And if you go at a quiet time, it can even seem like you have the whole place to yourself. Well, you and the estate’s nine different species of deer.
Start out in the very pretty village of Ridgmont. Its ties to the estate are clear from the uniform houses at the estate end of the village, and although it is on top of a ridge, its name is believed to be taken from the French ‘rouge mont’, meaning red hill.
As well as a church with an impressive spire, the Ridgmont is also home to the Rose and Crown, a traditional pub with what looks like a good selection of pub grub.
Park in the High Street and head south out of the village, passing the main entrance to the safari park, and onto Crawley Road, which becomes Ridgmont Road.
Follow the perimeter wall (which is seven miles long in total) until you reach the junction with Turnpike Road, turn left and follow this road until you reach the junction with Horsepool Lane.
The first part of the route isn’t all that exciting – apart from the anticipation of seeing what’s behind the wall (you can see the tree tops and hear the birds as you walk along the outside).
Almost opposite the Horsepool Lane entrance is an entrance to the estate, this is where the public footpath starts (there’s a sign to reassure you).
Once you’re in, it’s like you’re inside a secret kingdom. Follow the path off to the left – it’s a well established walkway but when we visited it was pretty muddy due to the rain, so wear appropriate footwear.
The path leads you through some really beautiful woodland, and it won’t be long before you see your first deer. Conversely, by that point you’ll probably have been spotted by a dozen of these elegant creatures, who you either won’t have noticed due to their being camouflaged, or who’ll have darted off before you can set eyes on them.
Soon you’ll come on to one of the estate’s roads, flanked on either side by the woods. We had a bit of a Jurassic Park moment when we passed a huge pile of dung, the size of which meant it could only have come from an elephant (hopefully they’re not keeping any secret T-Rexs in there) – I’m guessing they must take them out for walks around the estate.
Coming of the the road and onto a wide footpath to the left, you’re soon right next to the safari park, and, if you haven’t bumped into an elephant, the first of its residents you’ll see will be the wallabies, who’ll probably be peering through the fence to see what you’re up to.
At the end of this section you bear left and up a pretty steep slope, to be faced at the top with the elephant house. As we did this walk in the evening, it looked like these guys had been put to bed, but it was still fun to ogle the huge gates and fences that make sure these giants don’t escape their enclosure.
Continuing on you come into the farm area of the park, continue on into the area of woodland opposite, and you soon emerge onto another road. Turning right will take you into the deer park, where you’re likely to come across a grazing herd or two.
In my experience the deer either stay where they are and watch you as you pass, or run a short distance and keep an eye on you from there. Either way, they’re stunning creatures to look at, and you can also get a glimpse of the wolf enclosure from here.
Turning left takes you back on the estate road out towards Ridgmont – and be prepared for a surprise. On your left the woods suddenly become fields, and if you’re lucky you’ll be treated to sightings of zebra, oryx and buffalo, a great end to this walk.