“Where is your favourite place in London?”
I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I have been asked this.
After telling people I lived in London for nearly 6 years, I guess this is an obvious question.
There are so many aspects of life in London that I loved and so many places I would recommend visiting and would go to myself, again and again, but my answer to this question is always the same.
The river Thames meanders its way through this picturesque village, past quaint riverside pubs and grand old houses; numerous walking trails following its course. The tree lined Richmond Village Green, the remains of a Royal Palace, London’s largest Royal Park where wild deer roam, cherry red telephone booths and a lively High Street only add to its charm.
The embodiment of the quintessential English Village.
Richmond is it.
Although technically in the county of Surrey, Richmond is classed as Greater London and has a stop on the tube as well as a fast train to Waterloo.
I was lucky enough to call Richmond home for a year of my life in London. It is an expensive place to live but I was determined to move there, no matter the cost. It was obviously meant to be as when we were searching for places online, we found a place within our price range in a beautiful part of Richmond, right on the river.
It was a two bedroom houseboat, moored on the river Thames.
Living on a houseboat was another dream of mine after visiting a friend that lived on one at Fishermen’s Wharf in Victoria, Canada. I love the idea of living in alternative dwellings and living in a treehouse is next on my list.
I couldn’t contain my excitement when we went to view it one rainy February day, and as soon as we saw it we were in love. We told the Agent right then and there that we were taking it.
And so began our magical year of life on the river.
We moved to Richmond in early Spring. The daffodils were out and the days were getting warmer. The season of rebirth was a fantastic time to start my love affair with this vibrant village.
One of the reasons that I love Richmond so much is for the wide open spaces. It seems that everywhere you look there are beautiful parks and gardens.
Richmond Park is the grandest of them all. Starting its life as a Royal Hunting Ground almost 400 years ago, the 2,300 acres of parkland makes Richmond Park not only the largest of London’s Royal Parks, but also the largest urban park in Europe. Nature is wild here and I spent countless hours exploring on foot and by bike.
Wild red and fallow deer roam the grassy meadows and forests of ancient oaks.
Crimson colours light up the park in Autumn, which is my favourite time of the year to visit. It is mating season for the deer and male deer ‘rut’ with each other, fighting over the females. In spring, daffodils carpet the grounds of the grand Pembroke Lodge, which is now a tearoom. The ornamental woodland gardens of the Isabella Plantation is a peaceful place to visit anytime of the year.
Small pockets of green space spread out along the rivers course. People picnic by the water in summer and feed the geese and ducks, who have become used to be being spoilt with sandwich crusts.
The Terrace gardens occupy a grassy hillside above the river. Seasonal flower beds, regal fountains and well maintained paths make this a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. The homely Hollyhock café serves up delicious food in a peaceful setting.
When it snows in winter, the grassy hills of Terrace Field, beside the gardens, are great for sledding (or sliding on your bum on a piece of plastic like we did). The Roebuck Pub sits on Richmond Hill above the gardens and has the best pub view in Richmond. Looking out over the Thames river valley and surrounding meadows, it is one of the best spots for a drink in Richmond. This stunning view is actually protected by a specific act of parliament, and rightly so. It is pretty damn dreamy.
We frequented a lot of the pubs in Richmond, especially for the quintessential English Sunday Roast. The Pitcher and Piano located beside Richmond Bridge was great for drinks and sharing plates, sitting outside in their large open deck fronting the river. The White Cross is right on the rivers edge, and is in fact partially in the river when the tide gets really high. The Thames floods on a regular basis and the flooding has become a tourist attraction in itself. Time your visit right or you may get trapped here when the waters rise.
The White Swan was my favourite pub and is Richmond’s best kept secret. Tucked away on a small lane behind the village green, most people don’t know it’s there. It is only tiny but there is nowhere like it for an incredible meal and a couple of pints. Settle in by the fire and listen to the locals catching up on gossip or sit out the back in the sunny beer garden.
On a warm, sunny day, a great spot for lunch is Stein’s on the river. Just past the beautiful 18th Century stone arches of Richmond Bridge, Stein’s is a German beer garden and restaurant serving up hearty food and authentic Munich beer.
To take advantage of Richmond’s prime waterfront location, a popular activity in summer is to hire kayaks or rowboats for some time out on the water. If you aren’t feeling particularly energetic, you can take the one hour return boat trip down to Teddington. There are also a few Boat cafes in Richmond which offer a scenic choice for lunch.
The walking options around Richmond are endless and as well as my regular walks in the grounds of Richmond Park, you could find me walking riverside most days.
Walking to Isleworth was a pleasure and was probably the walk that we did the most as it was about one hour return; the perfect amount of time for an after work stroll. Passing Richmond lock and walking along the tow path, only minutes away from the tourist hub of the Richmond waterfront near Richmond bridge, we would hardly see anyone along this section of the river.
