Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common

It was quite a shock to friends and family when for this weekends get away from it all excursion we chose the biggest metropolis in the nation. London is a place that always fascinates me, as a teenager and in my early twenties my only experiences of London were football matches. Travelling darn sarf to watch United play various London clubs was certainly an eye opener. Those earlier trips made me realise just how huge and diverse a place it is. This last weekend was basically a get away from it all weekend with absolutely no plans and something a little different from our normal adventures in to wild places and the mountains. Wild places, walking and nature watching was going to be put on hold for a weekend... or were they?...

London skyline from Richmond Park

One of the things that saddens me most in my own city is the complete lack of green spaces. Manchester is where my heart will always be as I was born in this area and brought up here. Manchester's music, football, passion and pride can not be beaten. However its complete lack of inner city green space really saddens me, especially as it is the place I spend most of my daytime hours as I have worked in the city for over a decade. Even our beloved city centre green of Piccaddilly Gardens has now been concreted over to make way for fast food outlets and "Chav Grazing" areas. There are some small green areas in Manchester city centre but there are very few and they really are small. Millions of office workers and city centre shoppers would die for some relaxing green space to chill out during busy stressful weekdays. I've always said if I ever won the lottery I'd buy a huge area in Manchester City Centre, put a huge twenty foot fence round the entire plot and landscape it as naturally as possible to make my own and respectful member exclusive heaven. London is a different kettle of fish all together. London has some fantastic squares, gardens and parks to be really proud of and they are all well kept and respected. I was really impressed by them.

London Cycle Scheme

We set off for the capital on Friday night from Manchester Picaddily. The train was one of the new Virgin Pendolino tilting trains which was actually quite scary. The speed of these things is frightening and especially when they tilt at almost a forty five degree angle as you fly through the country's railway stations. We sat and watched the nations beautiful landscape. It is something special to watch out of a train window on a good day. We saw a cracking rainbow at one point and I was star struck as United legend Lou Macari passed us heading for the buffet. We were delayed slightly as there were cows on the line near Macclesfield! We arrived in London a few hours later and set up base camp at our Travel Lodge accommodation near Euston Station. Pretty basic accommodation but a great location. We went out for the night around Leicester Square and then China Town for a meal where I had my first and probably my last taste of Pigeon.

Fish in St James Park Lake 

Saturday morning we set off on a day of no plan at all but just walk around London. We set off in search of a place to eat breakfast and soon found Russell Square. Fantastic little green square just down from Euston Station in Bloomsbury. We sat in the sunny weather watching Pigeons playing around in the water feature cleaning their under wings and splashing each other. From there we made our way to Oxford Street to check out the shops but soon got sick of battling our way through thousands of very not like-minded shoppers. We got a Boots meal deal and had a look at our London AtoZ map, which we used to great effect to navigate the whole weekend, and found a green area on the map called Grosvenor Square near Mayfair. Again a splendid example of a well kept city centre park, most noticeable were the colourful flower beds teeming with buzzing insects and bees, certainly a good sign. After lunch we walked through the rather affluent Berkeley Square and Berkeley Street to Green Park. We walked through Green Park with its huge ancient trees which was buzzing with people in the sunny weather and came across a rather bizarre site. It was a meeting of Pug owners! Basically around fifty people all who owned a Pug dog. After standing in amazement at this bizarre site we walked past Buckingham Palace and in to St James Park which was also buzzing with people until it started raining and then everyone fled for shelter under the impressive Willow trees.

Almshouses in Richmond

We stood on the Blue Bridge in St James Park and enjoyed the spectacle of hundreds of fish swimming around in the lake. It was like a trout farm basin there were so many. Ducklings were diving under the water after them and we watched as they dived and there little feet paddled down behind them. We moved over to the far end of the park and found a group of Squirrels happily feeding from peoples hands which was a lovely sight. The rain continued to get heavy and persistant as we eventually reached Whitehall and Downing Street so we decided to head back to the hotel for a few hours power nap before heading out for the night. We went to the cinema and chose to go to the Odeon in Camden Town. Possibly the quaintest cinema you could image. We watched the new film Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in a screen only a dozen seats wide by a dozen rows, it was fantastic! Afterwards we headed back towards Leicester Square and found a lovely Italian down a side street where I devoured a delicious Calzone Pizza full of tasty Mozzarella. The Tube was closed by the time we came out of the Italian so we decided to walk back to the hotel instead of catching a bus or taxi. As we passed the church opposite Euston Station a lovely grey urban Fox ran across the road in front of us.

