Richmond Park is located in Richmond-upon-Thames in the southwestern part of London, England. Just on the outskirts of the city. It’s the largest of London’s eight Royal Parks, and is known for its open grasslands, ancient oak trees and wildlife. This park is three times the size of Central Park in New York at over 2,300 acres and is home to over 600 red and fallow deer, a wide variety of birds, invertebrates, wildflowers, plants, fungi and more.
The park has a rich history, it was created by Charles I in the 17th Century as a deer park. According to the park’s website, it is now a national nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation and is included, at Grade I, on Historic England's Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England. The park includes many buildings of architectural or historic interest. For example, White Lodge was formerly a royal residence and is now home to the Royal Ballet School. It was historically the preserve of the monarch, but today the park is now open for all to use. Having seen this park, it comes as no surprise that its landscapes have inspired many famous artists and it has been a location for several films and TV series.
Richmond Park may not be the easiest place to get to (especially if you are relying on public transportation from inner London), but once you are there, it’s a great place to just wander, explore and discover. There is a lot to see and do. From the park, you can see views of the city in the open areas of landscape. Many take part in bird watching, photography, observing nature and wildlife, you could have a picnic, walk the trails, and there is horseback riding and even a golf course. One reason why this place seems so surreal is the location. Of all the places in the world, Richmond Park is so close to London, a major city of nearly 9 million people and yet, not too far away is this park, which is the complete opposite of the urban city center. It feels like you are in the countryside surrounded by free roaming birds, rodents and other wildlife and you can see the city from here. You really get a sense that you are close to the edge, where country meets city. Personally, I am glad that London has a lot of parkland all around it, because there are times when the city feels so overwhelming and it’s great to be able to go to these parks as an escape to get away from the hustle and bustle, to just relax and enjoy the quiet. To recharge.
Walking the trails of the park is such a surreal experience for me, and I suspect others like me; who are not from around here. I say this because places like this don’t exist, at least not in North America, and not in what most would consider to be reality. It reminds me of the stories I would read as a kid. The setting where many fairy tales would take place, an enchanted forest from countless stories. A magical land, home of fairies, trolls, dragons, giants, dwarfs, unicorns and many other magical, mythical creatures that you read about as a child. It is exactly like what you imagined or images you saw in the storybooks you read when you were young. As this is the final blog of 2023 here at Sarah Hawley Art, the magical place that is Richmond Park, seemed like an appropriate subject.
Having visited the park on several occasions, I still haven’t seen very much of it and I always leave wishing I had more time to explore. It is incredibly big and it remains on my bucket list of places to visit because there are parts of the park I still want to see. Every time I have visited the park it was in October, which is during the mating season of the deer. This means that the bucks are a bit extra protective of the female deer, a bit more aggressive and a bit more vocal. It is best not to get too close and to keep your distance. They are after all wild animals and this is not a petting zoo. My most recent visit was this past autumn and it was a damp, rainy day, with on and off drizzle - not at all ideal conditions for photography. Despite this, I was still able to get photographs that I am very happy with. In fact, I will be the first to admit that I took way too many photographs and I only realized this well after the fact, while I was neck deep in sorting and editing all these photos several months later.
It takes time and patience to wait for the perfect moment to capture some of the beauty of Richmond Park – especially if any animals are involved, as they were busy eating and preparing for winter and completely unaware that somebody wants them to look up and pose for a photo. Lucky for me, I prefer candid shots anyway. The park is a great spot to capture images of rugged landscapes, either in the open grasslands or in the forest. It seems everywhere I looked was scenic natural landscapes that I couldn’t find anywhere else. The bushes and trees were starting to change colour, the water in the large ponds were calm ,the dirt trails feature a rich red clay pigment, the tall grass in the open fields were a faded green and brown, and an overcast cloudy sky provided even light across the park, which was ideal when the rain would stop. I was drawn to the wildlife of course, nowhere else could I have seen the variety of birds, but I was especially fascinated by the free roaming deer.
A few of the younger bucks were fighting, at one point, I could hear the clashing of antlers in the distance, the females were eating in small groups with the young and some of the other bucks were resting in the tall grass, eating, and calling out to the others. For me, it felt like a magical experience that I will always remember. I should mention that although in some of the images I took it looks like I was close to the deer, I actually have a decent zoom lens that allows me to take close up shots while remaining a safe distance away from the animals. While I was there, I saw several tourists getting a little too close to the bucks for a selfie and I was concerned for the safety of both the people and the animals alike.
The deer are mesmerizing to watch. The male deer are less aggressive when not provoked and outside of mating season. They are such gentle creatures and I think I could watch them forever (especially if I had an endless supply of memory cards and battery power for my camera). The young are so silly hopping and prancing around and playing with each other. The doe herd mostly eat, watch the fawns, and cautiously scan their surroundings for danger. They are very shy but are extremely observant beings (of which I can relate). Often there is one buck that stays and watches over the herd while other bucks, that are fully grown, will wander the area alone. The antlers on top of the buck’s head is so large, I found myself wondering how uncomfortable that must feel, how much extra weight that must add to their heads, how it effects their balance, and how relieved they must be when they shed. They are magnificent creatures and that is why I have taken so many photos of them, because I may not have this opportunity again.
Wandering through the trails, another thought struck me. With so many places in the world effected and altered by humans. This feels like one of the very few places left virtually untouched by us. And that, I think is a large part of where the magic of this park comes from. Sure, it is maintained by humans, there is a road through it with light traffic during the day, there are a few sign posts and benches scattered across the land and there are many people who visit the park, but the land is not well groomed to the point of looking artificial, there’s no litter on the grounds and it is very much left to its natural state. The oak trees are hundreds of years old. The wildlife wander freely within the gates of the park and I have not experienced this anywhere else on earth.
Visiting the park reinforces the importance of places like this, especially in an age where we are so out of touch with nature and we are only now starting to realize our irreversible, negative impact on the world. The sheer size of Richmond Park makes you feel small and there is great value in that, believe it or not. It can change your perspective on the world and allow you to see what really matters. I would much rather spend time in more places like this, than in another suburb, complete with identical cookie cutter houses and a strip mall (which are a dime a dozen where I live). Once these places are gone, they can’t be retrieved or re-made. I hope Richmond Park has a future as long as it’s history, if not longer. I would love the chance to visit it once again, and who knows, maybe next time I will finally get to see enough of it, that I can finally cross it off of my bucket list.
The photos that accompany this blog throughout the body of text and in the gallery at the bottom are a result of my wandering around a small section of the park while attempting to keep the camera dry and capture the beauty of nature that I witnessed there.
As a final note, I would like to thank you for supporting my website and blog here at Sarah Hawley Art, no matter if this is your first time reading the blog or if you are a regular visitor. I want to personally wish you a safe, happy and successful 2024. All the best to you and your loved ones in the New Year, Cheers!