London Drum

Visit Richmond Park for the wild deer, Isabella Plantation gardens, Pen Ponds & Pembroke Lodge

Richmond Park
Where? Richmond Park, Richmond · Web: royalparks.org Opening times? For vehicles: 7 AM to dusk (Mon-Sun, summer); 7.30 AM to dusk (Mon-Sun, winter) · For walkers: 7.30 AM to 8 PM (Mon-Sun, Feb-early Mar, Nov-early Dec); 24 hours (Mon-Sun, late Mar-Oct, late Dec-Jan) Visiting hours may change Price? Free Time required? A typical visit is 4-6 hours depending on how far you want to walk (including travel time to/from london) Buses: 65 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Richmond District Overground Train fares

Craig’s review… Calling this place a park makes it sound like a garden but when you’re standing at the start you realise what Edmund Hilary must have felt like standing at the foot of Mount Everest. He went 5½ miles straight up and we’ve got 5½ miles of wild woods and plains to walk across.

There’s supposed to be over 600 red and fallow deer roaming around the grounds and part of the fun is trying to find them. You’d think a herd that size would be easy to see but this isn’t the kind of park where you can scan across the land and see what’s happening half-a-mile away. You could be walking around for hours and still not find one, so we’re going to take a meandering route from Kingston Gate to Richmond Gate whilst keeping a constant lookout for them.

The first place we’re aiming for is Thatched House Lodge at the top of the hill and as soon as you’re into the woods you’ll have jackdaws and crows and a battlefield of chopped logs and toppled trees. It’s coming up to the end of September as I’m writing this so all the trees are shedding their green leaves for bare trunks and autumn pyjamas and I’m crunching along on curls of discarded bark and empty acorn cups.

Thatched House Lodge

Thatched House LodgePhoto: Craig Cross
Thatched House Lodge

Thatched House Lodge was originally built for the Richmond Park keepers but by the 1720s it was home to Robert Walpole – remember him from school? He was Britain’s very first prime minister. And during the Second World War they gave one of its suites to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower so he could plot the Normandy invasions in peace.

I always imagine him sitting on the hill watching London burning in the Blitz because the last bombs didn’t drop until January 1944, but the earliest he probably got here was March.

These days it’s home to the late Queen’s first cousin Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy.

Dead tree stump in Richmond ParkPhoto: Craig Cross
Dead tree stump in Richmond Park

So let’s get a count going… so far we’ve seen the house of one princess, one Prime Minister and one US President.

It’s worth admiring the view from the top of the hill before moving on but there’s not a lot that you can actually recognise – maybe just the control tower at Heathrow airport. After that head east towards the Isabella Plantation.

Isabella Plantation gardens

The first time you discover this place you might wonder if you’re really allowed inside because depending on where you encounter the edge you might just find a lot of dark green railings half-hidden in the woods. But once you’ve pushed open the heavy gate and found the little stream that’s meandering through the middle you’ll be onto the famous azaleas and pink camellias that flower in late April and early May.

Pink azaleas in the Isabella Plantation gardensPhoto: Craig Cross
Pink azaleas in the Isabella Plantation gardens

If you stick to the gravel path by the stream then it’s really rather pretty, and there are plenty of benches dotted around for a sit down. When you make it out the other side start heading towards the eastern edge of the Pen Ponds through that field of wispy green grass up to your knees.

It’s starting to look a bit Jurassic now… the dusty paths have dried up in the sun and the tree roots look like the exposed bones of an archaeological dig.

I’ve just seen a dragonfly buzzing around that’s about three inches long and I’m having to walk sideways through six-foot ferns and blackberry brambles that are encroaching over the path and snatching at my coat.

Walking towards the Pen PondsPhoto: Craig Cross
Walking towards the Pen Ponds

After that field of ferns there’s a yellowing plain that looks like the titles from Little House on the Prairie. Vulture-like Jackdaws are perched on the stumps of woodworm-riddled trees and I almost feel like a big game hunter out on safari.

I still haven’t spotted any deer though, and I’m a bit wary about walking through all this long grass in case they’re lying down out of sight, so I’m keeping one eye out for antlers and mistaking all the broken branches for a stag.

You’ve got to be careful not to stumble on all the little ruts and gullies that are crisscrossing the paths as well. They’ve got about as much water in as a cold cup of tea but they’re lined with that same kind of thick oozing mud where life might have begun a billion years ago.

Pen Ponds lake

Distant view of the Pen Ponds lakePhoto: Craig Cross
The Pen Ponds lake

Just when I thought I’d never find the Pen Ponds I heard a tremendous squawking coming from behind the woods and saw a flock of white birds fleeing above the trees. Then they dived down into the water and sent up a huge plume of spray as their flapping wings smacked the top.

