6 things we love about Sevenoaks

Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve

Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve is a lovely spot for a wander - Credit: Anna Lambert

This west Kent town’s reputation speaks for itself, with good schools, great places to eat out and one of the quickest commutes into London

1 Best place to live

Repeatedly named one of the best places to live in the country, it’s an accolade that the people of Sevenoaks, known as Sennockians, are understandably proud of. The Sunday Times’ annual list frequently includes it as one of its top ten, with judges looking at everything from schools, culture, green spaces and transport links to broadband speeds and the health of the high street. And on all of these things and more, this place scores very highly. Commuting time has always been one of the biggest draws when it comes to families moving here. The cutting edge Sevenoaks Station is on the mainline and at just 22 miles from Charing Cross can take you there in 35 minutes. The town also has a number of outstanding schools, including the recent ‘annexes’ which allowed grammar schools from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells to open satellite sites here, which had previously been without a local grammar option.

2 Historic parkland

Sevenoaks, UK - April 11, 2015. Old english mansion in Sevenoaks (started XV century) with huge par

Knole, with its magnificent house and deer-filled parkland, is at the very heart of Sevenoaks - Credit: Getty Images

It’s a rare treat to be able to stroll from the shops and restaurants of a town’s high street to the enormous grounds of a stately home. Open to the public, the 1000 acres of Knole Park are so ancient they predate the town itself. They even predate historic Knole House at their centre. It was built inside the already established hunting grounds, originally as a country manor and later as an archbishop’s palace in the 15th century. Owned by the Crown for a time, it became a favourite deer hunting spot for Henry VIII, and was later gifted to the Sackville family. Their descendants still own it today, while the National Trust manages the grounds and part of the house. There’s a lovely new café, shop, bookshop and visitor centre, and collections of furniture and artefacts are spread across state rooms and galleries. But it’s the great outdoors that most people come here to enjoy, with footpaths, woods, a golf course and its famous herds of deer.

3 Hit of a high street

Bligh's Meadow

Plenty of upmarket boutiques and high-street names to explore in Bligh's Meadow - Credit: Anna Lambert

Shopping in this town is mostly spread across the High Street and London Road, which runs parallel to it, along with the pedestrian lanes that run between the two. Strolling around here you’ll notice many of the big brands, like Marks & Spencer and Oliver Bonas, but it’s evenly matched by local independents including the excellent Danish Collection and Vintage Attic Sevenoaks. Along with the open air Bligh’s Meadow shopping centre, where there’s everything from Seasalt and Whistles to the delightful Dulce’s Patisserie and the new Kazoku sushi restaurant, it’s a compact town centre with everything within an easy walk. One of our favourite places is Sevenoaks Bookshop, which was crowned the UK and Ireland Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards last year. Bought by Fleur Sinclair, previously a bookseller at the shop, in 2015, it’s gone from strength to strength, holding all sorts of literary events throughout the year and even expanding into the neighbouring unit recently.

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4 Arts and culture

The Stag, Sevenoaks

The Stag shows the latest films as well as playing host to amateur and touring stage productions - Credit: Anna Lambert

With a troubled past that saw it privately owned and run into the ground on more than one occasion, The Stag theatre and arts centre was given a new lease of life when its management was taken over by the local town council in 2008. Sadly it faced trying times again, being forced to close its doors during the lockdowns over the past two years. But the community rallied together to raise enough funds to keep it afloat and it was one of the first theatres in Kent to reopen. A rather striking 1930s Art Deco building, originally The Majestic Cinema, its large theatre brings all sorts of shows to the town throughout the year, with a spectacular pantomime every December. And that’s not all. This theatre also boasts a two-screen state-of-the-art digital cinema so Sennockians can see the latest blockbusters without having to drive to an out-of-town multiplex.

5 Eating out

The George & Dragon

The George & Dragon pub in the nearby village of Chipstead has long enjoyed a great reputation among locals - Credit: Anna Lambert

Sevenoaks has a very healthy café and restaurant scene, with everything from Wagamama, Côte Brasserie and Bill’s to independent favourites like Life on High, Darcey's Kitchen and Nonna Cappuccini's. Fine dining is provided by the new Number Eight restaurant on London Road. Owned by chef Stuart Gillies, its Mediterranean-inspired small plates and sophisticated interior have been attracting a great deal of attention. But it’s a pub in the nearby village of Chipstead that gets the best reviews, time and time again. The George & Dragon’s mix of cosy, old-world charm and great food have earned the 16th Century coaching inn many admirers over the years – and its garden is beautiful in the summer.

6 Green and pleasant

When it comes to gardens, parks and countryside, this town has it all. Surrounded by rural villages, most of which offer great walks and a country pub or two, there’s much more than Knole Park if you’re looking to enjoy some verdant views. Just outside the town there’s Riverhill Gardens, famously the family home of Victorian plant hunter John Rogers and retaining much of his original, Himalayan-themed planting. Built on a steep hill, there’s lots to do and see, including excellent bluebell woods at this time of year and a lookout point so high it’s referred to as ‘Little Everest’ – with one of the best views across the Weald you’re likely to see (and see Leigh Clapp's feature on gardens to visit this issue for more on Riverhill). But if you want to visit something altogether wilder, there’s Kent Wildlife Trust’s flagship nature reserve on Bradbourne Vale Road. Built in 1956, it was the first example of the development of former gravel pits for nature conservation in the country. With lakes, footpaths and all sorts of habitats for birds and other wildlife, it’s been earmarked for change too – there are plans to build a new, state-of-the-art visitor centre.