Sunday 22nd July 2012
7.5 miles including station links
Toilets: Wimbledon Park (near cafe); Wimbledon Park (by the lake); Windmill at Wimbledon Common; Richmond Park (Robin Hood Gate); Pembroke Lodge; Playground at Petersham Road; Petersham Meadows; Pubs and cafes in Richmond.
This is without a doubt the highlight of the Capital Ring. It’s been described as the greatest day walk in London, and as being countryside in the city. Personally I’m always a little sceptical when people talk about there being “real countryside” in London – obviously we have lots of green spaces, but countryside? Nope. In Richmond Park, however, it really is possible to get that “country park” feeling. This section is as a good as any country walk, and at the end of it we really felt like we’d been walking through the great outdoors. If you only do one section of the Capital Ring, do this one. The signposting isn’t quite as great as other sections of the ring, though, so be sure to bring a map or guide book.
After some recent ridiculous weather, we finally had a beautifully hot and sunny day. Our walk started by going through the lovely Wimbledon Park, with its tennis courts and landscaped waterfall features. We passed the lake, where several people were out feeding the residents.
We had to take a detour around part of the park due to some building works that were going on, but this meant that we got to see some beautiful patches of wildflowers.
There followed a short stretch of road walking, during which we could see lots of signs and banners relating to the Olympics. You just can’t get away from it. Only a few weeks now, and it’ll all be over… We finally reached the beautiful wooded areas of Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common. I know I often post photos of footpaths going through woodland, but it’s one of my favourite places to be. It also provided some welcome shade on this boiling hot day.
We passed the Windmill Museum on Wimbledon Common. There were toilets and a cafe, and a tap outside where we refilled our bottles.
Next up was Queen’s Mere, a location said to be favoured by wombles, although we didn’t see any.
After some more woodland walking, we took a minor detour into a circular area with a war memorial at the centre.
After another short while, we crossed a road and went into Richmond Park. Stretching for at least a couple of miles across, it’s said to be the largest urban park in Europe. As I said earlier, I usually feel a bit sceptical when people talk about countryside in London, but this time it genuinely felt like being in a country park. There was so much open space! We passed hundreds of people out and about, having picnics and lazing about in the sunshine, yet it didn’t feel even remotely crowded. It’s also home to a few hundred deer, but we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Let’s hope they were just hiding that day and hadn’t been shooed away for the Olympics or something. There were signs at Robin Hood Gate saying that a race will be going straight through the park next weekend, and I wouldn’t put anything past them.
We passed the pen ponds, artificially created by damming a stream, and now home to a variety of wildlife. There were lots of low-flying aeroplanes overhead, but somehow not low enough to be noisy.
After a big left turn, we continued past some more woods where we passed absolutely nobody at all. It was beautiful and quiet.
Upon reaching Pembroke Lodge we took a short detour to King Henry’s Mound, the highest point in Richmond Park.
The story goes that King Henry VIII stood on this mound waiting to see a flare from the Tower of London, indicating that his wife Anne Boleyn had been executed, so that he could marry Jane Seymour instead. What a nice bloke, eh? There was a telescope at the top of the hill, and in the opposite direction from the main view there was a tiny gap in the trees, through which we could see St Paul’s Cathedral.
The route had been very gradually going uphill for most of the time, so we finally got to descend. At the bottom of the hill we passed a children’s playground with toilets. We carried on across to Petersham Meadows, where there was a herd of cows grazing.
A detour from the route took us up a hill to the Roebuck pub, where we had an excellent lunch. There are lots of great places to eat and drink in Richmond, but we thought the pubs might be crowded, so that’s why we stopped early. It was a short but strenuous walk up the hill, but worth it both for the food and for the views of the Thames.
The final part of the walk went along the Thames, where it was very crowded as everyone was out enjoying the sunshine, and the riverside pubs were indeed very full. We walked down some tiny back streets full of boutiques and tiny restaurants, before arriving at Richmond Station.
It was a perfect summer walk. If you only do one walk ever in the whole of London, make it this one. It’s all in Zones 3 and 4, but when walking through Richmond Park, you really could be anywhere at all.