A brief history
This is one of the oldest parks, and began with King Edward (1272-1307), when the area was known as the Manor of Sheen. The name was changed to Richmond during the king-of-many-wives, Henry VII's reign. Then, in 1625 King Charles I brought his court to Richmond Palace to escape the plague in London and turned it into a park for red and fallow deer which are still there today.
In 1637 Charles I chose to enclose the land was not popular with the local residents, but seems to have been a good long-term plan.
Today, Richmond Park is a royal park and a nature reserve, and despite being completely surrounded by London proper, it has a population of over 600 deer. However, I was slightly dissapointed in the lack of wildness about the park (Although I'm not sure what I was expecting considering it's located inside of London). We were there on a beautiful Autumn day and it was fairly packed - you were always in sight of another walker or jogger or photographer, no matter where you were.
The Deer Rut at Richmond Park
After reading a few articles about the deer rut (mating season), I was determined to go see some deer smashing heads and fighting each other. While living in Colorado a few years ago, the elk bugling and fighting in Estes Park was a regular tourist attraction every Autumn. This is probably a bit more spectacular than the London version, as elk are pretty enormous creatures, even compared to the Red Deer.
However, what I was really excited about in Richmond Park was that you go see the deer rut on foot. In Estes Park you are always safely away in your car -simply pull to the side of the road and watch the elk trumpet and smash antlers. However, in London's Richmond Park, the viewers are on foot. This means it is the full sensory experience - and generally a bit less safe. A few frightening pictures of tourists being butted by deer came out of this year's rut!
We made it to the park in the 2nd week of October, but the looks of things we were too late to see any fighting deer. Instead, we had to make do with some general deer-watching and photography practice.
Not a bad trade-off really!
Although next year I will make the effort to do my research a bit better so I can get the timing right.
Getting There and Away
Richmond Station - British Rail or District Line (and then catch the 371 or 65 buses to the pedestrian gate at Petersham)
However, be warned; the bus ride can be up to 30 minutes from the station, so plan your time accordingly.
Also note, the park closes every night at dusk, so if you are driving, be sure to leave in time.