As I wrote in a recent blog, there’s a bit of a craze going around to walk so many steps a day. It is supposed to bring health benefits. The optimum number of steps seems to vary between seven and ten thousand. So caught up in the zeitgeist and enjoying walking, for some months we’ve been trying to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps every day. More often than not we succeed but life can get in the way. This week a special effort is being made to achieve the goal every day. So today’s round trip to the shops – about 3,000 steps – was extended into a walk full of interest as well as lots of steps.
The town centre is downhill from us so, obtusely, our walk started uphill, up Richmond Hill. Within five minutes we were in Richmond Park by the Cambrian Gate. The Park is a fantastic asset. The path that goes round the perimeter is eight miles, or 13kms, long. The park is criss-crossed by paths for pedestrians and cycles and horses. And there’s lots of wildlife. The park is famous for its deer of the red and the fallow varieties. Although there are open gates giving access for road traffic, the deer never stray. That causes a problem as breeding means the herds naturally increase in numbers and soon grow too large for the park to sustain them. As we entered the park there was a notice advising that the park would be closed to all pedestrians at night over the next few weeks whilst a necessary cull takes place.
There are also birds. Just inside the park at the Cambrian Gate is the small Bishop’s Pond. There’s usually a heron standing quietly at the water’s edge but not today. There were a couple of pairs of mallard ducks. On the bigger ponds you can usually see more varieties of ducks plus geese and swans. The park also has woodpeckers, kestrels, owls, jays, crows and many small birds including skylarks. The noisiest birds in the park are the bright green ring-necked parakeets of which there are hundreds if not thousands. I read somewhere that there over 50,000 of these birds in our county of Surrey. It is the only parrot that has become, effectively, indigenous to the UK.
Leaving Bishop’s Pond we walked up to the main gate, then continued round the perimeter to Pembroke Lodge Gardens one of the few areas of formal flower beds with manicured shrubs. Incorporated into these gardens is King Henry’s Mound, the highest point in the park. From the top there is a protected view all the way to St Pauls Cathedral in Central London. The trees are managed so as to maintain the line of sight and no buildings may be erected in London that could obstruct the view.
Today we directed our view in the opposite direction, westwards, over the Thames and out of London towards Windsor Castle, which can be seen on a good day. Although we were looking over a highly populated area, the impression is of thousands upon thousands of trees. We didn’t spend long admiring the view as there was a biting wind, the tail end of Storm Henry kindly sent in our direction by the North Americans.
Soon we were passing Pembroke Lodge. This is now a tearoom with facilities for wedding receptions. Back in the mid 19th century it was the home of the then British Prime Minister Lord John Russell and the childhood home of his grandson Bertrand Russell the renowned British philosopher.
From here our route took a downward turn towards the gate onto Petersham Road opposite the Dysart Arms pub. When we reached it, we walked straight by. Our goal today was footsteps not pints.
We then followed a series of paths and a minor road towards the mighty Thames. The paths take you by the side of the graveyard wall of Petersham Church. Amongst the great and the good buried here is the famous 18th century British Naval officer, Capt George Vancouver. He is best known for his exploration of North America’s Pacific coast and, of course, the largest Canadian city on the west coast is named after him.
The river was in full flow. There’s been a lot of rainfall recently. As we turned along the river towards Richmond town centre, we passed the Petersham Meadows. These have been a grazing area for cattle over many centuries. It is secured for posterity by a trust set up to preserve the grazing and the view from Richmond Hill which has attracted many eminent painters including JMW Turner. When we first moved to Richmond some thirty years ago there was a dairy herd here but changing rules and regulations over the years have made dairy farming on this small scale unviable. Today there is a fine but small herd of Belted Galloway beef cattle. An impressive sight.
The next place of interest was Buccleuch Gardens, named after the Duke of Buccleuch who had a grand house on the side of Richmond Hill overlooking the river. It has long since gone but the gardens remain. This should be a nice area of grassy lawns and shrubs but unfortunately it is frequently flooded by high tides and often, as today, looks a bit dejected.
Approaching Richmond Bridge you pass a number of riverside restaurants. In the grounds of one is a mighty tree. It is a Plane tree (Platanus X Hispanica), the tallest in London. It has been awarded a plaque that designates it as a “Great Tree of London”.
A few metres further along and back from the river bank, is a bust on a plinth that seems to be completely out of place. It is in memory of the great liberator of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins – his father, whom he never met, was descended from Irish stock. In his early years, he lived and studied in Richmond and to this day there is an annual ceremony led by the Mayor of Richmond and attended by representatives of the Chilean Embassy in London to mark his birth in 1778.
Once past Richmond Bridge and the large office block designed in a neo classical style by the architect John Quinlan Terry and admired by Prince Charles, we came to the imposing riverside pub, the White Cross. In the summer this is a very busy place with its superb riverside location. It is also beloved by drinkers during the high tide seasons when it is frequently cut off by the high waters, forcing the poor customers to have another pint or two until the waters subside.
Richmond attracts a lot of famous people as residents. Next to the White Cross is the home of Bamber Gascoigne, the original quizmaster of University Challenge. He can still be seen moving his boat from his boat shed into the river for a gentle bit of rowing. Round the corner, on the edge of Richmond Green is a very large house now undergoing renovations. It was the home of the late Sir Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim, both illustrious names in the British film industry. His brother, Sir David Attenborough still lives in the borough.
And so across Richmond Green and we came to the shops that we set out to reach some 9,000 steps ago. It had been a great walk, full of interest and some fine views. The weather had been kind, with only the cold wind on King Henry’s Mound spoiling an otherwise beautiful, sunny day. By the time we had done the shopping and walked back home by the direct route we had completed 10,731 steps. Goal achieved.
Later that day I did add 2,000+ steps with a short walk to our local. And the next day I exceeded that total with three rather mundane walks up and down the hill on shopping errands. Nothing like as interesting but it just shows how you can build up the steps just doing normal daily chores. The one thing I won’t stoop to is artificially walking round the house to add to the total, unlike the mastermind of a well known website (something to do with being an Expert in Saving Money – can you guess??) who was happy to confess recently that he did just that to reach his daily goal.