If you walk through the middle of the two Pen Ponds then you can head east towards the White Lodge (you should be able to see it in the distance).

White Lodge – an old Royal residence

White LodgePhoto: Craig Cross
The old Royal residence at White Lodge

This old Royal residence was originally built as a hunting lodge for George II and later became the birthplace of the young Duke of Windsor (that guy who abdicated for Wallis Simpson). George VI then moved in with the Queen Mother before he ascended to the throne.

Unfortunately you need to be wearing a tutu to have a look around nowadays because it belongs to the Royal Ballet School. This is where they train all of their ballerinas.

So what’s the count up to now… we’ve seen the homes of three kings, a queen, a princess, a Prime Minister and one US President.

Herd of wild deer

A herd of wild deerPhoto: Craig Cross
A herd of wild deer

Wait a minute… hold the front pages… I’ve just spotted some deer in the distance! There must be about twenty of them all lazing beneath a canopy of trees. One of the stags has started making a deep-throated dinosaur roar and I’m wondering whether I’m standing too close. I can hear some more calling in the distance and it’s almost as if they’re talking to each other back and forth on the wind.

View of London from Sawyer’s Hill

View of London’s skyline from Sawyer’s HillPhoto: Craig Cross
View of London’s skyline from the top of Sawyer’s Hill

Now head west up Sawyer’s Hill and if you manage to scale the summit without collapsing then you’ll be rewarded with an empty bench and a distant view of the London skyline. The Shard is only a couple of inches tall from here and you can easily see the City skyscrapers and dome of St. Paul’s if you’ve got your glasses on.

The last time I came up here I could see the London Eye as well but the sun has sucked all of the colours out of the sky and everything’s being blanched out this morning, so maybe you’ll have better luck.

After that you need to skirt the edge of the woods past Richmond Gate, and head back down the road towards King Henry’s Mound.

Poets’ Corner & King Henry’s Mound

Butterfly and pollinator garden at Poets’ CornerPhoto: Craig Cross
Butterfly and pollinator garden at Poets’ Corner

Follow the railings on the right and enter the grounds of Pembroke Lodge. The first thing you’ll come across is a pretty little pollinator garden called Poets’ Corner populated by peacock butterflies, marmalade hoverflys, small coppers, red admirals, beetles and bees.

A little bit further on (but still inside the grounds of Pembroke Lodge) is King Henry’s Mound, so-called because King Henry VIII himself is supposed to have stood here waiting for Old St Paul’s to send up a signal that Anne Boleyn had been executed at the Tower. You can’t see his view of London anymore because it’s hidden behind the trees but the view down onto the Thames Valley is worth the walk.

Telescope on top of King Henry’s MoundPhoto: Craig Cross
Telescope on top of King Henry’s Mound

They’ve placed some markers on the floor saying Windsor Castle is visible over that way but I’ll be blowed if I can see it (and I even tried using their free telescope). All I could see were fifteen miles of rooftops, treetops and bright white clouds.

Pembroke Lodge cafe

This Georgian mansion once belonged to the British Prime Minister Lord John Russell and later became the childhood home of the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell. Now it’s one of those places that people bring their nans and grandads on a Sunday afternoon drive… it’s either the top of Box Hill, fish and chips on Newland’s Corner, or Pembroke Lodge for a cup of tea.

The Pembroke Lodge cafePhoto: Craig Cross
Pembroke Lodge cafe

So whats the final count up to now… we’ve seen the homes of two British Prime Ministers, three kings, a queen, a princess, a president, and a Nobel Prize-winning philosopher.

So to sum it all up then… if you enjoy going on long walks then you’ll love Richmond Park. But expect wild woods and rolling hills rather than pretty parklands full of flowers. And bring your dog as well, because he’ll probably love it even more than you.

Worth a visit? Value for money? n/aGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Hampstead Heath. You could combine a trip to Richmond Park with a visit to Kew Gardens

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon. This review was updated on

Your comments and questions

maz Are you allowed to take dogs around when there are deer about,

Craig Hi Maz. Here's the information given on their website: "Deer can feel threatened by dogs even over long distances and when the dog is not behaving in a provocative manner. This is particularly true during the rutting (September-November) and the birthing (May-July) seasons. We recommend walking your dog outside the park at these times. If you choose, at your own risk, to walk your dog in the park at these times, it is advisable to keep your dog on a lead" - royalparks.org.uk/​parks/​richmond-park/visitor-information/deer-safety-advice-for-richmond-park-and-bushy-park

bpern Hi, how long would it take to walk around the entire perimeter of the park

Craig Hi BPern. I've never done it myself but apparently people do it in anything from 2 1/2 to 4 hours depending on their pace. It's about 7 1/2 miles in total. You'd be missing out most of the interesting stuff if just you stuck to the perimeter though... a lot of it is in the middle

Leave a comment