A couple of things distinguish Richmond Park from other parks. 1) It’s big. It is, in fact the biggest enclosed space in London. 2) It is the only place so far where someone has actually vocalized what I’m sure many are thinking :”What’s wrong with that poor lady?”. They were, of course, referring to the strange, hairy growth on my chest, otherwise known as Eva’s head. Apparently babywearing is quite rare down Surrey-way. Admittedly, I was wearing a purple top and purple wrap, so she was quite camouflaged but really…wouldn’t “baby’s head” spring to mind before “hideous deformity”? If you look closer, I also have a pair of legs coming out of my torso…
We were in Richmond Park to meet my brother and sister-in-law, being as it is a handy halfway point between London and our ancestral home in Winchester. The train goes straight to Richmond from Vauxhall and – I thought – they’ve recently installed lifts at Vauxhall, which should make travelling with a buggy so much easier.
Wrong! That fancy new concourse they’ve been building for ages is just that …a fancy new concourse. No lifts. Essentially just a corridor. A poster proclaimed that Vauxhall was now more accessible to disabled people, because there was more space in the concourse. Err, how is that going to help? Never mind, the same posters promised that lifts would be installed “Summer 2012”, so when Summer finally arrives the lifts will come with it. What dya mean we’ve had it already??
And yes, I know I should have checked this before I left home. But the only info I could find online was last updated in 2008, and there was no phone number. So there.
Anyhoo, I tackled the stairs on my own. After last week’s discovery about carrying buggies while babywearing, I decided not to risk that and took Eva out of the sling and into the buggy (seat reclined to flat, straps shortened) and made Roo walk, while I carried the buggy. About halfway up, a nice lady offered to help, so we got Eva+buggy to the top, and then I had to back down to chivvy Roo along. Faffety doo-dah!
I also had to get help getting the buggy on and off the train because good grief, those gaps are big! Especially when I’d been feeding Eva for a bit too long and so had had to hastily re-wrap her as the train arrived. I think fellow travellers took pity on the mad-looking woman with a baby dangling out of a very bad wrap job,overloaded buggy AND toddler on the loose. It was only when we were on and settled that I realised that we were in the quiet coach. Against all the odds, I kept Roo quiet for the 20-minute journey (big biscuit) only to disgrace myself with the cardinal sin of answering my phone. That got me more dirty looks than the dangly baby. But it was a friend’s husband, saying his wife’s waters had broken. That’s the kinda phonecall you’re allowed to take, right?
Anyway, getting off at Richmond was simple enough (they did have new lifts there!), as was getting the bus to the park. So shall I tell you a bit about the park itself? Well, I may have mentioned this before, but it’s BIG, and we only covered the tiniest part of it. I mean, it’s really big. Looking to your left as you enter, it seems to stretch for miles. And it does. That’s London in the far distance there. Roo seemed genuinely confused by this state of affairs:
“We inna countryside?”
“Yes darling. I suppose we are”
“What dya do inna countryside?”
“Good question, darling. Good question.”
Luckily, this countryside had a playground. And loos next to the car park. And an information point, where you could buy maps and have your deformities pointed out. Luckily it seemed quite easy to get from the car park to the playground.
Unluckily, it wasn’t easy.
I’d like some affirmation here that I am not going entirely mad. This is the online map of Richmond Park. The paper version we bought looked similar. It seems to show a fairly easy route from the car park at Pembroke Lodge to the playground at Petersham Gate. There are baby changing facilities and disabled loos in the car park, so you’d assume they expect people with buggies and wheelchairs to use this park. And specifically, people with buggies to want to get to the playground. But no. More on that in a minute. And for the pedants who want to point out yet another flaw in this post, yes, I could have just caught the bus to Petersham Gate, but Bro and Sis-in-law were driving. So, once again, there.
We didn’t help ourselves by going entirely the wrong way at first, but I put this down to the infamous family sense of direction (Bro was map-reading). Still, we got to see Poets’ Corner, with Ian Dury’s bench, and climb up King Henry’s Mound, to look over leafy Surrey. Roo was mildly interested in these things, but chiefly interested in the playground he could see from the top. And therein lay the problem.
What the map doesn’t show you is the massive gradient between the mound and the playground. We doubled back as far as Pembroke Lodge in search of a path down that could handle a buggy and Sis-in-law’s disability scooter. We didn’t find one, so we stopped for a picnic at a bench rather meanly labelled “no picnics”. We ate there anyway. It would be more bad publicity than they could handle if they had to forcibly remove a disabled, pregnant woman, a nursing mother and two small children. Then back in search of the elusive path.
We eventually found one that seemed to go downwards without steps, even though the scooter and the buggy both struggled on the soft mud. We got down the hill, only to find our way blocked by a gate which neither buggy nor scooter could fit through. We stood around for a bit, before enlisting the help of some wardens, who took us back up the hill to a gate we’d previously dismissed on account of a couple of rough steps on the other side. We went through it anyway, carrying the scooter and Sis-in-law having to walk, while I bumped the buggy down. We both misjudged the height of the last step and almost had a pile-up, but thankfully didn’t.
From there, it was a clear downhill run to….the PLAYGROUND! And was it worth it? Nah, not really. It was OK – sandpit with a water pump and wooden animals (I think this was newly refurbished), swings, slides, an outdoor xylophone – but nothing extraordinary. Roo played happily for a bit, stripped right off (even though it wasn’t that warm), then we headed back. The kids and I got the bus from outside Petersham Gate and Bro and Sis-in-law walked back up via the road. Going home, we stayed on till Waterloo so I didn’t have to deal with the steps at Vauxhall.
Days like this make me regret taking a buggy, especially as Roo can walk so well and Eva’s in the sling. But the long walk from the bus stop to Pembroke Lodge made me grateful for it, and the sleep Roo had all the way home made me doubly grateful.
VERDICT: A spectacular park, but not buggy-friendly. Go by car, forget the playground and just let your toddler run free at the top of the hill with a ball or something.