Richmond Park review
Richmond park is big. It's very big. In fact, it's huge. You could build a new town inside it and still have room left over for another one. People do sponsored runs around it and when they finish five days later their foot bones are showing through their shoes.
I used to come here when I was younger to take a few photos on the expensive camera I got for Christmas. I used to have to drag it around (because it weighed about ten tonnes) in search of some deer, and then I'd sit there for three weeks waiting for them to inch a bit closer. I'm not doing that today, though -- sod that. I am still going to take some photos of the deer but my little camera zooms in about ten miles now, so I can snap a few photos without having to walk anywhere. Isn't technology wonderful!
When you enter the park the first thing you need to do is make a beeline for the woods to get away from the roads. You can really get lost in the woods here if you know where to go, but you need to screen out any sight of the cars. There's not much point in me giving you detailed directions because there are hardly any signposts, but what the hell -- let's give it a go anyway. You'll have to print off a map from the web if you want to follow along.
I am starting in the southern tip by Kingston, and walking up the hill towards King's Clump. What we are doing is looking around for deer. This park is famous for them, and if you're lucky then you'll come across a hundred-strong herd. But the trick is in finding them -- this is not the kind of park where you can scan across the fields and see what's happening half-a-mile away -- this is a real woody parkland with fields and hills and a lake. It's like being in the countryside.
If you keep walking north from King's Clump, with the flat fields on your right, you should see a building up ahead. It's actually two houses, one behind the other, and if you walk through the centre of them then you'll be treated to a nice view down the hill. You're supposed to be able to see Windsor Castle from up here, but I'll be blowed if I can see it -- maybe you will have better luck. There's not a lot else that you'll recognise -- maybe just the control tower at Heathrow airport.
It's the end of September as I'm writing this so everything is changing into shades of ruddy muds and orange. All of the trees are in the twilight of their days, shedding their green leaves for bare tree trunks and autumn pyjamas. There are so many toppled logs at this time of year -- you are crunching along on cardboard leaves and empty acorn cups. Imagine if they were all dried up bones and human skulls instead of dead trees and leaves -- we'd be having a heart attack.
I like the wide variety of landscapes you get in Richmond Park: along with the forests and muddy ponds and stepping-stone streams, you've got a huge lake and a yellowing plain that looks like the titles of Little House on the Prairie.
Hopefully you are heading back down the road towards Ham Cross, after which you need to clamber back up the steep slope on the other side -- we are aiming towards Pembroke Lodge.
I've just come across some tree trunks which I recognise from my youth -- hollowed out coffins of bark, eaten by weevils, and gnarled up totem poles that must have been struck by lightning. The trees have been stripped of their clothes and are just standing there with bony arms twisting around each other. They are three arthritic grandads frozen in stone. The mud has dried up all along the brow and the tree roots look like leg bones in an archaeological dig. This is Bear Grylls country -- knotted grass and six-foot ferns that are bending over the road to run their fingers through my hair. Some of the brambles are snatching at my trousers and refusing to let go. Don't stray too far from the path for chrissakes, because you'll be taken by the wildlife.
I am on the trail of the deer... I am getting closer. I have just discovered a pile of fresh deer dung. If I were Bear Grylls then I would put some on my finger and eat it, but I am normal, so I don't. Have you seen any deer yet? I would love to be able to tell you to just go to a particular place, where you will definitely see them, but of course it doesn't work like that because they are wild animals; and they can wander wherever they like. That is why zoos are so good, you see... because you can just keep all of the animals locked up in prison and save all this stupid walking about. They don't mind being caged up like inmates -- I'm sure of it. They get a roof over their heads and free lettuce every day. Give a monkey a banana and a stick to wave about and he's happy.
I have just discovered the scariest bench in the world. It is buried alongside the ferns at the side of the path, and if you sit down for a rest then we will find you five months later with the nettles and blackberry brambles wrapped tight like chains around your face. There are some bright white spiderwebs too, looking like handkerchiefs covered in phlegm (covered in dew). And somewhere around here there is an old rook with no feathers, because he has shed them as an offering to the mountain.
Pembroke Lodge is where you can stop for your first cup of tea. There is a little garden attached but it's not a lot different to what you can see outside the fence (just more grass and trees). The inside of the lodge is very posh though, and if you sit on the veranda outside then you'll get a great view down the hill. I tried to find Windsor Castle again but it must be hidden behind the trees -- maybe the Queen has knocked it down.
The only real 'garden' part of the park is the Isabella Plantation, which is an enclosed area full of heathers and flowers and firs. Outside the plantation it's all beetles and spiders and snails, but inside it's butterflies and ladybirds. They've got some pretty little ponds and rockeries in there too. It's nice enough if you like that kind of thing I suppose.
When you reach Richmond Gate turn right and walk along Sawyer's Hill. If you keep looking towards the left then you should eventually catch sight of the London skyline. It might seem a little hard to believe, but you can easily see the dome of St. Paul's and the London Eye from here -- plus the Walkie Schorchie, Canary Wharf and The Shard. I'm pretty sure that if you can see the London Eye then you should be able to make out Parliament too, but the colours are just a little bit too faded today -- maybe you will have better luck (maybe you have got better eyes than me). If you walk far enough along the road then you can see the white arch of Wembley Stadium as well.
Where the hell are all these deer? I feel like I'm a big game hunter out on safari. Maybe someone has beaten me to it and shot them all already. There was a story in the papers a while ago about an American trophy hunter going over to Kenya and shooting a famous lion called Cecil -- do you remember that? He shot him with a bow and arrow and he wasn't very popular (especially with the lion). I seem to remember that he had to go into hiding for a couple of weeks until it all blew over. Well, I am planning on going one better today, because -- I haven't told you this yet -- but I am actually hunting for Rudolph. The Rudolph -- of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame. I am going to hunt him down and shoot him and mount his luminous nose on the front of my car. Can you imagine the international uproar if I succeed in doing that? -- I will be world famous! My book will go straight to the top of the bestseller list for sure. Obviously it will put me straight onto Santa's naughty list as well, but I don't care. If I see Rudolph then he's getting a bullet between the eyes. And if Blitzen gets in my way then he'll get one too, and Dasher, Dancer and Prancer... I'm taking them all out. Christmas is cancelled this year.
Keep walking along Saywer's Hill (bearing a little to the right), and you will be treated to the finest view in the park: looking down into the distant Pen Ponds. It's when you're standing up here in the wind that you will finally appreciate how vast the park actually is -- you're looking down onto a few square miles of jutted, muddy hills and woody parkland.
Walk towards the Pen Ponds and straight through the land bridge in the middle, then head towards the Isabella Plantation.
Wait a minute... hold the front pages... I have just spotted my first deer! There is a whole bunch of them sitting underneath a tree. It looks like one stag is guarding about fifty of his women. Jesus Christ he is huge! He is mooing like a cow -- I haven't got a clue what he is saying. His wails are carrying across the wood like a loudhailer. Hold on a minute... do me a favour and keep quiet for a minute, so I can listen... I think I can hear some more mooing in the distance. It's almost as if they are talking back and forth to each other like that scene in Crocodile Dundee. Or maybe it's just the wind -- maybe he's talking to the weather.
So to sum it all up, then... Richmond Park is for walkers. It's all wild woods with dips and hills, rather than pretty parklands full of flowers; so it's perfect for people who enjoy a long walk. Bring your dog as well -- because he will love it more than you.
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