May Day not only marks the beginning of spring festivals, but the beginning of National Walking Month in the UK. With celebrated British writers such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, Virginia Woolf and Wordsworth celebrating the joys of walking in the UK in their works, you’re in good company.
At some point, Eel Pie Island will pass by on the left. Renowned as one of London’s best jazz and blues venues in the 1960s, performers such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Acker Bilk are only a few of the famous faces that graced the island during that time. After a brief stint as a hippie commune in the '70s, and a botched invasion by TV presenter Danny Wallace in 2005, the island is now home to a colourful and eclectic set of shanty homes, studios and the Twickenham Rowing Club. Follow the footbridge over for a quick diversion on the trail.
Being a National Trust walk, the trail will eventually meet with Ham House and Gardens, a regal 17th century Stuart manor home situated on the bank overlooking the Thames in a very dramatic fashion. Known as one of Britain’s most haunted houses, Ham House contains a plethora of artwork, furniture and textiles that are well worth a look, plus some meticulously kept gardens that all visitors should take advantage of with a sunny summer stroll. There is also a cafe serving tea and other light refreshments, making this a good stop on the walk if you fancy a lunch-time break from walking to replenish your energy.
After diverting traffic by the Dysart Arms Pub, simply cross the street and enter through the kissing gate at Petersham Meadows. Car fumes and traffic noise dies away along this tranquil, open path. Head towards the hills on the left until you reach King Henry’s Mound at the summit. With narrow, manicured walkways and a detailed, panoramic map of London’s skyline, King Henry’s Mound is an excellent spot to take a break (and catch your breath) after the steep incline to point out famous landmarks.
For animal lovers, the best parts of the trail is next. While many theories fly around (apologies for the pun) about the origins of the Kingston Parakeets, no one truly knows their origins in Britain. The general gist from all the hypotheses though, is that parakeets escaped, didn’t die in the wild, mated like rabbits (or parakeets, apologies again) and have grown in size, with some estimates at 50,000. Today groups of these vivid green critters can be seen perched on trees lining the roads to Richmond Park, or scavenging the grass for meals.
Possibly Richmond Park’s most famous inhabitants, approximately 630 Red and Fallow deer call these woods home. Congregating in big groups, it is easy to see the female and their young in the spring. The stags on the other hand, prefer to shy away from the limelight, and normally camouflage themselves within the woods.
Sometimes though, they get a little envious and want a piece of the attention….
Continue to follow the trail as it takes you to the manicured lawns and play areas of Richmond Park, and back to Kingston station. Or take this opportunity to go off the beaten trail and explore more of Richmond Park. For full trail instructions, please see the National Trust walk website.