parkland. But it is a beautiful, green beeline, at any rate. There are amazing, ancient oaks out in the pastures and woodlands off to the sides of the trail.
Great Park oak
You will cross a public road, Albert Road, after a kilometer. You now continue for another kilometer, where you go through the fence marking the beginning of the deer park. Deer roam wild in this part of the park, and you are bound to see them somewhere or other. I have also seen quite a few pheasants.
King George on his copper horse
Then, 1.5 km later, the Long Walk ends at the Copper Horse, a statue of King George III mounted on horseback, crowning a small hill rising above the end of the Long Walk. Make sure you make the climb up to the top and turn around here to enjoy the great view back to the castle.

This is where the 8-km out-and-back run turns around. Have fun on the way back!

The Great Park Loop
If you're continuing with the big loop (an extra 13km!), we'll keep heading south towards the park's biggest lake, Victoria Water, then run eastwards along its southern shore, then head back north again past the Obelisk Pond, Savill Gardens and past the Royal Lodge before getting back into the deer park again. You'll come back to the Copper Horse, where you head back up the Long Walk to finish up the run.

To keep it simple (there is a maze of dozens of trails heading everywhere through the park), we'll mainly follow the main, paved trails from now on, which are also used as bicycle trails. The Long Walk itself is prohibited to bicyclists.

NOTE: for a good map of all the park's trails, click here.

So, if you're ready to get on with this gorgeous piece of English countryside, look south from the Copper Horse. You'll see that the Long Walk continues here as a vestigial trail: a grass, hedge-lined path going south, curving towards the left as it goes around the Royal Lodge.
Run right past that stag to follow the grass path
It exits through the southern deer-park fence, then runs into the a paved path, at the Royal School, where you'll turn left and head eastwards. This section is a real road with an occasional car driving by. After 150 meters or so, this road ends by running into another paved street, where you turn right (south). You will see way markers pointing to Virginia Water.

Now you just run straight down this paved trail for about 2 km until you get to the lake. First, you'll go through a white gate, Cumberland Gate, where the road splits. Just continue straight south, towards the right, with the big open lawn, Smith's Lawn, on your left. This lawn seems to be used for events: there were pavilions set up there when I went by.
Smith's Lawn: keep on right edge of lawn
After Smith's Lawn, the countryside starts getting more varied. There are exotic trees, like redwoods, giant cedars and cypresses, and areas with gigantic rhododendron hedges.

When you reach Virginia Water, you'll run over the top of a dam (it's an artificial lake, once the largest one in England).

At the western tip of the lake, the trail takes a sharp turn to the left to head eastwards along the southern shore of the lake. You'll go by some ruins (they were dragged here from a Roman city in Libya, Leptis Magna. There is also a fake (but nice!) waterfalls soon after.
Along Virginia Water
After you come to the Virginia Water Car Park, the trail heads northwards again along the eastern shore of the lake. Just stay on the paved path.

The trail turns left at the north point of the lake, then curves past the 10-meter-high totem pole from British Columbia. To the left is a beautiful maze of trails through the woods, the Valley Gardens.
Rhododendron hedges
Blessed are those lucky Windsor runners: they have a choice of endless, soft trails through amazing landscapes, and can run a different route every day.

Heading north on the paved path, you'll now go directly past high rhododendron hedges. If they are in bloom, you're in luck!

You'll then come to a smaller lake, the Obelisk Pond, totally lined by more rhododendrons, then the obelisk itself, surrounded by redwoods, cypress and cedar.
Obelisk Pond
After this, you'll run past the Savill Gardens Visitor Centre, and then past the gardens on your left. This is one of England's great gardens, which is saying a lot. You can peek in over the fence in a few places.
The obelisk
The paved path curves to the left, continuing along the north end of the gardens.

Then you'll come back to the north end of Smith's Lawn again, and the path runs right to the Cumberland Gate. Go back through the gate again, this time running northwards. This is the section where a few cars also drive around.

Now keep going past the road to the left where you came in before (the signs point to the Royal School and Royal Lodge to the left, but ignore them) to keep running northwards along this street.

You'll then come to a spot with some pink gate houses on your left, for the Royal Lodge. Just run straight, past the gate-houses and go through the gate into the deer park again.
Head through this gate to get back into the deer park
Now, you just follow the paved path back to the Copper Horse monument, where you turn right to run the last 4 km back to Windsor along the Long Walk.
Heading home on the Long Walk