Red Deer in Richmond Park

Sunday the weather was blue skies again so we decided to go find another good park area we could go and chill out or walk for the day. Looking on the web I was trying to find that view you often see of the city skyline from a park on a slight hill somewhere in London. I found Richmond Park and decided we would head out to Richmond and go discover the park for the day. Looking at the AtoZ on the Tube en route I realised we could actually do a long linear walk by traversing both Richmond Park and the almost adjoining Wimbledon Common and then get the Tube from Wimbledon back to Euston. The route would involve about seven and a half miles walk from station to station so seemed possible and interesting. We got off the train in the lovely town of Richmond and headed along Sheen Road towards East Sheen, passing some extremely pretty looking Almshouses on the way. We entered the park near East Sheen Common and walked through the common which was a breath of fresh air indeed, the common is natural woodland with several paths winding their way through it. We came to Bog Gate the northern pedestrian entrance to Richmond Park.

Female Gatekeeper butterfly

Richmond Park at almost 2500 acres is the largest Royal Park in London and is home to around 650 roaming Red and Fallow deer, foxes, butterflies, birds, rabbits, ducks, insects and more. The pastoral landscape of hills, woodlands, ponds, gardens, flowers and grasslands set amongst ancient trees offers a peaceful respite to visitors. This really is an oasis in the centre of a huge metropolis. By the Bog Gate entrance there was the kind of buzzing noise you would usually associate with over head power lines, however in this instance it was the more natural sound of hundreds of Grass Hoppers in the rough by the wall. As we entered the park there was several Red Deer sheltering under trees from the sun so we too sheltered under on of the ancient oaks and ate lunch admiring them. It was great to see so many locals walking their kids and cycling around the park. We headed off over The Bog as it is named on the map, though it was more of a dried out grass land. Before coming down South I had heard people talking of how dry the grass is down here during this dry summer and we really saw for ourselves how dead the grass was around the parks and commons. We saw dozens of Rabbits and were often gifted a sight of the beautiful Gatekeeper butterflies. After eating sweet Blackberries off the bushes on The Bog area we reached Sawyers Hill. Sawyers Hill is a road that traverses the park, only open during daylight hours. We sat on a bench on the top of the hill and admired the incredible contrasting view of the London skyline above the wild park. All day there was a constant line of planes above coming in to Heathrow, fascinating at times when you could see four planes at once all lined up in the sky on there way in to land. From Sawyers Hill we headed down to the Pen Ponds that were populated by ducks and birds of all types. We eventually reached the roads leading out to the Robin Hood Gate entrance. Once we reached the gate we headed through and across the main road crossing over to Wimbledon Common.

Pen Ponds in Richmond Park

Wimbledon Common is the largest expanse of heathland in the London area. The western slopes, which lie on London Clay, support mature mixed woodland. The Commons are a flagship site for the stag beetle. Most of the Commons are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. And of course home to the TV series The Wombles! We crossed the bridge over Beverley Brook and then followed the bank of the brook for a while until we spotted fish in the brook and had to take a closer look. The fish were plentiful and some were really big Salmon. It was great to see so many fish in the brook as reading up on the brook I found it had been lifeless for almost a century due to pollution but recent efforts over the last decade have brought it back to life and from what we saw it is full of life. We went slightly wrong as I being a big lover of rivers and streams was keeping close to the brook. We found we were at the bottom of the west side of Robin Hood Road which would take us to the eastern side of the common. We headed up Robin Hood Road, a long up hill track through fantastic natural woodland. We reached the far end of the common by Springwell Cottage and followed roads past the dried up golf course and out to Wimbledon itself. We made our way down the hill to the station and set off on our long journey home via Euston Station. Brilliant days walk and you would not have a clue you were in a big metropolis at all. If you ever have a weekend in London then I'd highly recommend getting the Tube to Richmond and walking this route to Wimbledon over Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. We probably saw more wildlife in this weekend to London than we usually see on a weekend in The Lakes.

I didn't take many but uploaded the photos from the weekend here.

Route Map...