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Windsor Park and Forest

OUTHWARD of the Castle lies the great park, a portion of Windsor Forest, which the reign of Queen Anne was cut off from the Castle by intervening property. It was therefore determined to buy enough land to complete an avenue from the Castle to the Forest; this was done, and it became the Long Walk, generally considered the finest avenue in Europe. It is a perfectly straight line for three miles, running from the principal entrance to the Castle to the top of a hill, called Snow Hill. On each side of this magnificent walk is a double row of stately elms; on Snow Hill is placed a colossal statue of George III.

Windsor Great Park is indeed one of the stateliest woods that we can find in England. There is in it "a prodigality of shade" formed by some of the most beautiful beech trees in the country. The venerable pollards also are most interesting, for beneath their shade have walked many of our kings and famous men; Shakespeare perhaps, and certainly Pope.

The size of some of these old trees is amazing. One beech tree near Sawyer's Lodge measured at six feet from the ground, thirty-six feet round. There are two magnificent old oaks near Cranbourne Lodge, one, at six feet from the ground, measures thirty-eight feet round; the other tree is thirty-six feet in circumference at four from the ground.

The most interesting tree, however, in Windsor Park is Herne's oak.

"In following the footpath which leads from the Windsor road to Queen Adelaide's Lodge in the Little Park, about half-way on the right a dead tree may be seen, close to an avenue of elms. This is what is pointed out as Herne's oak. It looks the picture of death itself. Not a leaf, not a particle of vitality appears about it. It stretches out its bare and sapless branches, like the skeleton arms of some enormous giant, and is almost fearful in its decay.

". . , there want not many that do fear,
In deep of night to walk by this Herne's oak."

Its spectral branches might indeed deter many from coming near it 'twixt twelve and one."

"I was glad," continues Mr. Jesse, from whose "Gleanings" the above is taken, - "I was glad to find a pit hard by, whence Nan and her troop of fairies and the Welch devil, Evans, might all have crouched without being perceived by the 'fat Windsor stag,' when he spake like Herne the Hunter." The pit above alluded to has recently had a few thorns planted in it, and the circumstance of its being near the oak, with the diversion of the footpath, seems to prove the identity of the tree, in addition to the traditions respecting it,-

"There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragged horns,
And there he blasts the tree."

The last acorn from Herne's oak was planted by Sir David Dundas, in his estate in Wales, where the tree still flourishes that grew from it.

In September the fern, then become golden, is extremely beautiful.

Virginia Water is another lovely spot when seen glittering in the sunshine, with the fishing boats and the pretty frigate on it; it is a delightful contrast to the woody scenery. The Belvedere and the Obelisk are, also, happily placed. Before George IV. bestowed them on the Zoological Gardens, wild animals were kept in this park; and Mr. Jesse tells us a rather sensational story of the person who was their keeper. He took pleasure in petting the boa constrictor, and was accustomed to allow it a certain degree of liberty, by letting it loose in his own sitting-room. One day his pet (playfully, perhaps) wound himself round his friend's body, and would probably have crushed him to death, had not his cries brought help, and the animal been disengaged from him. Happily the snake had not been able to fix its tail to anything, or probably it would have succeeded in crushing its beloved victim at once. Happily there are no longer snakes or wild beasts at royal Windsor.

The great public school of Eton, founded by Henry VI., is close to the royal founder's palace, and is a lasting memorial of his goodness and sense of the necessity of education. Henry of Windsor was, when sane, one of our most saintly kings; unhappily he inherited insanity from his maternal grandfather, Charles VI. of France.

Eton has sent forth many distinguished men. The Duke of Wellington used to say that Waterloo was won at Eton, alluding to its athletic sports and games; and one cannot read Kinglake's description of the Balaclava charge without perceiving the full truth of the Duke's remark. It was an Eton boy who planted the English flag on the heights of Alma, and fell - the heroic lad - in the act.

Eton seems peculiarly connected with Windsor, and the loyalty of the boys is notorious. The Queen has nowhere more devoted subjects than at Eton.

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Picturesque England
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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004