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Sunningdale and a Constitutional Crisis

Skirt the grounds of Edward VIII's favourite home on this attractive walk to exclusive Wentworth and Coworth Park.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Enclosed woodland paths, estate drive, paths and tracks, path across golf course and polo ground, no stiles

Landscape Semi-residential area

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 160 Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

Start/finish SU 953676

Dog friendliness On lead across golf course and polo ground

Parking On-street parking in Sunningdale village

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2013. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the Nags Head turn left and walk down the High Street, keeping the Anglican church on your right and the Baptist church on the left. Pass Church Road and continue along Bedford Lane. Cross a brook and turn right by some bungalows to follow a path cutting between hedgerows and fields. Look for a sizeable house with shutters on the right, just before the A30. Bear left and walk along to a sign on the right for Shrubs Hill Lane and Onslow Road.

2 Follow the leafy path to a junction by a panel fence and turn right by the bridleway/footpath sign. Curve left, make for a roundabout and swing left, looking for the footpath next to a house called Highgate. Follow it through the woodland and when you join a wider path on a bend, keep left. Skirt the golf course, cutting between trees and bracken, and when you emerge from the woodland, follow the path across the fairways, keeping left at a junction by a bunker. Veer left at the first fork, into the trees, and follow the path to a junction with
a tarmac drive.

3 Turn left and pass through the Wentworth Estate, cutting between exclusive houses with secluded landscaped grounds and imposing entrances. On reaching the A30, turn left and follow the road west. Walk down to the Berkshire/Surrey border and bear sharp right to join a right of way. Follow the shaded woodland path between beech trees and exposed roots. Beyond the wood you reach the buildings of Coworth Park.

4 Draw level with a bridge, turn left and follow the well-defined footpath across a broad expanse of parkland, part of which is used as a polo ground, crossing a track on the far side. Enter woodland, turn left at the road and pass several houses. When you reach the speed restriction sign, bear right to join a byway by Sunningdale Bowling Club. Keep to a tarmac drive and continue ahead. Turn left at the road, swinging left after a few paces at the fork. Pass Coworth Road and return to the centre of Sunningdale village.

In the closing weeks of 1936 the newspaper headlines were dominated by one of the saddest and most dramatic chapters in the history of the monarchy - the abdication of Edward VIII, the uncrowned King who chose to give up the throne for the love of a woman, American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

He knew his decision would provoke the strongest disapproval - that what he wanted to do would be at odds with courtly tradition and principles. But Edward stuck to his guns. He was in love with Wallis Simpson, who was not allowed to become Queen because she had been divorced, and he had no intention of giving her up.

During the crisis, played out against the backdrops of the House of Commons and the House of Windsor, Edward spent much of his time at Fort Belvedere, his beloved country residence near fashionable Sunningdale. Originally constructed by William, Duke of Cumberland, as a triangular belvedere tower in the 1730s, the building was later enlarged to become a miniature fortress for royal tea parties, the home of a royal collection of guns and for storing various family treasures. A battery of cannon was even installed, to be fired on royal birthdays by a resident bombardier. 'It was a child's idea of a fort', wrote Diana Cooper, a leading figure in royal circles and high society, 'the sentries, one thought, must be of tin'.

It was back in the 1920s, years before the crisis, that the Prince of Wales asked his father if he could use Fort Belvedere. He replied: 'What could you want that queer old place for? Those damn weekends I suppose'. Something of a playboy, Edward was a noted socialite who liked to entertain regularly and on a lavish scale. He was allowed to take up residence here, but in later years the house became much more than just a country retreat.

In the closing stages of the crisis, Edward asked his brothers to visit him at Fort Belvedere and witness his signature on the abdication document. It was signed at 12:45pm on Thursday December 10, 1936 in one of the King's private rooms. A few members of his secretarial staff were present and outside, on the Ascot road, a crowd gathered to see him leave the fort for the last time.

Long after he had given up the throne and gone into exile, Fort Belvedere still occupied his thoughts. In his memoirs, Edward wrote fondly of the house that 'laid hold of me in so many ways'. When he finally drove away from Fort Belvedere, it seemed to him like a symbol of all he was giving up. 'The Fort had been more than a home', he wrote, 'it had been a way of life for me? it was there that I passed the happiest days of my life'.

Where to eat and drink

The Nags Head is conveniently located at the start and finish of the walk. This attractive village pub has a welcoming atmosphere and includes a varied menu, with such dishes as steak and kidney pudding, Cumberland sausage, battered cod and spaghetti bolognaise. Baguettes and sandwiches are also available.

What to look for

On reaching the A30 from the Wentworth Estate, turn right for a few paces to see one of the entrances to Fort Belvedere on the north side of the road, while to the south of it, half hidden in the foliage, lies an old marker stone indicating that it is 22 miles (35.4km) from here to London's Hyde Park Corner. Coworth Park, originally the seat of the Earl of Derby, belongs to a Canadian millionaire, with part of the estate owned by the Brunei Government and run as a polo centre. The house is built in the style of a medieval Swiss farmhouse. To the east of Coworth Park lies Fort Belvedere, enclosed by thick woodland. To the north lie Virginia Water and Windsor Great Park.

While you're there

Stroll through the Wentworth Estate on the Berkshire/Surrey border and you'll see that most houses have their own security. Some even boast their own monogrammed gates. General Pinochet was detained here at the end of the 1990s, making newspaper headlines for some months. It was back in the 1920s that Wentworth began to evolve into the community you see today. What had been a private country estate was sold off in separate lots and sizeable new houses began to spring up.

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