Richmond Park is famous for its deer, but if you go down to the park in autumn you'd better go in disguise. For September and October is the time of the rut, and throughout the park you will hear bellows as the stags fight it out for mating rights.
The deer are quite used to people, and so for visitors there is the opportunity to get unusually close to the action. Though not too close, for these are still wild animals and no-one in their right mind wants to try to face down a determined 10-point head of antler backed by mean muscle. Pretty much anywhere you go in the park you will have the chance to find them. Red deer favour the woods, while fallow deer seem to gather on the open areas.
I was lucky enough to have such a close encounter one weekend in late September 2014. Cycling along a gravel path, we came across a large group of about 30 doe, grazing just about 20m from the park. There just had to be a stag around somewhere, and, sure enough, there he emerged slowly through the trees, coming right to the edge of the woods. Magnificent and yet somewhat comical with his antler clothed in bracken and bramble. He came quite close, checking us out to see if we were a threat. Which was great, as it presented a fantastic photo opportunity.
Wherever you find a group of hinds (female red deer) or does (female fallow deer) you will find a prominent stag. You may also come across groups of vanquished stags, which can be even more impressive given the amount of antler on display. If you do go deer spotting in the park, do stay clear of them, especially at this time of year for the males can become aggressive. Another time to watch out is in May, when the females give birth and become very protective of their young. For more information and advice on the deer see the Richmond Park website.
The park covers some 955 hectares (2,360 acres) and contains a mixture of woodland, enclosures and open grassland. One of the popular enclosures is the Isabella Plantation, which is open year round and full walkways winding through exotic plants, ponds and streams. It is worth visiting throughout the year, as every season is different. During spring camellias, magnolias, daffodils and bluebells are in flower. From late April, you will find azaleas and rhododendrons in abundance. The summer is met by displays of Japanese irises and day lilies. As autumn sets in the leaves on the trees turn and in winter you will find various heathers in bloom.
Those looking for a good view should head for the King Henry's Mound in Pembroke Lodge Gardens. It is rumoured that King Henry VIII stood here on 19 May 1536 to watch a rocket fired from the Tower of London indicating that Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. Today it offers great panoramic views over the Thames Valley to the west and a distant view of St. Paul's Cathedral some 10 miles to the east. This view of the cathedral is protected.
The Friends of Richmond Park organise various activities and walks throughout the year and are well worth visiting to help you get the most out of your visit. It is thanks to them that the park does not have major roads running through it, remains protected with a speed limit of 20mph throughout.
Getting to Richmond Park
For those travelling from distance without a car, the nearest public transports links are the tube (District line), Overland and Rail services to Richmond. From there you can either catch the 317 bus or walk the 1.1 miles to Richmond Gate. 0.6 miles south of the park is Norbiton train station.
For road travel, see this Google map of the park, there are a few car parks within the park. A great way to explore the park is by bike, which can be take on the District line.