Calling this a neighobourhood of London may be a stretch as it’s in Surrey and is very much its own town.
My second weekend armed with bike I said to myself that if the weather was good I would make the journey out to Richmond Park. The weather was good.I overslept and had to skip the market for the day, so began my cycle to Richmond.
Unfit or incredibly lost I shall never know, but it took me nearly double the time that google maps had predicted.
In preparation for your Richmond arrival, you head west through increasingly more affluent areas: Westminster, Pimlico, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square, Chelsea, Kensington, West Brompton, Fulham, Putney, then finally the great park.
It is not a cycle-friendly route, or a well-signposted one. One way to tell a hipster area is by the provision of cycle lanes and cycle parking. West London doesn’t need hipsters. Gentrification happened centuries ago. Cycle lanes make way for the tyres of the new Range Rover. It’s important the Tarquin gets to school in style and safety.
On entering Richmond Park I was tired and stressed from the cycle and underwhelmed by the park. Sure, it was a vast expanse of parkland far surpassing most areas that I had seen in Manchester (the walks around Chorlton and Didsbury are quite picturesque) with its rolling hills and attractive people jogging round and through, but this was still just a park for goodness sake. Why was this worth the (what was to become) 25 mile round-trip?
I then ran into some new friends:
Ah yes the deer. Of course the deer. However could I doubt the deer. This is the reason that so many tourists endure the horrors of the District Line and the long walk uphill from Richmond to the park. I had expected some deer, but not to have my path blocked by herds (or proper collective noun) of deer.
They were beautiful, the autumn colours were beautiful, even the sunlight was beautiful. Richmond Park is worth it.
I walked my bike and ran into herds and herds more deer.
There are a number of viewpoints throughout the park, and then on leaving the park there are further viewpoints throughout the town. I imagine the people of Richmond go for weekly constitutions to look out across London to say “we are close to you, big city, but we are not you. We are better than you. We have views towards you without the riffraff, one of the most majestic parks in the world, and a stretch of river that we have made the Thames Riviera.”
Several months later I had a meeting in Richmond. Richmond is very insular. Richmond is very rich. Richmond just needs Richmond. Step off the train at Richmond and acknowledge that you have arrived in Richmond. If you live in Richmond and are very Richmond, there is no need at all to leave Richmond. If there is need to, it is to holiday. Need to run an errand outside of Richmond? Send the help.
As I cycled through the town, again making many a wrong term, I felt very much like an outsider looking in. This isn’t my place and these aren’t my people. I am the Londoner looking up the hill towards the park, no really being able to get a glimpse inside.
The cycle back was more treacherous than the cycle to, with my making increasingly questionable decisions to take the long way back through Kew, Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Fulham, then along the Thames Path which is a testament of how not to manage a public footpath.
West London is nothing. If you aren’t an inhabitant, there are few reasons that I saw to make the leap past zone two, especially for cyclists. Past the city and zone one, London in all directions becomes a great suburb for those who historically and recently want nightly respite from the centre. For the urbans, the outer zones, and especially the west, offers us parkland to admire sporadically, clean our lungs for the year, then again appreciate the vibrancy of the city.
Artisan stores have made it to central; the reasons for heading west become ever-less.