There is a section of the walk where you have to leave the riverfront and walk along a road for a bit, then it’s back to the river and past a beautiful pub, a houseboat community and the ship building yards (where our own houseboat was towed to be fixed after springing a leak). The walk ends at the historic London Apprentice in Old Isleworth, a great pub with a balcony that extends over the river. It is said that Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell both frequented the pub and Charles Dickens mentioned it in his weekly periodical, ‘All Year Round’.
The nearby All Saints Church, the tower dating back to the 14th Century, has a creepy overgrown cemetery scattered with slanted gravestones with faded epitaphs; sinking slowly into the earth. I love old graveyards and this one is always so quiet, which makes it even spookier.
The beautiful, riverside path lined with traditional English Pubs (some haunted!) down from Kew Bridge was another destination that we would continually return to. Further towards the city from Isleworth, I only found out about this gorgeous area because I temped nearby.
The famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are across the bridge from here on the south side of the river and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. They encompass a massive 300 acres and include the magnificent 400 year old Kew Palace, a treetop walkway, glasshouses, formal gardens, woodland, ponds, Galleries and Museums. You could spend days exploring.
Exploring West along the south bank of the Thames from Richmond, the walk to Teddington passes regal Ham House and continues through the woods to Teddington lock. The further away from the city you get, the cleaner the notoriously dirty Thames becomes, and we have actually seen people swimming in it near Teddington (I still don’t think I would risk it!)
Ham is also a sleepy little Hamlet as well as a historic riverside house. We biked through there on numerous occasions after a bike ride through Richmond Park. In Autumn, the path beside Ham House is surrounded by brilliant yellow leafed trees. There is a pretty Village Green and a Common with a duck pond.
Nearby, the churchyard of St Peter’s Church is the last resting place of Captain George Vancouver, who the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island in Canada are named for.
The busy township of Twickenham is another destination along the Thames river path on the north side of the river. There are numerous pubs along the path and many riverside parks where you can feed the geese and swans. Opulent Manor houses line the path. Two of the grandest houses, Marble Hill and Orleans House, are National Trust properties (as is Ham House on the other side of the river) and can be visited on tours and for exhibitions.
Twickenham town centre is a bit nondescript compared to Richmond but the lovely pedestrian friendly Church Street is worth a visit to check out the specialty stores with original Victorian and Georgian shop fronts.
Back in Richmond, the bustling high street is always buzzing with activity, especially on summer weekends. It’s a lively atmosphere but it can feel a bit too crowded some days. Historic cobbled lanes lined with interesting stores run off the main street, and they exude more of a country village vibe.
A branch of the fantastic Taylor Street Baristas operates beside the train station and is one of the best spots for premium coffee in Richmond.
If you are a cheese lover, head to the Teddington Cheese Company on Richmond Hill. It smells like dirty socks which only attests to the great quality of the cheese.
On Saturdays, Richmond Market is held down by the river at Heron Square. This market may be small but there is some fantastic fresh produce, freshly baked bread and various food stalls, including an incredible Portuguese place which I always ended up going to for the Chorizo Stew and the Bacalhau (Salt cod, onion and potatoes). The Duck pond Artisan Food and Craft market is held every Sunday, also in Heron Square, offering locally made arts and crafts and an array of delicious local food options.
The genteel Richmond Village Green conjures images of John Constable’s England of the 19th Century. Traditional pubs and listed Georgian terraced houses line the green, and cricketers in white play matches on the grassy expanse.
What remains of Richmond Palace is also on the Green. The site is now a small courtyard surrounded by brick buildings. Built by King Henry VII, the palace replaced the old royal residence of Shene that burnt down in 1499. The Palace was once the winter home of Queen Elizabeth I (she died here in 1603) and her father, King Henry VIII, lived here for a period before relocating to Hampton Court Palace.
Of the Palace buildings that are still standing, the Gatehouse is the oldest and was completed in 1501. The original gate hinges are still intact although the gate itself isn’t. You can actually just go right up and touch them. As a bit of a history nerd that blows my mind.
The ‘Wardrobe’, which was used to store soft furnishings, dates to the 16th Century and has since been converted into apartments. Trumpeter’s House was built much later in 1702-03 as was the Maids of Honour row which was built in 1724-25.
I used to walk through here on the way to work and it thrilled me to no end that I was walking in the footsteps of long passed Kings and Queens.
There are so many reasons why Richmond is one of the most special places in the world to me but essentially I think that it is what I dreamt an English Village to be like; cosy pubs, rambling fields, tight-knit community, historic houses, local markets with history around every corner.
Have I convinced you to visit? Are you a fan of English country villages like me?