Words and illustrations by Alice Stevenson, from her book, Ways to Walk in London.
It is around midday on Boxing Day. My family and I head out for a walk in Richmond Park. It is colder than we imagined; I relish the chill on my cheeks and the wind seeping through my jeans onto my legs. The sky is slate grey and the ponds reflect this. The orange of dead ferns and the dark brown of the leaf-covered ground combine pleasingly, and there is nothing depressing to me about these bleak colours.
Richmond Park is the largest of London. I lag behind a lot or join in the conversation as I feel inclined. Sometimes we are all in silence and Topsy, my parents’ aged but sprightly Patterdale terrier, circles around us gleefully sniffing everything she comes across.
I feel the strongest sense of ‘family’or togetherness that I have all Christmas. As we stride around I feel as though we are a tribe, and there is so much love and camaraderie amongst us all. The freedom to roam in this park creates a sense that we have chosen to be together as opposed to being stuck together, as is so often the way at this time of year. Thankfully the mud is too thick to play ‘Mrs President’, a game invented by my brothers in this very park, which involves them rugby-tackling me to the ground with cries of, ‘Get down Mrs President, it’s a sniper!’
We pass a small group of stags relaxing in the bracken, and when my brother Joseph and I walk closer to take a photo they stand up, staring right at us, defiantly. We feel alarmed enough for it to be fun, and make a hasty retreat. Later on in the walk we stumble across a tall, branchless, dead trunk of a tree. There is something imposing and symbolic about it, almost like a totem pole.
When we are nearly back at the car park, my eagle-eyed father spots a lone pair of antlers in the distance, emerging from the bracken. We get closer and see it is an elderly stag reclining amongst a textured sea of dirty orange. It is a melancholy yet dignified sight that somehow symbolises the sense of open space and freedom of this place.
Ways to Walk in London is out now. Buy a copy here.