It’s a beautiful town with a rich history and some great visitor attractions right on its doorstep. Take a look around splendid Sevenoaks. Words by: Caroline Read. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

Great British Life: Knole and its deer park are the jewel in Sevenoaks' crownKnole and its deer park are the jewel in Sevenoaks' crown (Image: Archant)

1 Jewel in the crown

Historic Knole feels as though it could be set miles from civilisation, but it’s within easy walking distance of Sevenoaks town centre. Certainly the jewel in the town’s crown, the house dates back around 600 years and was once an archbishop’s palace. Having been given to Elizabeth I’s cousin, Thomas Sackville, it’s surprising to hear that his descendants still live in a private part of the house to this day. The rest is managed by the National Trust and is open to the public – although the showrooms are now closed for the winter, reopening in March. However, the beautiful 1,000-acre parkland can be enjoyed at any time of the year and spotting the deer, which in Tudor times would have been hunted here by visiting royalty, is the highlight of a wintry walk.

2 Arts at the heart

Great British Life: Carpet of bluebells and woodlands at Emmetts Garden with magnificent views of the Weald of Kent and Bough Beech Reservoir.Carpet of bluebells and woodlands at Emmetts Garden with magnificent views of the Weald of Kent and Bough Beech Reservoir. (Image: ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur)

Originally built in 1936 as a Majestic Cinema, what would eventually become the Stag Community Arts Centre has survived throughout the decades to become a much-loved town centre theatre and cinema. It’s hard to believe that less than 10 years ago it faced a very uncertain future indeed, but thanks to the local council making the bold move of taking on the lease and management in 2009, it has gone from strength to strength. Apart from the theatre space, which is home to a very popular Christmas pantomime each year (Sleeping Beauty closes its run on 8 January), there is a two-screen digital cinema, a recently refurbished café and an events suite.

3 Shop and eat out

Lucky Sevenoaks practically has it all. From big name brands including a new Marks and Spencer to independent boutiques, the shopping here is eclectic and relaxed. Some of our favourites are The Danish Collection for trendy Scandinavian homeware and fashion, posh dog apparel store Barkers of Sevenoaks and the renowned Sevenoaks Bookshop. The Bligh’s Meadow shopping centre includes the likes of Monsoon, JoJo Maman Bébé, Seasalt and The Body Shop, and just on the outskirts of town are several delightful little independent shops in the Hollybush area. Similarly, there are all kinds of cosy cafés, pubs and restaurants. There’s a new Bill’s in Bligh’s Meadow and some the best-regarded restaurants include Anatolian restaurant Hattusa, The Little Garden and The Vine.

Great British Life: The north front of Ightham Mote in winter, with the cottages beyondThe north front of Ightham Mote in winter, with the cottages beyond (Image: ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler)

4 A hilltop garden

If you haven’t visited Riverhill Himayalan Gardens before, you’re in for a real treat. The gardens, set on a hillside with superb views, are open to visitors between March and September and run all sorts of fun events. The home of the Rogers family, it was Victorian plant hunter John Rogers who planted much of the gardens, and one of his main focuses was specimens from the Himayalan regions. There is plenty of fun for families, with play areas, a maze, den building and ‘spot the yeti’, and plenty for adults to enjoy too. Don’t miss the view from climbing the steep ‘Little Everest’ and if you’re looking for a lovely bluebell walk in the spring, the woodland at Riverhill is filled with them.

Great British Life: Riverhill Himalayan Gardens are set on a hilltopRiverhill Himalayan Gardens are set on a hilltop (Image: Archant)

5 Good times

Every summer the town comes alive with music and celebration. The Sevenoaks Summer Festival will be in its 48th year and what evolved from a small musical event at Sevenoaks School, an historic independent school set in the heart of the town, has now become a huge fortnight-long spectacular. Showcasing the breadth and diversity of Sevenoaks’ arts scene, expect concerts, talks, plays, dancing and a family-friendly fair in the town centre to kick things off. Check the website for dates and ticket information of this year’s festival, beginning in June.

6 A moated manor

Great British Life: A joy to visit at any time of yearA joy to visit at any time of year (Image: Manu Palomeque 07977074797)

Not far from Sevenoaks, and well worth a day out, is lovely Ightham Mote. A National Trust property which dates back nearly 700 years and home to medieval knights, royal courtiers and wealthy Victorians over its lifetime, the modest house is surrounded by a mote, pretty gardens and impressive grounds. Top off your visit with lunch in the café, pop in to the gift shop and let the kids explore the brilliant woodland play area. It’s another good spot for bluebells later in the spring.

7 Wonderful wildlife

If you’re a bird spotter, a bee lover or just someone who enjoys a bit of peace and quiet, a visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve is a must. It’s one of Kent Wildlife Trust’s most important locations and has equal amounts of land, lakes and ponds, making it a perfect haven for all sorts of birds, insects and native mammals. The reserve has an excellent visitor centre, a record-breaking bee hotel and puts on special family events throughout the year to encourage both young and old to appreciate the natural world on their doorstep.

8 Love of literature

Held each October, Sevenoaks is lucky enough to have its own Literary Festival. Started in 2002, the two-week programme of events has included talks from authors of the calibre of Hilary Mantel, Kate Mosse, Patrick Gale and Lionel Shriver among many others over the years. Other events often include walks, a literary lunch and arranging authors to visit local schools and engage with the children. Visit the website for this year’s dates, a programme of events and ticket information.

9 Top of the world

Another much-loved National Trust property not far from Sevenoaks is Emmetts Gardens. Set in the village of Ide Hill, boasting one of the highest positions in Kent, the views from these charming gardens are spectacular. Spring will be the best time to see them in bloom, but even a winter walk through the six acres of gardens, originally laid out by Edwardian plantsman Frederic Lubbock, is a complete joy – and best of all it’s dog friendly. Add in the usual National Trust café and gift shop and there are plenty of reasons to visit Emmetts in 2017.

10 Charming villages

Sevenoaks is perfectly placed for commuters, with easy access to the M25 and a half-hour train ride into London, but it is also pleasantly set in among some of our county’s prettiest countryside and villages. These include Ide Hill with its village green and views across Bough Beech reservoir and the Weald, Brasted, known for its gorgeous antique shops and Otford, with its lovely central pond and famous duckhouse which won the village ‘Roundabout of the Year’ in 2014. Also worth exploring are Shoreham, Chipstead and Seal.