Spring Nature Walk at Bushy Park in London
When my teenage daughter asked to see trees and nature on a nature walk, Bushy Park in London seemed like the best place to spend the first day of spring. Right outside Hampton Court Palace, Bushy Park is the second largest of London’s Royal Parks and offers a combination of 18th century water features, English gardens, and wildlife.
- Daffodil woodlands
- Roaming herds of deer
- Ponds and streams
- Blooming cherry trees
- Waterfowl baby chicks
Hampton Court Kitchens
While King Henry VIII is known for his six marriages, he was also a passionate foodie and wild deer hunter. When he took over Hampton Court Palace in 1529, Henry VIII named three parks that make up modern-day Bushy Park and established them as royal deer-hunting grounds.
Today, the royal kitchens at Hampton Court Palace are a highlight for visitors but they’re a far cry from the bustling days during Henry VIII’s lifetime when they employed 200 staff in 55 rooms. That may seem over the top but then, so were his banquets hosting over 600 guests. Imagine that in a typical year, Hampton Court Palace’s royal kitchens served 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs, and 53 wild boar.
Deer at Bushy Park
Knowing this, it does come as a peaceful nod to history that Bushy Park has become known for its roaming herds of red and fallow deer, to be enjoyed by visitors on a strictly photographic basis. No spit roasting involved, thank you.
My daughter and I did not even realize we were walking past a small herd of deer until we turned our head and focused our gaze on what we thought were wood stumps — only they were grazing deer with antlers sticking out like branches! Such great camouflage they have, blending in with the meadows in their winter coat.
With 320 deer roaming free in the park, visitors have a fair chance at spotting them and equally, a fair chance at getting way too close for Instagram selfies. As tempting as petting a cute deer on the nose was, we stayed 50 feet away from the herd, admiring an cream colored leucistic fallow buck surrounded by white-spotted chestnut fallow bucks. We had only been in the park 15 minutes and had already spotted wild deer. Locals may be jaded on deer-spotting but we were quite thrilled.
Next on our agenda was a picnic lunch as my daughter was getting hungry, so we crossed a grassland area known as Hampton Wick (actually the name of a village) to get to Leg-of-Mutton Pond. I am guessing the name comes from a shape similarity with a leg of mutton and has nothing to do with the fact that there may or may not have been mutton slaughterhouses nearby. In a country where sheep reigns king on country fields, it is only appropriate that geographical place names would include Leg of Mutton, Sheepwash or in the Shetlands, a variety of sheepy names such as Lambaness as the headland pasture for lambs. Fortunately, a map of Bushy Park should clear any confusion on the naming of this pond.
Surrounded by grassy banks with overhanging weeping willows, Leg-of-Mutton Pond was a perfect spot to sit down and enjoy a mostly sunny day outside. At the very least, the weather was dry which qualified as a nice day during lockdown.
Harbingers of spring, a couple of industrious coots ferried bulky sticks to a nest seemingly floating in the middle of the pond. We admired their relentless efforts while munching on crackers and cheese for me, veggie rolls for my daughter. After a while, big clouds obscured the sun and we got chilly, moving on to the next place in our exploration of Bushy Park. I had printed a map of the park and referred to it for navigation.
Worth noting here is the story of shoemaker Timothy Bennet. A resident of nearby Hampton Wick, in 1752, when an old man, he successfully fought to ensure a public right-of-way through the park after the then ranger, Lord Halifax, ordered it closed to the public. There’s a monument to him outside Hampton Wick Gate and a walking path which runs across the park at perpendicular to Chestnut Avenue is still known as Cobbler’s Walk.Exploring London, 16 November 2011
Cobbler’s Walk was popular with families of cyclists and also a perfect path from which to observe the joyful antics of children using oak tree branches as swings under the watchful eye of their parents.
That afternoon, we saw at least two other ancient trees used as natural swings.
