Spotlight on: Sevenoaks
- Credit: Archant
Between them Sevenoaks and the surrounding villages offer a wealth of culture and countryside, theatre and the arts plus fab retail and eating out opportunities. Here are just 10 good reasons to visit
1 Step back in time at Knole
Set in an ancient deer park near the centre of Sevenoaks, the oldest parts of this landmark Grade I country house date back to the 1400s. Once a palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Knole came into the possession of the Sackville family during the reign of Elizabeth I and remains the family home of their descendants to this day. Half of the house is private but some parts, including 20 rooms, the great hall, courtyards and an orangery, are open to the public thanks to the National Trust. With a café, a shop and a huge project underway to restore the house, it’s a great day out. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk.w
2 Shopping and eating
Times are changing and the local eating and shopping options are changing with them. Italian deli and restaurant Valentina Fine Foods (01732 469349) and popular chain Wagamama (01732 758900) are just two new faces to appear recently, joining established favourites like seafood specialist Loch Fyne (01732 467140) and The Vine (01732 469510). The High Street, London Road and Bligh’s Meadow are the main areas for shops; from Monsoon (01732 779516) to Paperchase (01732 450317).
3 Take in a show
A community arts centre offering all sorts of concerts and plays, it’s probably at its most popular at Christmas when local production company Magic Beans puts on its annual pantomime – this year it’s Peter Pan and tickets are already selling well. The Stag also hosts a monthly comedy club, Outside The Box, which attracts some of the biggest stand-ups in the business. This month sees Reginald D Hunter headline on 15 April. Visit www.stagsevenoaks.co.uk.
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4 Find the yeti
The ideal place to set children free and let them experience the thrill of the great outdoors, Riverhill Himalayan Gardens offers a surprise or two for visitors. Take the chance to hunt a real live yeti (sort of) and to build a den in the woods from fallen branches. All this family fun, plus a café, glorious gardens and a stunning view can be found at this imaginative attraction near Sevenoaks. Visit www.riverhillgardens.co.uk.
5 Explore Emmetts
If you go a little further afield, into the countryside at nearby Ide Hill, there is a National Trust garden that feels a world away from hectic modern life. On one of the highest spots in Kent, the views are remarkable and Emmetts Garden, laid out in the 19th century, is made up of many different areas and paths. Containing exotic plants and specimens collected from all over the world, it’s a riot of spring colours now.
6 Lose yourself in history
For another taste of history, travel to the village of Ivy Hatch and visit romantic Ightham Mote. A moated manor built nearly 700 years ago and once owned by medieval knights, it’s a stunning house, surrounded by pretty gardens, orchards and lakes. Highlights include the attractive courtyard, the great hall, the crypt and an unusual Grade I listed dog kennel. There are several routes around the grounds for keen walkers and a café for refreshments. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
7 The World Garden Set in 120 acres of Kent countryside, Lullingstone’s manor house and gatehouse date back to 1497 and were regularly visited by Henry VIII. The estate of the Hart Dyke family and still in their hands today, its grounds are a popular visitor attraction for plant lovers thanks to intrepid, modern-day plant hunter Tom Hart Dyke. Having created his World Garden 10 years ago, he continues to add rare and endangered plants to the collection. Watch out for the Hot & Spiky House (a hot house dedicated to cacti, succulents and bromeliads) and the country’s national collection of Eucalypts. See also feature on page 125. Visit www.lullingstonecastle.co.uk.
8 Meet the animals
One of the largest bird of prey centres in the country, with more than 50 species – many of whom can be seen during the live flying displays each day – Eagle Heights in Eynsford is also an expanding animal sanctuary with huskies, meerkats, snakes, lizards and even a camel among its ranks. As well as seeing its beautiful animals, you can also learn about its work in conservation and breeding. Eagle Heights also offers animal experience days and falconry courses. Visit www.eagleheights.co.uk.
9 Get back to nature
Run by Kent Wildlife Trust, Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve consists of five lakes, as well as ponds, reedbeds and woodland, all providing an amazing range of habitats for local wildlife. With, unusually, roughly equal proportions of water and land, it’s a great place to spot birds and there is a visitor centre with displays about the creation of the reserve and the wildlife that calls it home. During the year the Trust holds several activity days here which are perfect for children who want to get involved in a bit of pond dipping. Visit www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk.
10 Learn about the land
Recently refurbished and offering information about the area’s geology, natural history, ecology and archaeology, the heritage centre in picturesque Otford is well worth a visit. Features include a model of the now derelict Otford Palace (once an Archbishop’s Palace), Roman artefacts, local artwork and a working model of a Kentish oast house. You can pick up local walk leaflets during your free visit. Phone 01959 523140 for opening times.