London is for the most part amazing. Yeah, sure it can be busy and stressful, sometimes all you can think about is moving away to a quiet little town where the word ‘queue’ means a handful of people waiting to get some stamps and you can buy a round of drinks without phoning for an overdraft extension. But the bad stuff is far outweighed by the good, and there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff, so much so that exploring the whole city is almost impossible unless you’re some sort of urban adventurer journalist. And even if you did have the time you tend to get so used to your own area that you seldom venture the tube and trains to visit one of the other four corners. In fact quite often people don’t even visit places just down the road.
Take Richmond Park for example. I moved to Wandsworth about five years from East London, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I actually decided to visit. There were a few factors involved in never visiting: 1) I just thought it was going to be another nice London park, a bit like Regents or Clapham, 2) I assumed that it was actually fairly difficult to get to so never bothered and 3) I didn’t really have any reason to go there, being from the countryside I’ve never been particularly excited about visiting a London park. If I want trees and grass I can just go home and visit the parents. I have since reevaluated my stance on all points.
I finally ventured into Richmond park two years ago when I got a new mountain bike. I decided to test it out by cycling through the various parks dotted around the south-west of the city. This was when I realised what I’d been missing since moving to London.
Richmond is to the other Royal Parks what the Amazonian rainforest is to… well, you get the idea. Basically it’s an enormous park in South West London that, as well as being beautifully maintained by The Royal Parks organisation, has a ridiculous amount of things to see and do. Whether you’re a runner, a cyclist, a walker or just someone looking for a place to go at the weekend it’s a space that offers a phenomenal amount of attractions. It’s also free to get in. That’s right, completely free. And easy to get to.
Originally built by Charles I in 1625 to escape a plague outbreak in London, the park was designed as a deer park (for hunting). Although it was built enclosed by walls Charles allowed the public right of way to pass through it. This rule was in place until Princess Amelia became park ranger in 1751 and subsequently put an end to any public access. After seven years however, at the end of a legal battle involving a local brewer, the courts ruled against Amelia and the gates were opened up again. Edward VII later developed the park as a public amenity allowing free access to the woods as well as paving the way for a variety of publicly accessible activities.
Aside from trees and grass (there’s a lot of that), the park is home to a golf course, fishing ponds, rugby and cricket pitches, a woodland plantation, hill-views of London and an enormous range of wildlife – you may have heard of the deer already.
Why is it good for fitness?
For road cyclists Richmond Park has a perimeter road which is almost seven miles long (the brown one on the map below). Used for a variety of sporting events including the London Duathlon and part of the 2012 Olympic Road Race event, the route offers an excellent training ground. Combining long flats with a few tough climbs (the highest being around 150 feet). The roads are seldom busy which make it a great place for lap-timed training. More information on the cycle routes can be found here.
People with mountain bikes or hybrids can use the cycle paths through the park (the yellow ones), the outer path which is almost seven and a half miles long is known as the Tamsin Trail. Although these are heavily pedestrianised so are really only useful if you’re going for a leisurely ride instead of a training workout.
Runners, obviously, can go wherever they want. Start off on the trails and paths or just go AWOL and head across the enormous open acres of land. There are ponds and woodland areas to explore, deer to find and, if you decide to let the fates take you as you blindly make you’re way across the park, you may end up finding something else even more interesting (I fell over a rabbit hole the first time I went).
Many races take place throughout the year in the park as there’s no need to stop traffic (which also means the races are often a bit cheaper). It’s also the perfect location for some non-urban marathon training away from the roads meaning you can just run without stopping at traffic lights. There are even a couple of conveniently placed restaurants on the Tamsin Trail in case you need to refuel along the way.
Basically, if you live in London and you haven’t yet been to Richmond park then you should probably start planning a visit pretty soon. It’s an amazing place to visit all year round, however to really see it in all it’s leafy, grassy beauty is best done in Summer. Did we mention it’s free?