A vibrant town surrounded by rolling green countryside and valleys covered with vineyards, Sevenoaks offers a sublimely Kentish escape.
With its easy rail and road access to the capital city and a leafy atmosphere, Sevenoaks has come to epitomise the essence of the commuter belt in many people’s eyes. This perception is not far from the truth, but far enough away to reveal a wonderful community that cherishes a town with a strong sense of its own history, heritage and identity. However, the leafiness of Sevenoaks is far from a synthetic ‘garden city’ persona, this instead a testament to its wooded countryside that formed the backdrop to a settlement here some nine centuries ago.
It is believed that the area of Sevenoaks was inhabited in ancient times, the first recorded mention being in 1114 AD when a record of local churches listed it as ‘Seovenaca’. Local tradition has it that the name refers to a clump of seven oaks that once stood here. Long gone and since replaced by seven trees taken from Knole Park, ceremoniously planted on the common in 1955, these replacement trees took a terrible hit in the Great Storm of 1987, which left only one of these seven oaks standing. The storm also devastated the trees of Knole’s parkland too, but after extensive replanting, Knole Park is again glorious and today, visitors can visit and take a look inside the magnificent Knole House.
Set amidst extensive parkland, it is one of the largest houses in England, with 365 rooms inside its foursquare structure. The present house stands on the site of a much smaller manor house which was bought by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1456, taken over by Henry VIII in 1532, then given by Elizabeth I to the Sackvilles, who still live in this National Trust property today. Knole House also offers visitors the chance to wander past outstanding collections of tapestries, antique furniture and an extensive art collection, which includes masterpieces by Gainsbrough and Reynolds. On fairer days, visitors can take advantage of the majestic deer park covering some 1,000 acres of rolling countryside with dense beech woodlands and magical hidden dells.
Sevenoaks’ countryside is full of extraordinary historic houses such as this and visitors to the area are spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding which to visit. Ightham Mote is yet another National Trust treasure; a romantic moated manor house with 700 years of history, architecture and stories under one roof, as well as a beautiful garden and parkland to explore. This summer, Ightham Mote will be a great place for families to visit, as they invite you to the special ‘Summer of Tudors’. Until 3 September, visitors can step back in time and into an authentic and fun-filled Tudor Summer, with five weeks of exciting Tudor displays, trails, performances and activities. The Tudor Summer also includes ‘Craft Tuesdays’ at which guests can design dragons, crowns and even a ‘battleship’ in the form of a raft, and a Tudor Festival on 29 and 30 July. This festival is a weekend of interactive historical displays with interactive talks and demonstrations.
As well as historic homes, Sevenoaks countryside offers a further myriad of exciting things to do that celebrate the heritage and identity of Kent. A trip to The Mount Vineyard is a glorious way to absorb this historic part of Kent’s culture, especially in the summer sunshine, with 10 acres under vine producing award-winning still and sparkling wines. Set in the unique microclimate of the Darent Valley, The Mount Vineyard produces gorgeous vintages telling drinkers a story of Kent that goes back centuries. The Mount is open for drinks, meals and private hire bookings, priding itself on being a special hideaway to which guests can escape and take in the surreal valley views of vines, gorgeous wines and great food. Sitting in the vineyard with a glass of sparkling wine and a sharing platter or stone-baked pizza, with nothing but luscious vines and open skies over Shoreham to stare at (including the odd flypast of a Spitfire returning to Biggin Hill), let the peace and golden sunlight of the evenings take your cares away, one sip at a time. For those wanting to delve a little deeper into Kent’s wine culture, tastings can also be booked at The Mount.
For those looking to indulge in a further taste of Kent, then The Mount Vineyard’s pub, The Samuel Palmer in the pretty village of Shoreham is the perfect place. A charming 15th-century pub hidden away in picturesque surroundings yet minutes from Sevenoaks itself, diners can delight in a taste of The Garden of England through a beautiful seasonal menu. Freshly prepared on the premises with produce from local suppliers, dishes are certain to be mouthwatering and leave diners feeling contentedly full. Main courses consist of Kentish dishes such as roast chicken breast with Kentish asparagus, wild garlic pomme anna, mushroom puree and king oyster, while desserts are set to satisfy a sweet tooth with delights such as caramelised buttermilk tart with pink grapefruit sorbet and lemon verbena. When it comes to drinks, many of the ales are locally brewed and the wines are individually chosen to complement each dish, including those from The Mount Vineyard.
