Autumn walks: Kew

London’s turning-leaf paradise…

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Distance 6.5 miles, time 2 hours 30 minutesBy Jon Davis

If it’s trees you want, then Kew has plenty of them: more than 14,000, in fact, and autumn in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew is a hotchpotch of reds, yellows and browns. 

Start at Richmond Station (S) and turn right down Kew Road. At the junction turn left into Twickenham Road and continue until you reach the bridge. You can now leave the busy roads behind you and turn right on to the tranquil Thames Path (which runs 184 miles from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier) (1). This tree-lined route curves around the river past the charming pastel yellow and green of Richmond Lock (2) and offers beautiful pastoral views of Syon Park (3). After this long section, turn right on to Kew Road (4) and enter the gardens at Victoria Gate (5)

Richmond Lock Richmond Lock

One of the first trees you’ll see is the stirring sight of an English oak with its ochre leaves. But if you’re after something more exotic, try spotting the Indian bean tree on your right, which oddly enough doesn’t grow beans and isn’t Indian.

Continue until a vista opens up with views of the south-eastern corner of the Palm House (6) and another of Kew’s architectural highlights, the pagoda. Turn left on to the grass and amble towards the pagoda, making sure you look out for the yellowing lime trees. At the tower head up the grass path beyond the long avenue. Here you’ll find the shagbark hickory, the favourite tree of Kew’s head of the arboretum, Tony Kirkham.

Temperate House Temperate House

Go back in the direction you came along the path and turn left to the Xstrata Treetop Walkway. This puts you right up in the branches, revealing spectacular views across the gardens and letting you see the waning leaves up close. Be warned: you have to climb 180 steps (just shy of the torturous number of stairs leading up from Covent Garden tube station) to the 18m-high walkway, and unfortunately on my visit the lift was out of order.

Xstrata Treetop Walkway Xstrata Treetop Walkway

Now cross the grass to the lake and walk over the Sackler Crossing (7). Straight ahead is a stunning vista of fiery red oaks peeking out from behind the evergreen holm oaks. Walk towards the Palm House and join the path which bisects the avenue. A ten-minute stroll leads to the Orangery restaurant (8). This stark white building offsets the autumn colours beautifully and is a good pit stop.

Continue past the Orangery and turn right to find the Maidenhair Tree. The Tree Council has honoured it as ‘one of Britain’s 50 greatest trees’, and it’s another of Kirkham’s recommendations because of its striking yellow hue. If you’re feeling the effects of a heavy night you might be interested to know its seeds have been used in the past to cure hangovers. However, if the hair of the dog sounds better than any herbal remedy, turn around and head out of the main gate and over Kew Bridge to the Bell and Crown (9). This great pub has a cosy fire and is the perfect spot to relax.

Kew Gardens, Kew Rd, Richmond, TW9 3AB