Five days to the weekend: Richmond Park, Surrey
Offering a tonic to the stressful city, Richmond Park has it all, from stags to stag beetles to parakeets. Ed Jones shows you how to get lost in one of South East England’s largest National Nature Reserves
If you get tired of the city then you can take solace in the fact that there is a place close by that offers a break from the metropolis’ aggressive, humdrum of activity. Whether made by man or machine the clamor drives many of the most hardened city folk to Richmond Park on a weekend and never is it more beautiful than on these cold autumnal mornings. Nowhere else in Britain can claim to have two more different landscapes juxtaposed than Richmond in Surrey. The 2,360-acre park offers a diverse range of grassland, heath, wood and copse all grazed by a six hundred strong group of red and fallow deer.
During autumn the red stags and fallow bucks are rutting to attract females, often bellowing their low intimidating roars. Occasionally they are followed by a clash of antlers, a sight and sound that is not only spectacular and mesmerizing but also illustrates the sheer bulk and power of these usually docile animals.
It’s not just the deer that attracts the wildlife lovers to the park but the large array of birds, butterflies, fungi and small mammals. The presence of the endangered stag beetle is a particular coup for the parks hard working team of ground staff and conservationists.
Originally the park served as a hunting ground for Charles I when he fled the plague in London to live in Richmond Palace in 1625, and today many of the roads through the park follow the original paths. These roads connect all the different areas and buildings within the grounds, most of which offer a completely ulterior perception of it than the last. Pembroke Lodge is particularly worth a visit offering a ‘wow’ inducing view of Ham and the Thames twisting east towards the city, from King Henry VIII’s Mound. Or, if it’s still light and legs aren’t getting too tired try the Isabella Plantation, a beautiful tranquil woodland created after world war two, gated and with a small stream running through it, it really carries a magical aura.
Outside the park are some lovely little river communities that are well worth a visit. Ham and Richmond have a village feel about them but still manage to offer all the conveniences that most visitors would expect; with shops, theatres, pubs and beautiful little coffee shops, most of which can be found down Richmond’s small cobbled alleyways. If the park has worn you out, why not let a boat do the hard work and take a trip upstream from Richmond St. Helena Pier. A leisurely ninety-minute sail will take you to Hampton Court Palace, an astonishing residence, last occupied by the royal family in the reign of George II in 1760, but built over five hundred years ago by Henry VIII in 1514.
Richmond is full of wonderful hotels but due to it’s fabulous location the Richmond Gate Hotel cant be overlooked. Right on the edge of the park this luxurious four-star hotel really has everything. With a two AA Rosette restaurant and private leisure club, complete with swimming pool and spa you can wander around the park safe in the knowledge you will be thoroughly rested in the evening. Another pleasant place to stay is the privately owned Petersham Hotel. Beautiful and traditional accommodation on the side of Richmond Hill, it is renowned for its English Country house feel but with all the practicality of a modern hotel.
Pembroke Lodge, within the park itself has a lovely little café that serve hot drinks and delicious cakes, but the real crowd puller is the view, it’s always busy when the weathers nice, and for good reason. Gaucho Grill, in Richmond is one of only a few restaurants that can boast a river view. It’s great for eating outside, has a stylish interior and excellent food, particularly it’s steak. Or, for a slightly cheaper option why not go for a traditional pub lunch at The Britannia down Brewers Lane. Located just off Richmond Green this little pub can be found down a small alleyway offering everything you would expect plus the added bonus of an outdoor area at the back.
A local secret:
As you wander through the park don’t be surprised to hear a high pitched shrill and a flash of green coming from way up in the trees. Ring-necked Parakeets, usually native to the foothills of the Himalayas have come to make Surrey, and more particularly Richmond Park, their home, the RSPB estimate their numbers to be around 50,000.