Doe, a deer, a female deer… Can you see where I’m going with this one? Chances are, if you’re familiar with London’s Royal Parks, you can. Richmond Park is one of my favourite green spaces in London: acres of greenery, trees as far as the eye can see and, of course, deer by the dozen.
A couple of summers ago, Laurence and I rode the District line all the way out to Richmond, fully intending to spend the afternoon ambling around Richmond Park. Alas, it wasn’t to be, for us two little numpties made a somewhat embarrassing rookie mistake: we followed (misleading) signs to The Old Deer Park. I know what you’re thinking, the clue’s in the name, that’s The Old Deer Park! We didn’t really think anything of it, until we crossed a field of knee-high grass and shortly thereafter ended up on a riverside path. We walked on, and walked so far in the wrong direction that we passed Kew Gardens and ended up in Chiswick. Whoops. The most embarrassing part of the whole endeavour was that I’d been to Richmond Park before – though, in my defence, I’d been on foot and therefore had no concept of where Richmond Station was in relation to Richmond Park.
Fast forward two summers, and we decide to give it another shot. On this occasion, we made sure we didn’t screw up. We picked up a map from the little tourist information stand and listened attentively while the woman patiently talked us through the directions to the park. Richmond is a quaint little market town, and feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus.
Passing through the town, we stopped to investigate the food market: custard doughnuts, frosted cupcakes, hot sandwiches and foodie gifts. Things were a little on the pricey side and more eat-now than take-away, so we stuck to our original plan and picked up a picnic lunch from Tesco. After all, parks were made for picnics, and it’s not all that often that the Great British Summer plays ball. We wandered along by the Thames for a stretch, before looping up through Terrace Gardens to the main road and finally entering Richmond Park via Richmond Gate.
After checking out the map, we plonked ourselves down on the grass to enjoy our picnic. As keen as we were to see the deer straightaway, our stomachs dictated the order of play on this occasion: food first, then deer.
Richmond Park is home to approximately six hundred and fifty deer: red and fallow; stags and bucks; hinds and does; and adorable, fluffy fawns. I’d seen a fair few the first time I’d visited, but nothing had prepared me for the herds that we saw back in July.
They were everywhere: clustered in copses, grazing amongst the ferns, sitting in the grass. Bucks and stags bore majestic antlers, velvety and regal. Hinds, does and their fawns bolted across the open grassland, preferring the privacy of the dense ferns.
Unfortunately, on the day we visited there were far too many people who hadn’t got (or chose to ignore) the memo to give the deer some space. Richmond’s deer aren’t pets: they’re wild animals. (If you want tame deer, go to Nara.) Show them some respect and admire them from a distance. If you don’t, you’ve only got yourself to blame if you end up on the wrong side of an antler-bearing wild deer. (Harsh, but true.)
Having spent the best part of the afternoon lazily meandering across the park and photographing the deer, we eventually decided to head back into Richmond. We pottered around the picturesque alleys and backstreets, before swinging by Gelateria Danieli for a pot of gelato to share. (We opted for the dark chocolate sorbet and the frozen yogurt orange and lemon. I haven’t a clue why they categorise flavours as either sorbet, ice cream or fro-yo on their menu, yet call everything gelato . . .)
- Richmond Park is a twenty to thirty minute stroll from the centre of Richmond. When you exit the station, turn left into town. Either follow the main road round until you reach the park, or take the riverside path and rejoin the main road later by walking up to it through Terrace Gardens.
- Heed the warning signs and maintain a safe distance (c. 50 metres) from the deer. Take extra care during the summer months (May to July), when the deer have young, and the rutting season (September to November).