Richmond-upon-Thames, London borough: Home of the Stones, deer and royalty

Our stroll through Petersham meadow takes us over an old-fashioned wooden stile, past grazing belted Galloway cows and on through long grasses, swollen with summer pollen.

Yet when we've reached "the kissing gate" at the opposite corner of the meadow Sophie Campbell, our guide, asks us to pause.

"That ridge we're going to climb is Richmond Hill," she says. "From there, we'll get one of the classic views of London, painted by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds – first president of the Royal Academy. You'll find it has barely changed."

A hundred metres uphill, Campbell continues her commentary. "See that house with the big conservatory on the right? That's the Wick. Not to be confused with Wick House, which was Sir Joshua's house, further to the right."

"The Wick has also been owned by celebrities. The actor John Mills and his wife Mary Hayley Bell, the dramatist who wrote Whistle Down the Wind, lived there before selling it to Ronnie Wood in 1971."

At that time, the Rolling Stones guitarist was a member of the Faces, alongside Rod Stewart.

"Keith Richards and Ronnie had been long time friends, and Keith was apparently living in Ronnie's basement when he wrote It's Only Rock'n'Roll," Campbell adds. "Now the Wick is owned by Pete Townshend of the Who."

Clearly Richmond-upon-Thames is not what most visitors expect of London.

Less than a 10-minute walk from the Bingham, our Richmond riverbank hotel, you'll find hundreds of red and fallow deer living protected lives within Richmond Great Park, created by King Charles I as a royal hunting ground.

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By now we've climbed the stairs of Richmond Hill and Campbell – journalist turned boutique tour guide – shows us the bay-fronted house which Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall shared with their four children.

When Mick and Jerry split, she ended up with the house while Jagger rented an apartment next door. Unsurprisingly, the notoriously parsimonious Jagger asked for his Richmond home back when Hall became the fourth wife of Rupert Murdoch (richer than all the Rolling Stones put together).

Soon we're descending through the superbly blossoming Terrace Gardens back down to the river, past a statue of Old Father Thames – the British equivalent of Poseidon. The Thames drops just 110 metres as it meanders from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier and the estuary beyond. But this stretch, at Richmond, is surely the most picturesque. Both Reynolds and Turner thought so, with their depictions of Richmond Bridge (which Campbell points out is the oldest surviving original bridge in London).

Richmond bridge is also the place to hire a classic Edwardian skiff for a row along the river. Or, even better, the longer version capable of taking an onboard tent as immortalised in Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

Sadly nothing remains of Richmond Palace, built in the 1490s by Henry VII and death place of his granddaughter, Elizabeth I.

However Campbell escorts us away from the river and points out the 1720s Maids of Honour townhouses, plus the Trumpeter's House in Old Palace Yard, whose names reflect the days when the Tudor rose united the country after the War of the Roses.

As we return to the Thames, we spot herons – a sure sign the river is now healthy with fish – while swans glide on balletically, knowing their days of being fed to Henry VIII are long gone.

But now we're on the final leg of our walk, to Richmond Lock – built in 1894, and one of the great engineering achievements of the Victorian age. The furthest downstream of the 45 locks on the Thames, it ensures that England's most famous river is navigable upstream past Hampton Court Palace, Marlow, Oxford and beyond.

Before we get there, Campbell points out an obscure obelisk through the hedgerow. This, she explains, has particular significance for Australians.

It was one of three erected during the reign of King George III, mainly remembered for his "madness".

The latest theory is that he suffered from what we now call "bipolar disorder" and that he recovered despite (not because of) the dreadful treatments inflicted upon him.

What is often forgotten is that, when "sane", George III was an enlightened monarch in tune with the Age of Reason.

Fascinated by science and astronomy, he ordered the construction of the King's Observatory, now a private home within the grounds of the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club and off limits to tourists.

This obelisk, Campbell explains, was completed at the same time as the observatory in 1769 so the king could observe the Transit of Venus later that year.

By then, a little-known naval lieutenant commanding a tiny bark called Endeavour was in place – as ordered by royal decree – on Tahiti to observe Venus' transit from the opposite side of the globe.

Measurements done, James Cook opened his secret orders, again issued by George III.

His mission?

To discover whether the "Great Southern Land" was myth or reality.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/britain

visitbritain.com

FLY

Cathay Pacific flies from Australia to London daily, via Hong Kong. See cathaypacific.com

TOUR

Sophie Campbell offers a range of boutique London tours. See sophiecampbell.london

STAY

The Bingham, Richmond. See thebingham.co.uk

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Cathay Pacific and Visit Britain.

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