Surrey dog walks - Richmond Park
Every month, Jane Eyles explores the best dog walks in Surrey, accompanied by her rescue dog, Meg, and golden retriever, Benson. This month, the gang visited Richmond Park, the largest of all the Royal Parks
I had planned to do a river walk this month, as with the arrival of the summer, the weather should have been hot, and the dogs would have liked the water. But the heavy rain and flooding put a stop to that. So I decided that it was better to head for the higher ground of Richmond Park. I arranged to meet my stepdaughter, Marelka, and her King Charles cavalier spaniel, Monty, and my friend Clara, a great walker, who knows Richmond Park like the back of her hand. Richmond Park is a great location for meeting up if people are coming from all different directions. I entered through Kingston Gate and drove through the park to the Pembroke car park, which is on your left before the Richmond entrance. The parking is free - which is great and there is loads of it. Richmond Park has a rich Royal history (see left) and has changed little over the centuries. Although the park is surrounded by human habitation, the varied landscape of hills, woodland gardens and grasslands set among ancient trees, still abound in wildlife. With this in mind, we set off from the car park towards Kingston Gate, following the footpath along Hornbeam Walk past the entrance to Pembroke House (dogs not allowed, I'm afraid!), and then turned right, walking downhill following the well worn path. The views across Kingston and the River Thames are fantastic even on slightly dull days like the one that we walked on. The wet weather had brought out the best in the ferns, which were flourishing vivid green in the un-seasonal rain, and formed a perfect camouflage for the fallow and red deer that roam freely in the park. Halfway to Ham Gate, down Hornbeam Walk, we spotted a huge stag majestically looking down on us from his vantage point high on the ridge. Luckily, none of our dogs has a hunting instinct, and they were far too busy exploring their new surroundings to notice him. As we approached Ham Gate, a heron rose heavily out of the water of Ham Dip Pond, where it had been quietly fishing before it was disturbed by the arrival of three hot and thirsty dogs. As the smallest dog, Monty was delighted when he discovered that the water was just the perfect depth for him. Helpfully, a large sign describes the types of wildlife you can expect to see in the park. From Ham, we continued on to Kingston Gate, before turning left and following the path uphill across the grassland towards the Isabella Plantation; an ornamental woodland garden that I shall save for a walk without the dogs! Richmond Park is home to 1,200 ancient trees, mainly oaks, some of which pre-date the parks' enclosure, and at the top of the hill, turning left, we came across one of these once magnificent oaks that had lost its battle with a storm one day. Now it stands proud, like a monument to English history, home to the wide range of wildlife that are encouraged to develop within the rotting wood. Many happy hours could be wasted working out what animal it now looks like - much the same as lying on the grass and creating pictures with the clouds. Walking past the stables and cottages, where a herd of deer simply stood and watched us walk by, we headed right, towards Pen Ponds. The park is the largest area of lowland acid grassland in the London area, and hosts a wide range of grasses, rushes and sedges as well as a multitude of wild flowers that thrive on the acidic and nutrient poor soil. It is also home to ground breeding birds such as the skylark and stonechat, one of which chatted happily to us from the top of the bracken. Bearing left, we headed back across the grassland towards the car park, stopping for the dogs to have a final swim at White Ash Pond, before following the bridle path back to Pembroke Lodge. The refreshment hut, adjacent to the entrance to Pembroke Lodge, has a wide range of sandwiches, drinks and ice creams. So we topped the walk off with a cup of homemade tomato soup and toasted sandwiches while watching the world go by from their woodland garden.The Dog Facts: Things you need to know Ground: Could get muddy if wet, and some paths are very rutted. But you can always stay on the made up routes or cycle paths Parking: Free Website: www.royalparks.org.uk (where you can download maps and adopt a tree or bird!) Special Interest: The deer and birds Disabled Access: Yes Where to Eat: The refreshments booth at Pembroke Lodge car park. Sit in the woodland garden and enjoy a hot soup, toasted sarnie or drink. Take cash as credit cards are not accepted. Information: There is an information hut in the Pembroke Lodge car park that is open at the weekends.