I’ve lived in London a very long time, long enough to have assembled quite a long list of outings that I can pleasurably repeat, but it’s still difficult to recommend them to other people, particularly people I don’t know very well. I’m a man with my own tastes, and I wouldn’t presume that anyone who isn’t me would necessarily share them. This one, though, is different. Some things are just impossible not to love. It is unimaginable to me that any decent, right-minded person would not like, say, a perfectly ripe fig, a beautiful sunset, Dusty in Memphis, a moment of genuine slapstick comedy. This is pretty much up there with them. If you enjoy life and food, this is for you. If you do it and have a bad time, then either you have been catastrophically unlucky with the weather or you and I will never be friends. Have I made myself quite clear?
Highlights of the day included sunshine, lying in long grass with a newspaper, gorging on plump, sweet blackberries straight from the bush, a delicious lunch in a top restaurant, quirky historical factoids, rivers, lakes, streams and herds of magnificently antlered deer. There’s a lot here to like.
I take absolutely no credit for discovering the walk. It’s part of the Capital Ring, one of the good things about London that most people who live there don’t know about (not a short list) – a 78-mile circuit of London, split into 15 bite-sized chunks, which runs very roughly around the outer edge of London Transport’s Zone 2, connecting lots of parks with short sections of road walking. This bit starts at Wimbledon Park station, takes you through Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park before ending with a trundle down the Thames to Richmond itself. This is section six. You can find idiot-proof directions here.
I live in north London, a long way from here. If I get this far down the district line it’s either to go to the football or the tennis, so rather shamefully it was all new to me. Wimbledon Park isn’t fantastic, though their infants get an enviable paddling pool and there’s an excellent boating lake, but the walks improves rapidly from there. The common and Richmond Park are magnificent; in addition to the deer, the latter has a glorious home that once belonged to the official molecatcher – the official molecatcher, mind you – and a small hill with a fancy name (King Henry’s Mound, since you ask) with a view down a corridor of trees to St Paul’s Cathedral which can never be obstructed, not ever, by law.
Soon after you leave Richmond Park, and only about 100 yards off-route, is Petersham Nurseries, a garden centre that houses Skye Gyngell’s excellent restaurant and its accompanying tea rooms. The restaurant is expensive – they recently scrapped their cut-price weekday lunch, leaving you with little option but to fork out near enough £30 for a main course. That little option is to grab a soup or sandwich at the really quite good-looking tea-room next door, decorated – as all tea-rooms should be – with a pile of extremely sexy brownies. I splashed out on guinea foul, juicy inside but with amazingly crispy skin, which came with a very generous helping of girolles and spinach, followed by a pannacotta with a blackberry compote. There’s nothing fussy about the cooking, or the room it’s served in. It’s probably the best restaurant in London which would let you in with muddy boots. And from there it’s a 20-minute stroll down the river to Richmond, and thence back home, sated in more ways than one. One of the best days I’ve ever had in London. I urge you to have a go.