Past Chestnut Avenue now in the western part of the park (Chestnut Avenue serves as a south-north divider), we turned south. That’s where we found the Woodland Gardens featuring two plantations, the Pheasantry plantation and the Waterhouse plantation. I’ve been watching the TV series Outlander at home and the word “plantation” immediately conjured images of Aunt Jocasta and her 18th century cotton plantation in the Carolinas. In the context of the Woodland Plantations, “plantation” really meant English garden with tranquil woodland walks alongside streams, flowering trees and shrubs.
Honouring the rhythm of nature by taking seasonal walks is a wonderful way to exercise the five senses and this garden was the perfect opportunity to connect with spring. Our first sight after we pushed open the gate of the Pheasantry Plantation was a meadow with blossoming cherry trees past a narrow canal.
On a smaller scale, this was Bushy Park’s response to the Japanese tradition of Hanami (花見, “flower viewing”) with families picnicking under cherry trees, visitors taking pictures of the delicate pink petals and children running wildly while parents enjoyed this beautiful view.
So fragile seemed the flowers of cherry trees that my daughter cradled a fallen flower in her hand like a spun sugar piece of art.
Geese & Goslings
As if the cherry blossoms and daffodils weren’t giving us enough cues about the season, we stumbled upon the most adorable family portrait by one of the ponds.
Looking upon mom and her six goslings was the (assumed) father, an Egyptian goose facing us in a stern standoff and assuring that us humans did not get too close to his fluffy goslings. Unaware of the dangers around them, as children often are, the goslings hurried along and pecked away at grass and mud in search of worms and other delicacies.
I’ll be honest, it was very difficult to tear us away from this charming scene.
I vote that there should be a Japanese spring festival with a lovely word meaning “baby bird watching” so that the whole world can congregate with binoculars to watch said baby birds from a respectable distance while everybody’s stress levels significantly go down at the sight of fluff. I could definitely subscribe to a spring festival like that.
While far from Wordsworth’s Lake District, daffodils remain the quintessential British spring flower before bluebells steal the show a few weeks later.
It was with great awe that my daughter and I strolled through the gardens’ daffodil woodland, amazed at the hundreds and hundreds of yellow flowers swaying with the wind. There were so many. Were they all planted by hand by gardeners at night? I wondered but even if they were wild — though I doubted they all were — they were a gorgeous sight for the eyes.
Yellow Skunk Cabbage
Masquerading as daffodils for visitors in a hurry not looking too close, yellow skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) dotted the banks of the canal in striking yellow patches. This flower apparently emits an odor similar to skunks when it blooms, attracting pollinators, beetles and flies but that’s not why it is banned from sale in the UK. Yes, this plant is dangerous for more reasons than its offensive smell. Yellow skunk cabbage was first recorded in the wild in 1947 in Surrey after being introduced to the UK from Western North America as an ornamental plant in 1901. Though it looks innocuous, skunk cabbage has spread fast in the UK as an invasive non-native species and has been known to block drainage in biodiverse marshland.
Knowing this, I was surprised that the Waterhouse Plantation entrance map presented yellow skunk cabbage under the “Things to look out for” box. Maybe I missed it, but was there an interpretive sign explaining the evil side of this beautiful yellow plant? Shouldn’t the park try to eradicate yellow skunk cabbage? A stinky question for sure.
More daffodils and cherry trees cheered us up on the rest of our walk through the plantations before we emerged from the fenced in spring paradises and walked south to find the river and the train station. This concluded a wonderful day of spring.
Public Transport Access
Bushy Park is easily accessible by public transport and while there are roads and parking lots for visitors, I encourage your family to use public transport to lower the carbon footprint of your visit.
From Waterloo to Teddington/Hampton Wick, 5 to 10 minute walk, entering the park through the Sandy Lane Gates.
From Wimbledon (tube, District line) to Hampton Court (train station), 10 minute walk, entering the park through the Hampton Court Gates.
- 111 Kingston – Heathrow
- 216 Kingston – Staines
- 285 Heathrow – Kingston
- 411 Kingston – West Molsey
- 481 Kingston – West Middlesex Hospital
- X26 Express service Heathrow – Croydon
- R68 Hampton Court – Richmond
Hampton Court Gate off Hampton Court Road and Teddington Gate off Sandy Lane.