London walks / Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness: Michael Leapman admires the autumn leaves and one of Britain's finest Jacobean mansions in Richmond

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The slow mellowing and bronzing of the trees is one of the compensations of autumn, but there are not many places in the London area where it can be appreciated. Ideally you should be able to look down on them from a distance - and this walk starts and ends high on Richmond Hill, with a view upstream to the pleasantly wooded curve of the Thames.

On Richmond Hill, turn into Terrace Gardens by the entrance almost opposite the junction with Friars Stile Road. Stop here to admire the view, because it is obscured by trees further down. Past the pool and Aphrodite's fountain, take any path that leads roughly straight down the slope, towards the tea-house and the River God statue (1784), recently restored. The small greenhouse here is often open. Gardeners will be unable to resist inspecting it.

At the bottom of the hill turn left, walking with Petersham Road on your right. Do not go through the underpass. Leave the gardens by a wire gate on to Terrace Field and take the path that leads diagonally across it towards a house with a double conservatory. You are back on Richmond Hill, by the Richmond Hill Hotel.

Turn right to pass Wick House, where the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds lived from 1772-92. Just beyond it turn right into a wood, on a downhill path through trees alongside the Star and Garter Home. Follow the parapet wall of the home about half-way and then turn right through more trees, emerging at the junction of Petersham Road and Star and Garter Hill.

Cross Petersham Road and continue ahead, following the sign to Ham House. Just before Dysarts pub turn right up a path beside the pub car park and follow it round behind St Peter's churchyard. When you get to a surfaced lane turn right, then left on a path signposted 'Garden Centre'.

The path passes between a brick wall on the left and a hedge on the right before crossing a road and narrowing past Petersham Lodge on the right. Where it ends go diagonally right, taking a signposted footpath that skirts a sports field.

Cross a new wooden stile at the end of this path into a water meadow, where horses graze, then over a stile into another meadow with horses. At its right-hand corner is a stile, also leading on to a path.

Cross the tree-studded lawn to the entrance of Ham House (1610), one of Britain's finest Jacobean mansions, recently restored by the National Trust. It is open until the end of October from 1pm every afternoon except Thursday and Friday, and on Sundays from 11.30am (weekends only in the winter months). Its 17th-century garden has also been recreated.

Leaving the house by the front gate, walk straight over the grass to the river and turn right on the towpath, by the passenger-ferry pier. Very soon there is a fine view between the trees across the river of the white and box-like Marble Hill House, built in 1729 for a mistress of George II.

Straight ahead, the view of Richmond, on its hill, changes as you walk round the busy curve of the river. The path will veer away from the bank. Keep on it until turning left by the public toilets, on to a path between Petersham Road and the river.

Just after Richmond Bridge comes into view you reach a large plane tree, where steps on the right lead down to a tunnel marked 'Subway to Terrace Gardens'. Go through it and return up through the

gardens, using a different path from the one you went down on. At the top of the hill, turn back for a last look at the swaying trees by the river.

FACT BOX

Length: Three miles

Time: One-and-a-half hours, but allow time to visit Ham House and garden.

Car parking: Pay and display (four hour limit) on Richmond Hill.

Public transport: Richmond station (BR and District Line) about half a mile from start.

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