Do you know that nearly 650 deer are freely roaming in London? Hard to imagine. Yet, that’s exactly what you’ll find if you head to Richmond Park in South West London, England.
With nearly 2500 acres of parkland, Richmond Park is the largest of London’s eight prestigious Royal Parks. It’s also a National Nature Reserve and most famous for its deer, who have been living here since 1637.
Keen to see the deer during the rutting season, we were up with the lark so we could make an early start exploring Richmond Park.
As we drove in through Richmond and Sheen the streets were pretty much deserted, but it was hard to imagine that such a large expanse of open, natural space could be so close to London. In fact, the park is only 11 miles from London City in the leafy London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.
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Spotting deer in Richmond Park
We arrived at dawn, as this is when the peak rutting activity takes place. Although we felt a chill in the air, there was a mist across the landscape, which gave the park an atmospheric feel. We started our visit at the Roehampton Gate and within 10 minutes had spotted a large herd of deer.
Richmond Park has over 630 red and fallow Deer. If you want to spot the difference, the red deer are bigger and the fallow deer tend to have white spots on their fur.
Ensuring we didn’t get too close and upset the deer, we stood and watched in awe. September to November is the rutting season for deer in the UK and this really is a sight to behold.
What is the rutting season?
The rutting season is the breeding season for the deer. The stags (male deer) will compete amongst themselves for the right to mate with the females. This involves sizing each other up, roaring and interlocking antlers. Basically, anything to prove they are the most superior.
It was fascinating to stand and watch all this bravado between the bucks. We could hear them bellowing and watch them asserting their authority. We also noticed some highly amusing hopping, though I am not sure what this was for!
The does (female deer) appeared rather non-plussed by all the swashbuckling and some even looked like they were trying to make a run for it!
Early morning is a wonderful time to visit Richmond Park if you want to avoid the crowds, as the only other people there were photographers and early morning joggers.
Having watched the antics for some time, we headed towards the Pen Ponds. Dug in 1746, these two historic ponds are a superb place for spotting more wildlife at Richmond Park. On the water we saw swans, moor hens, ducks, and a heron and on the banks were some very attractive Egyptian geese.
There are many routes you can take to walk round Richmond Park. The longest is the Tamsin Trail, which is 7.2 miles. It takes about 2.5 hours to complete.
However, the paths cross, so it easy to navigate your way round the park. We just followed our own route.
Brief history of Richmond Park
The deer have been at Richmond Park for hundreds of years. In 1625 King Charles I introduced deer into the park, when he brought his royal household to Richmond Palace.
Later, Charles enclosed the park with a 5-mile wall. This greatly annoyed the locals at the time. However, it undoubtedly benefited future residents, as it prevented redevelopment of the land.
In 1758 John Lewis won the right for everyone to have access to the park for walking. Nowadays Richmond Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and one of the most popular green spaces in London.
Where's the best place to see deer?
Of course, there’s no guarantee where you’ll see the deer, as they move freely around the park. However, we saw large herds on the open meadows by Roehampton Gate and by the playing fields.
However, as we circled the park, we also saw some smaller groups in the woods and some lone deer.
On the way to the Isabella Plantation, we spotted a large stag enter the ferns. The browns of the autumn fern foliage completely camouflaged the deer, apart from his antlers sticking out top.
Further along, we came across another lone stag. Three does from his harem were on the other side of the path, so we proceeded with caution. In fact, we let a dog walker go past first and then followed, when we knew it was safe!
Set over 40 acres, the Isabella Plantation is an ornamental woodland garden built in Victorian times. There is a pathway that leads round the enclosure, taking us past a wide variety of native and exotic plants and trees.
In October, the foliage provides a rich display of autumnal hues, including russets, yellows, and oranges. And the leaves of the beautiful Japanese maples add a splash of vibrant red to the mix.
We crossed pretty wooden bridges and quirky stepping stones to get over the different waterways, including a bog garden and streams.
There are also a couple of ponds, which attract even more wildlife to the London park. However, the enclosure is not accessible to deer, which is why the plants survive.
From the Isabella Plantation, we headed up to Pembroke Lodge. This is a gorgeous Georgian mansion, set in its own landscaped grounds. It has its own elegant tea rooms, but we opted for tea and muffins outside the refreshment café.
A short walk through the grounds of Pembroke Lodge leads to King Henry’s Mound. Apparently, this is the spot where King Henry VIII stood to await gunfire from the Tower of London, confirming that his wife Anne Boleyn had been beheaded.
King Henry's Mound
This area is the highest point in Richmond park and has views stretching to Windsor and London. The 10-mile view from St Henry’s Mound to St Paul’s Cathedral is protected, meaning that high buildings cannot be built in its path.
Look out for the telescope on the mound, but make sure you’re facing the correct direction for London!
As well as London, the telescope should give you a view of The Way. These ornate gates on the edge of Sidmouth Woods marked the tercentenary of St Paul’s Cathedral. However, I didn’t have much luck with the telescope and couldn’t see much at all.
As we continued away from Pembroke Lodge, we came to Poet’s Corner. This has a wildflower garden, which would probably be at its best in the summer, rather than autumn.
The Laburnum Walkway led us to some gates leading out of the lodge gardens and we were able to take a direct route back to Roehampton Gates.
On our return we came across another large herd of deer. However, in contrast to our earlier sightings there were now lots of people milling about and watching.
There were also a few people flying some rather fancy drones in the flying field. It was also a hive of activity on the playing fields, where numerous games of rugby were taking place.
We had a fantastic morning exploring Richmond Park. It is a great park to visit with kids and one of the best places in southwest London for people seeking open green spaces.
Practical information for your visit to Richmond Park
Directions to Richmond Park
Richmond Park is in Greater London, in the south of the UK. It has 5 vehicle gates, so is accessible from all sides. The park is extremely popular with cyclists. By the time we left, it was difficult to cross the road as there were so many.
If you don’t have your own bike, you can hire a bike from Parkcycle (near the Roehampton Gates).
Getting to Richmond Park by car
The postcode for Richmond Park is TW10 5HS.
It has five car parks, which can be found at Pembroke Lodge, Kingston Gate, Roehampton and by Pen Ponds. Blue Badge Holders only can use the car park by Isabella Plantation.
Parking is free in all of the car parks.
Getting to Richmond Park on public transport
Richmond Park is also accessible on public transport. If you’re travelling by train, the nearest station to the park is Richmond. You can then take a bus (371 or 65) to the Petersham pedestrian entrance.
There is also a choice of buses to the park, depending on your departure point. Click here for bus details.
Opening times at Richmond Park
Richmond Park is open to vehicles from 7:00 am in the summer and 7:30 am in the winter. Vehicle gates close at dusk all year round.
Pedestrian gates are open 24 hours (apart from the culling season).
Admission to Richmond Park is free.
Eating at Richmond Park
With so much green space, Richmond Park is ideal for a picnic.
Alternatively you can buy food at the Roehampton Café or at several kiosks around the park. If you are not on a budget, try the Georgian tea rooms at Pembroke Lodge.
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