Just a few miles outside the centre of London you’ll come across Richmond, an attractive, affluent borough through that flows the River Thames and which has always been appreciated as a place of escape for visitors from the hustle-bustle of the mega metropolis right on its doorstep. However, the biggest attraction Richmond can lay claim to is undoubtedly its park, the biggest and one of the best loved of all of the capital’s official Royal Parks.
But, aside from its spaciousness, what’s so special about Richmond Park? Well, don’t be deceived; its size is certainly one of its attributes. It’s a wide expanse of outstanding beauty; to be in the centre of it, is to be transported somewhere else entirely – somewhere of peace, repose, contemplation and nature. At 3.69 square-miles, it’s of comparable size to Paris’s Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne and around three times the size of New York’s Central Park.
And yet, for many, the park’s biggest draw is its fauna and flora – the former, in particular. In fact, it’s been deemed of both national and international importance for its wildlife, so much so it’s officially one of the UK’s national nature reserves. Moreover, its landscape, beauty and overall appearance has, over the centuries, influenced the work of countless painters and artists and it’s been used as a location for many a movie and TV production. When it comes to Richmond Park’s resident animals, though, undoubtedly the most celebrated are its red and fallow deer, of which there’s presently 630 to be seen roaming freely here and there; all of them seemingly at ease – and, frankly, nonplussed – by the presence of so many human visitors and observers, so tame are they and used to humans.
If you go for a thorough ramble through the park, though (and why not, should you have travelled for the day from your place of stay in the centre of the city, such as a suitable hotel Paddington Station, like the Shaftesbury Premier London Paddington hotel), you’ll also discover it’s home to the likes of rabbits, woodpeckers, frogs and toads, grass snakes and – yes, of course – squirrels. Plus, if you’re lucky enough, you might even find nestled in the branches of a tree or flying above your head one or two ring-necked (or rose-ringed) parakeets. I kid you not!
But how did the deer and all the other wildfire find its way into the park? Well, historically, the park was always the preserve of the ruling monarch (hence its ‘Royal Park’ status) and why so many animals populate it today. Yet, in the case of the deer specifically, their presence coincides with the park’s establishment centuries ago, when it was acquired in the early 17th Century by King Charles I as a hunting ground for deer – back in the days when they grazed throughout the English, Scottish and Welsh countryside. Shortly afterwards, he enclosed the land and, although this move was far from popular with locals, it effectively saw the creation of the park. Altered and added to over the centuries, especially in the Georgian era of the 18th Century, the park in modern times has become widely opened up to the public, except during the two World Wars when sections of it were turned over to the military for cavalry training (WWI) and the HQ of a special reconnaissance army unit (WWII).
It’s not just about the peaceful trees, the elegant deer and the colourful parakeets, though, because Richmond Park too offers up a number of celebrated buildings of architectural interest. Among them there’s the gracefully grand Grade I-listed White Lodge (now used by the Royal Ballet School) and Pembroke Lodge, which was home to 19th Century Prime Minister Lord John Russell and, later, his grandson, the revered philosopher Bertrand Russell.
And that’s not to overlook the fact that the park’s a favourite of many local people – and visitors from farther afield – as a place to get sporty and indulge their outdoor pursuits. Among the sports popular in the park then are cycling (bikes can be hired for a small fee and ridden round a wide circuit; the park also served as a road-race cycling venue for the 2012 London Olympics), fishing (by permit, between March and June), golf (a course has existed in the park for many decades), horse riding (it’s a popular riding ground for local stables), rugby (there are three pitches) and running (anyone is welcome to run or jog in the park and a ‘parkrun’ is held every Saturday morning). Finally, lest we forget, Richmond Park’s most definitely a family-friendly destination; like any park worthy of the name you’ll find a sizeable and popular children’s playground – perfect for keeping the little ones busy and happy!