On Sunday we escaped the madding crowds in central London with a trip to a Richmond Park, a royal park in suburban London that we’d never visited.
We took the Tube to Putney Bridge, then caught a bus to the park, a journey of about 1.5 hours. Our bus ride took us from the working class neighborhood of Putney Bridge through middle class neighborhoods to very wealthy homes around Richmond Park.
Richmond Park is the largest of the royal parks (2500 acres) and possibly the oldest. Originally known as the Manor of Sheen, it reverted to the Crown in the 13th century under Edward 1. Henry VII changed the name to Richmond Park and turned it into a hunting park (reserved to himself, of course). Charles 1 moved the entire court to Richmond in 1625 to escape the plague and stocked the park with 2000 red and fallow deer, still resident today. Charles built an eight mile long brick wall around the park to keep the deer in and the peasants out.
Today, the park is a national nature reserve and a conservation area. It’s mostly vast meadows cross-crossed by biking/hiking (and deer) trails with copses of trees here and there.
We were primarily interested in visiting the Isabella Plantation, a 40 acre fenced enclosure within the park with multiple gardens and rich biodiversity. The plantation is known especially for its azaleas and rhododendron, which were at their peak when we visited.
We had lunch at Pembroke Lodge, perched on a hill within the park, then exited the park to walk west to the Thames Path.
Our destination was the Ham House and Garden, which was built in 1610. Charles 1 gifted the house and grounds to the child who served as his “whipping boy” when they were growing up. (One can’t whip the crown prince, after all.) The house remained in the family until 1948, when it was given to the National Trust, who manage it today.
The gardens were delightful.
Our return trip along the Thames Walk was interrupted by a high tide which flooded the path. We turned around and found another route back to the bus stop for our return journey to central London.