Richmond Park is a large expanse of land on the outskirts of London whose main purpose is to shelter large numbers of deer, and after he had spent an afternoon wading through the resulting spores and also quite a large number of rabbit droppings, Papa named the place the Poo Park. This label has stuck in our family, probably because later visits have just served to confirm the widespread and plentiful nature of crap pellets in the park. Mama now only remembers it isn’t actually called that when other people look at us strangely when my Fantastic Big Brother starts talking about it at the top of his voice.
Unfortunately for Mama, there’s quite a lot to talk about because it’s huge. Mama parks in a different (FREE! Mama would like me to say that again because having a free car park at an attraction in London is almost unheard of. Having a car park is too really, but anyway, FREE!) car park each time and we strike out across unkempt grass, through spinneys and up and down hills, skirting the bracken, playing hide and seek in the rhododendrons and always avoiding the huge lake in the middle. My Fantastic Big Brother would want to chase the ducks and I would try to fling myself into the very accessible water, and Mama cannot be doing with either of these things. And apart from one unfortunate day when we came across it accidentally, Mama has successfully managed to convince my Fantastic Big Brother that the lake was a figment of his imagination. I know differently, of course, but I cannot talk that well yet, so she gets away with it.
We go there because, apart from the FREE car parks, Mama likes walking in the countryside and in Richmond Park, Mama gets to almost pretend she is, if the countryside were full of people, edged by a constant stream of cars and had low flying planes screaming overhead on their way towards Heathrow airport every two minutes.
I, however, am a city child of pavements and shorn grass and find the unmanicured ground here a bit heavy going, so my favourite bit is the Isabella Plantation, which is an enclosed, managed woodland area somewhere in the middle of the park. It’s not so much that the paths are any smoother as that Mama is forced to go very slowly because, oh wonder of marvels, there are streams. Much of my Fantastic Big Brother and my attention is therefore given over to attempting to dip various body parts in the water and so much of Mama’s attention is given over to hovering anxiously. This is a shame, she thinks, as the wood itself is very pretty, with great splashes of colour in spring from flowering bushes in particular.
My Fantastic Big Brother’s favourite thing about the park is the deer and so it is lucky that so far we have never had a visit which didn’t include tripping across a herd of them. They are remarkably tame and thus surrounded at all times by people with serious looking cameras or, in the case of my Fantastic Big Brother, two large sticks he is holding to his forehead in an attempt to simulate antlers.
The exception to this is the autumn when the park rings to the loud grunting roars of the rutting bucks, and everybody stays the heck away from all of them.
Mama, what does ‘rutting’ actually mean?
There are refreshments to be had from the odd café or hot drinks caravan, but this is picnic central really. We even came here for my first birthday and brought many rugs, home made quiche, buckets of salads and Pimms. The Pimms looked nice. It had lots of fruit in it. Mama said not though. Mama has been known to drag us out here purely for the pleasure of eating in the open air, but I don’t mind. If she and Papa are sitting down, I am not having to hike and also they always take care to park themselves next to some climbable tree trunks or near one of the multitude of wigwam-like dens that have been built repeatedly throughout the park. Mama is a little puzzled by these dens. She wonders if they are for the deer or for the humans, but either way is grateful for the distraction.
Other toddler-friendly areas are the playgrounds. Mama has only stumbled across what she suspects was the Petersham Gate one once, but as she isn’t sure how she did that who knows when we may revisit it. This is a shame as it has the sort of slide that Mama thinks has been condemned elsewhere for being too high and too fast, and also something called a roundabout, which Mama says is now largely extinct in the UK because they are quite easy to fall off of especially when you are playing the leap on and off them at speed game, or get your limbs trapped underneath when you are lying on your tummy playing touch the fast moving ground game, neither of which activities Mama knows anything about at all. On the downside, Mama was a bit dismayed to find that the large sandpit also has a water feature. She managed to keep me out of it because I am extremely distrustful of sand, nasty gritty shifty stuff, but was forced to concede that there was no way that My Fantastic Big Brother was going to get out dry, and so it proved. The Poo Park got to see my Fantastic Big Brother modelling only his pants for the rest of that afternoon. A treat, I can tell you. I don’t know why Mama didn’t just remove his trousers when he first headed towards the wet stuff. Sheer blind panic I expect.
Anyway, Richmond Park comes highly recommended as a outside spot to take the whole family for an outdoor lunch, particularly if they enjoy a stroll over ruggedish terrain with guaranteed sightings of wildlife.
Address: Richmond Park, TW10 5HS
Opening: From 7am (summer) or 7.30am (winter) to dusk.
Price: Admission is free.
Tube/ Train: British Rail or District line to Richmond Park station (and then catch the 371 or 65 buses to the pedestrian gate at Petersham).
Bus: There are a large number of buses that get close to various sides of the park.
Parking: In six (SIX!) ample free (FREE!) car parks.