Autumn walks: Richmond Park
Rutting deer and piratical parrots…
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Distance 6.4 miles, time 3 hoursBy Alan Rutter
Richmond Park is hardly a secret – at almost 2,500 acres it’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park – but, particularly for born-and-bred north Londoners like me, it’s never visited often enough. Near the highest points of Richmond Hill the expensive houses give way to spectacular views across London – parkland sloping away to the west, trees beginning their autumnal transition to rich brown and red, and beyond them the glistening curve of the Thames.
I hit the park at Richmond Gate (S), and cut right. Not far down here Pembroke Lodge (1) – a Georgian mansion with a café attached, surrounded by landscaped gardens – is a pleasant place to stop for a coffee and a sandwich. You can also wander up to King Henry VIII’s Mound, with its famous sightline straight across to St Paul’s.
But on this crisp and chilly morning I’m off in search of the wild outdoors rather than landscaped gardens, so I cut back across the road and into the park proper. Straying from the path and wading through undergrowth it feels like an adventure, even the place-names within the park sound like destinations for Robert Louis Stevenson protagonists – Bone Copse, Two Storms Wood…
I’d expected to spot deer at a distance – in actuality my first encounter is nearly a collision as a family of red deer gallop straight across the path in front of me. There are 300 red and 350 fallow deer roaming wild in the park and autumnal mornings are the time to see them – the sight of a bellowing stag in the early fog will thrill even the most cynical Londoner.
Autumn rutting is an enthusiastically violent affair, and the park managers recommend 100 metres as a safe distance from the deer at any time of year. So a gentle message to the mum who let her son and daughter charge within a few metres of them shouting and pointing: letting your offspring get between two horny 140kg stags is ill advised.
Skirting along the top of the Isabella Plantation (2) – the ornamental woodland garden – I yomp east across the path, past ponds and woods. I discover a surprising park inhabitant when I catch a glimpse of darting green against the auburn leaves – Richmond’s parrots look suitably piratical perched on the lower branches of the ancient oaks. I curve back north to Sheen Gate.
My stomach is starting to rumble, and Bambi is beginning to look like mobile venison. The Plough (E) is a welcoming sight for the weary walker – a barn of a boozer with an extensive wine list and menu of hearty grub. Suitably sated, I wander back to Richmond Station, and home.
More about Richmond Park, including how to get there