The Virtual Boundaries of Windsor Great Park

Modern photography is generally perceived as having originated when Louis Daguerre announced the daguerreotype in 1839. Similarly, mass tourism can be said to have started two years later when Thomas Cook chartered a train to run a short leisure outing. Since their near-simultaneous origins the two have become inextricably linked.

Windsor, visited by around 8 million tourists each year, is typical in this regard, the ubiquitous camera phone in evidence throughout the town resulting in millions of images being uploaded to social media as tourists use these sites to relive their trips and to show off their experiences. The majority of these tourists will enter Windsor Great Park, even if it simply to stroll along the first stretch of the Long Walk.

Given the interest of the global media in much of the Great Park, particularly the Castle itself, and the sheer number of images taken by the tourists and delivered throughout the world, both physically and virtually via the web, the volume and reach of this material is enormous. This ensures that tourists will create an image of place from the absorption of publicly available material in a process described as ‘place consumption’.

This has been described as an ‘easy pleasure’ since the tourist has already seen these earlier images and been told ‘this is where to stand and see it’, resulting in repetitive images being accessed by future tourists, typified by such images as the Long Walk and Savill Gardens. The huge volume of this imagery creates a constant, repetitive sense of place through this absorption ensuring that the limited area becomes self-perpetuating as tourists revisit places that they have seen beforehand on Social Media.

This set of subliminally accepted points creates a conformity or a ‘Tourism Space’ which is a subset of real geographical space. Unknowingly these tourists from around the world have created an imaginary world where their collective work speaks of far more than their individual images, creating a virtual world within the physical constraints of the Park as shown, approximately, by the shaded areas on the map, created by a brief study of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram images.

In many cases the words ‘border’ and ‘boundary’ are considered synonymous but generally borders are concrete, physical objects that might change but only as a result of a direct action. These borders could be natural e.g. a river or mountain range, or they could be man-made as described. On the other hand, ‘boundaries’ can be virtual, imaginary objects, capable of being moved simply via a change in interpretation or context, or by a change in social norms. A boundary can even be created just by a series of views when a person’s gaze halts momentarily on key points creating mental snapshots .

The Great Park has many beautiful areas, accessible to the public, which can be accessed to those who cross these virtual boundaries and explore while still being mindful of the delicate nature of the environment there, especially in those areas of Scientific or Conservation interest.