A walking safari through Europe's largest city park, Richmond Park.
Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Mainly tarmac paths
Landscape Parkland and deer
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 161 London South
Start/finish TQ189728; Richmond Station (tube and rail) 1½ miles (2.4km)
Dog friendliness Will love it but keep on lead near deer
Parking Car park at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park
Public toilets Pembroke Lodge
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1 From the car park at Pembroke Lodge turn right to follow the Tamsin Trail in the general direction of Ham Gate. The path veers to the right and later runs close to the road.
2 At a crossroads leading to Ham Gate, turn left past the Hamcross Plantation. At the next crossroads turn right to visit the Isabella Plantation, otherwise continue and turn left at the next main junction, before another plantation, and circle the wood clockwise along a wide track. Turn right at the next junction and follow the path to the end of the pond.
3 Turn right along a path between the two ponds and continue ahead, ignoring paths branching off that would lead you to a car park. After this, turn right and follow the road that swings to the left towards Robin Hood Gate. Deer are often spotted here but their coats give them good camouflage, especially against a background of bracken.
4 Turn left at Robin Hood Gate. Follow the gravel path of the Tamsin Trail past the Richmond Park Golf Course and on to Roehampton Gate.
5 Continue over a footbridge and, after a further 500yds (457m), the path winds to the right of Adam's Pond, which is one of the watering holes used by the deer. Follow the path across the upper end of the park, past Sheen Gate, to Richmond Gate.
6 Turn left at Richmond Gate and continue along the path to reach Pembroke Lodge and the start of the walk.
Richmond Park was once a royal hunting ground and, even today, it retains this upper crust image. Covering 2,500 acres (1,013 ha), it is a wonderful mix of panoramic views, wildlife havens and landscaped plantations, which are worth seeing in all seasons. For the most part, the walk follows the Tamsin Trail, a 7½ mile (12.1km) leisure path that runs around the perimeter of the park and that is for the sole use of walkers and cyclists.
The 750 or so deer are free to wander in the parkland, much of which has remained unchanged for centuries. Cars are allowed in certain areas of the park - it's not unusual for drivers to have to wait for a few minutes while a herd of deer crosses the road in front of them - but the best way to observe these beautiful creatures is on foot. There are two types of deer in the park - red and fallow deer. The males and females of red deer are stags and hinds, and of fallow deer are bucks and does. Red deer are indigenous to Britain, but fallow deer were introduced about 1,000 years ago. Norman hunters preferred the fallow for its grace and beauty.
Although there are enough plants to provide a nutritional diet for deer, acorns, horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts also help to build up fat reserves during the winter months. During the rut (from September to November) the stags can often be seen fighting and herding the hinds into small breeding groups. Give them a wide berth if you pass them during the walk and keep your dog on a lead, to avoid alarming them. Culls, although the least favourite part of a gamekeeper's job, are necessary not only to prevent overgrazing but also to help maintain the park's reputation for having some of the best herds in the world.
If you see a bird that would look more at home in the sub-tropics than London, it's probably a ring-necked parakeet. These colourful birds, which have very long, pointed wings, were brought into Britain from Africa and India in the 1960s and sold as pets. Those that managed to escape began to breed successfully in the wild, and, despite the colder climate of Britain, their numbers are increasing. Noise from groups can sometimes be heard from the treetops in Richmond Park. They love to eat crab apples in summer and sycamore seeds during the rest of the year. Although they do not represent a problem to other birds, fruit growers may not be so fond of them.
The Isabella Plantation was originally planted with oaks in 1831, but it now has three large ponds, a stream, a collection of rare trees and some magnificent azaleas. You'll be surprised how many people don't know that this is here - and you can't blame the ones that do for not sharing their secret, as this is a very special place, especially in the early morning.
Pembroke Lodge, designed by Sir John Soane, was the childhood home of Bertrand Russell. Its views over west London towards Windsor are vast (although Windsor Castle is hard to spot). The tea room offers hot dishes and snacks and has seating outside on the terrace in fine weather. Just before Richmond Bridge is Canyon, where south west London meets Arizona. There is seating outside near a funky cactus terrace, complete with giant maple tree; entry is through two of the largest wooden doors this side of Phoenix. The menu includes chargrilled tuna, lamb cutlets and various salads. Sunday brunch is very popular.
In the formal garden of Pembroke Lodge is the highest point in the park, Henry VIII Mound. This prehistoric burial ground is not easy to find (take the higher path past the cottage) but well worth the effort, for here is a view of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral through a keyhole of holly. The cathedral may be 10 miles (16.1km) away from the avenue of sweet chestnuts in the park but this is better than any optical illusion, and the view is also conserved. The King was said to have stood on this mound while his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was being beheaded at the Tower of London.