March 7, 2014
Can you cast your mind back to the start of January? It seems like a long time ago now, right? Well, waaaay back then I wrote a post called 10 Goals for 2014, and if you’re particularly astute you might remember that number 9 on my list was “spontaneously travel to new destinations”. I made a promise to myself to liberate my Out and About category and share more of my adventures, be they day trips, weekend explorations or longer holidays.
Last Sunday I made good on this promise and woke early, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and put on my sturdy Zamberlan boots for the first time in months. I left the house at about 8:30 and walked up towards Richmond town, took a right at the cinema, climbed the hill and found myself outside the gates of Richmond Park.
Considering I’ve been living in this lovely green part of London since November, Sunday’s visit to the park only marks my second time visiting, and the first time I popped over I came all the way from grey desolate Stratford in East London (I was in desperate need of green!). When I lived in Chislehurst last year I wrote a Wild Place Wednesdays post about Richmond’s famous park, so evidently it holds a special place in my heart.
Now that I can finally say I am a Richmond resident (or Twickenham, at least!) it feels good to be able to talk about the largest of London’s royal green spaces with just a touch more pride – I’m only half an hour’s walk away now, so it really is my “local”.
I reached the park just before 9:00am on Sunday morning, and, just like the last time I visited, it surprised me to see how many other folk were already there. Cycling, running, walking their dogs, I got the feeling that it wasn’t just the clear bright morning and cloudless blue skies that had beckoned people outdoors at such an hour.
Richmond Park is a vast place with numerous entrances that serve many of the towns on its periphery, and it’s easy to see that the residents of Roehampton, East Sheen and Kingston see this as their local patch of green just as much as I do.
There was just a touch of spring promise in the air as I navigated muddy, squelchy grass and gazed up at trees that were naked without their leafy coats. Even though the usual signs of spring weren’t anywhere to be seen, it was more a feeling that struck me as I wandered further into the grounds of the park. The sky wasn’t so grey, and the wind wasn’t so cold.
I didn’t even mind that I was sharing the space with so many other people. It was quite pleasant to pass another solitary walker by and offer up a smile and a friendly “good morning”. I also made friends with lots of excited dogs who were beyond happy to be bounding around in the wide open space and the wonderful fresh air.
I walked a long way into the park, crossing what must have been several miles of pleasantly squidgy, muddy grass until I reached a clearing on the edge of a slightly more populated stretch of forest. And there, right on the edge, were the famous Richmond Park deer.
The 600+ strong herd of fallow and red deer have played a major role in the history of the park since the 1500s. Similarly to the Konik ponies mentioned in Wednesday’s post about Wicken Fen, the Richmond Park deer help to conserve the open grassland by eating tree saplings and keeping the neat green lawns neatly “mown”. They are fairly accepting of the human presence and on the whole, tend to avoid conflict rather than provoke it.
The exception to this comes during rutting season in the autumn, when stags fight over who has the biggest
sports car antlers and therefore has the right to mate with the most females.
Other than a few young chaps trying their luck on a Sunday morning, the herd was very quiet and relaxed as I approached. Most were sunning themselves in a nice patch of warm grass, some in little groups, others sitting alone with their deery thoughts. I sat a little distance away on a tree stump and watched them. It was a very serene and peaceful sight.
I take all the photos for this blog using my iPhone, and until last weekend I’ve never had a bad word to say about it, but I have to admit I was longing for a DSLR with a decent lens in order to shoot some high-quality closeups of these lovelies. They have such beautiful kind faces, and my iPhone optical zoom was just not up to the task of capturing them.
Despite working in the film and TV industry, I’m not completely au fait with camera terminology, so knowing exactly what I need to look for in a DSLR is going to prove tricky. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with some fellow Blogcademy graduates for a natter and a spot of brekkie, so I’ll be sure to tap into their collective knowledge.
This was about as close as I managed to get, and it actually appears much nearer than it is. Signs displayed throughout the park warn visitors not to stray within 50ft of the deer, and although it’s tempting to try to approach and stroke them, it’s so important to remember that even though their herd is managed, they are still wild creatures.
Feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t get my deer close-up, I made up for it by shooting this very compliant piece of fallen tree instead. Perhaps it isn’t as cute or exciting, but in its own way, I like to think it’s just as majestic.
As I left the deer and continued my morning walk, my boots (and jeans) got progressively muddier. I didn’t mind though. In fact, I actively sought out more mud, stomping in the splishiest, splashiest puddles that I could find, revelling in the childlike joy it brought me. Who needs expensive, new-fangled entertainment when you can have good old-fashioned nature as your playmate?
I waved hello and wished a good morning to a mini herd of particularly woolly cows that were being kept in an enclosure on the outskirts of the park. They seemed a bit more interested in the lush grass they were muching, though.
When I finally decided to retrace my steps and find the path leading back to the Richmond Hill exit, I noticed that the park had become much busier during the two hours that I had been happily getting lost within its confines. What you see here is actually a rare view of an empty path ahead of me! I should have taken note of how many cyclists, walkers, dogs and runners I passed during the morning – it would have numbered in the hundreds!
Again, here’s another example of why I need to bite the bullet and invest in a DSLR! Just as I passed the pond right near to the park entrance, my footsteps disturbed Mr and Mrs Mandarin Duck who were hiding in the reeds. Mandarins are definitely the most extravagant and groovy-looking ducks on the water, and even though I’d seen one before when I lived in Chislehurst, Sunday was the first time I’d met a girlie one, so I was pretty chuffed.
As you leave Richmond Park by the exit at the top of the hill, you’re greeted with this glorious view as you descend back down towards the town centre. On a clear day you can see for miles, right out across the Thames and beyond.
A much-photographed view down over the river and the green. As I passed by, I ended up walking along a little stretch of path that had a collection of benches, all with remembrance plaques in honour of former Richmond residents. Some of the messages were so beautiful I couldn’t stop a tear coming to my eye. It’s not hard to see why so many of them said things like “he loved this place”.
And of course, what better way to end a liberating Sunday morning wander than with a vegetarian cooked breakfast from a proper London greasy spoon? I can just taste those gloriously crunchy and crispy hash browns now that I’m thinking about them! Too good for words, and the best thing? I didn’t even feel guilty because I’d just spent nearly three hours walking through the park. Scrumptious.
I’ll definitely be heading back to Richmond Park before spring is upon us. Having such a wonderful wild place on my doorstep is such a treat, and thinking about seeing it change throughout the seasons is magical. Surely 2014 has to be the year that I finally get to watch the deer rut, and perhaps even find an antler shed or two to take home with me? Fingers doubly crossed.
Posted in Out and About