It’s years since we adopted a dog who couldn’t safely be allowed off the lead within a very short time. But in the spring we adopted Polly, a headstrong young saluki lurcher, with all the usual saluki traits including selective hearing when there are distractions like interesting scents, distant squirrels, or other dogs to play with. So we’ve begun to build a list of safe and safe-ish local areas in West London and Surrey where she can enjoy a run off the lead without getting into too much trouble.
When we first let Polly off the lead, our starting point was some of the excellent enclosed, off lead dog walking areas which are available for private hire by owners who have dogs with limited recall, reactivity issues or simply a wayward tendency. Check out Dog Walking Fields in particular.
But we began to hanker for a wider repertoire: local places where Polly could have a quick blast off the lead at the end of the day; enclosed areas that could be incorporated into a longer, normal walk; places where Polly could meet other dogs and socialise. Here are some that fit the bill for us:
Suffolk Road Recreation Ground, Barnes
Character: Public park, nominally mixed use though mostly used by dog walkers. Big open grassy area, plenty of poo bins
Boundaries: Tall fencing on three sides, onto Suffolk Rd maybe 4′ 6″
Gates: A single gate onto Suffolk Rd which is always closed by dog walkers
Parking: On North Rd, busy at school pick up times, otherwise quiet
Other dogs: Yes, always some other dogs in the area
SIDMOUTH WOOD, RICHMOND PARK
Character: A fully fenced wide path running through Sidmouth Wood which is itself fully enclosed with deer-proof fencing. This is a lovely natural area which is very safe; great for building up good off lead walking habits; great to incorporate into a longer on-lead walk through the rest of Richmond Park.
Boundaries: Sidmouth Wood is fully enclosed to about 8ft. Through the middle of the wood running west-east is a broad, fenced path, maybe 50m wide and 500m long with 8ft boundaries all round and tall (6′ plus) self-closing gates at each end. Just watch out for the access gates to the wider wood about halfway down the path – the foxes have burrowed underneath and a smaller dog might also be able to sneak under these gates into the rest of Sidmouth Wood.
Parking: Pembroke Lodge Car Park
Other dogs: Quiet, but you’ll probably meet the occasional walker, with or without a dog as you amble through
TWO STORM WOOD, RICHMOND PARK
Character: Woodland with several paths running east-west though it. Very safe and enclosed. There are rabbits up on the hill here and tons of interesting scents in the wood. The wood itself is very safe and enclosed but if your dog likes pursuing scents they can disappear into the undergrowth and lead you a merry dance till they are ready to return – ask Polly! Good to incorporate into a longer on-lead walk through the rest of Park. Paths can be very wet and boggy here in winter months.
Boundaries: Fully enclosed to about 8ft. Large gates (always closed) at east and west ends of the wood
Parking: Sheen Gate Car Park and wander up to the wood
Other dogs: Quiet, though you might meet the occasional walker, with or without a dog.
CORBETTS COPSE, RICHMOND PARK
Character: A small but perfectly-formed enclosed copse within Richmond Park, with grasses and some low trees and a nice bench for a sit down and quiet contemplation. Great for an off lead blast as part of a longer on-lead walk through the rest of Park. The boundaries are not high or very robust, but fine if your dog is not a jumper.
Boundaries: Fenced to about 4ft, with wooden fences and netting. Two wooden gates which are always closed.
Parking: Broomfield Car Park
Other dogs: This is a tiny area, there may be another dog owner already in the area and if so it’s usual to wait outside or ask permission before joining them.
BRENT LEA RECREATION GROUND, London Rd, Brentford
Character: Adjacent to Syon Park, fully enclosed with ancient, robust walls, is a largish, mixed-use recreation area with tennis courts, undulating grassland and a few trees. The only vulnerability is the gate (see below) which other users tend to leave open and you need to watch it like a hawk!
Website: This is probably the best online resource describing the area
Boundaries: Walled to 8ft plus except for one very short section of wall at 5ft near the single entrance gate.
Parking: Limited on street parking outside in Half Moon Lane
Other dogs: You’ll sometimes share with the odd dog walker
DOG PARK, BEDFONT LAKES COUNTY PARK, HOUNSLOW
Character: Within Bedfont Lakes Country Park is a large enclosed dog park. It’s mostly open grassland with a small hummock with a couple of shrubs at the far end. Surprisingly pretty when the ox-eye daisies are out in late spring. This is a great area for well-socialised dogs to have a run and to meet and greet with other dogs of all types.
Boundaries: Fenced to 5ft plus with dense planting all round boundaries. Two gates maybe 4ft high, always closed
Parking: Use the adjacent car park in Bedford Rd (not the one in Clockhouse Rd)
Other dogs: Very busy, there are always other dogs up here being walked.
MILLENNIUM WOOD, BUSHY PARK, HAMPTON WICK
Character: A safe wooded enclosed area within Bushy Park. Relatively recently created (=Millennium) with robust metal fencing all round. Nice for an off lead leg-stretch as part of a longer walk within Bushy Park
Boundaries: Fully enclosed to 7ft or so. Beware the burrowed out areas under the gates – a small, nimble lurcher can limbo out through these as our Lulu recently proved (thankfully she has good recall and never strays too far).
Other dogs: Often used by other dog walkers
Parking: On street outside Bushy Park in Church Grove and walk to Hampton Wick Gate
PRINCE CHARLES SPINNEY, RICHMOND PARK
Character: Another of these robustly fenced pathways through a bigger enclosed wood in Richmond Park. This is a path about 200m long, beautiful with bluebells in spring, nice as part of a longer walk through the park.
Boundaries: Prince Charles Spinney is fully enclosed to 8ft or so with robust, deer-proof fencing and through it runs this separately enclosed walkway with gates at each end. Watch out for gaps under the fencing into the rest of the enclosure especially down at the bottom where the stream runs through.
Parking: At Pen Ponds Car Park and walk up or Broomfield Car Park and walk down
Other dogs: Quiet
North Road Recreation Ground, Sheen
Character: A small enclosed dog-specific area within a larger, mixed use public park. Useful for a quick leg stretch
Boundaries: A lowish boundary fence maybe 3’6″ to the dog-exercise area, taller fencing round the surrounding park
Parking: On North Rd
Other dogs: Owners of other dogs tend to wait patiently outside so you’ll probably have the dog area to yourself.
If you know of any similar dog-walking areas in West London or Surrey please add them in comments below. We’ll certainly be growing our list as we find other suitable areas.
This article is titled in homage to the late Stephen Foster whose wonderful book “Walking Ollie” makes me laugh and cry and sigh every time I read it. It is about Stephen’s experience when he first adopted a wayward saluki cross, much like my Polly. I highly recommend this book and the sequel “Along Came Dylan” to anyone considering adopting one of these nutty lurcher types.