After a long day exploring the beautiful countryside and all it has to offer, a lovely place to rest your head will be just what you need to ensure any trip to Sevenoaks continues to be wonderful. Donnington Manor Hotel is the ideal place at which to do just this. A 15th-century manor house where manicured gardens lead to a welcoming and pristinely presented Tudor property, the hotel offers style and service that exceed its four-star status. Just 10 minutes from Sevenoaks and 30 minutes from London by car, the hotel is a fusion of British heritage and contemporary style, beautifully offset by touches of European flair in their own restaurant. Artwork peppers the walls and gardens, while opulent rooms with sumptuous beds promise a dreamy night’s sleep. Careful attention to detail and a personalised approach to hospitality will ensure your stay is just as smooth and enjoyable as it is memorable.
As you are bound to wake up feeling refreshed and re-energised after a stay here, a trip into town to explore its vibrant array of shops, architecture and history is surely on the cards. Boutique shops make Sevenoaks a fabulous place to purchase gifts, including special pieces from Micallef Jewellers. A cherished Kent family jeweller since first opening in 1982, Micallef offers an extensive range of beautifully crafted fine jewellery from gemstone necklaces and sterling silver pieces to diamond engagement rings and wedding rings. At the heart of Micallef Jewellers is their in-house workshop, at which they create bespoke items as well as repair and restore old jewellery. Mr Micallef is a Hatton-Garden-trained jeweller with over 40 years’ experience in traditional jewellery skills and is trusted and cherished by both Kent locals and visitors from further afield. A must for anyone looking to purchase a special piece of jewellery or a lovely memento of their trip to Sevenoaks.
As well as bespoke gifts such as jewellery, Sevenoaks is also home to Coblands Garden Centre, a different but just as loved type of shopping! Whether you’re stocking up on flowering beauties to make your garden gorgeous this summer, or simply having a mooch round for inspiration then a visit to Coblands is a must – serious gardener or otherwise. Supplying gardeners since 1963 when it was a plant nursery for trade customers, Coblands’ extensive range of quality plants has since grown, and are now sourced from multiple UK growers plus their own nurseries, supplemented by a selected group of continental growers. Expect an ever-increasing range of perennials, shrubs, trees and specimen plants. Their Cornflower Café is open every day, and here you can enjoy drinks, sandwiches, pies, jacket potatoes and scrumptious cakes amongst the plants and flowers in the glasshouse. If you need a place to stop after a walk with your dogs in the area, the Cornflower Café is perfect for resting weary paws too.
Sevenoaks upon an evening continues to be a delightful spot with plenty of buzzy bars and fabulous places to eat. Sevenoaks’ restaurant repertoire includes the spectacular Number Eight, sitting stylishly on the corner of a weatherboarded street in the town. Number Eight emits an air of cool, discreet confidence which effortlessly entices discerning diners in for an evening meal or indulgent lunch. Owned and run by chef and restaurateur Stuart Gillies and his wife Cecilia, their menu is a mix of modern European cuisine and traditional British fare, served in a relaxed atmosphere. A classic cosy corner bistro space with a large vibrant bar offering cocktails, draft beers and an eclectic wine selection, the á la carte menu changes regularly as does the weekly changing set menu of seasonal classics. Expect gastronomic delights such as grilled Rye Bay scallops with nduja sweetcorn and brioche crumb sitting exquisitely in their fan-shaped shells. Other delicate small plates include pan-fried Scottish salmon with cauliflower puree and caper and raisin dressing laid before the diner in exquisite artistic simplicity.
The town’s top dining spots don’t stop there either. Read our full review of Branded Steaks on page 110 and take a visit to sample supreme cuts alongside delectable cocktails and more from the brasserie-style menu. During the day, Sevenoaks has plenty of cute cafés and coffee shops to stop by at too including Malabar Coffee, a delightful independent establishment heralded for their quality roasts and fresh pastries and cakes. Malabar Coffee can also be found at Sevenoaks’ Riverhill Himalayan Gardens. Renowned for its beautiful and historic landscape, flowers and other plants, Riverhill also has expansive views across the Weald of Kent and is a paradisiacal place to spend the day. Home to the Rogers family since 1840, these family run gardens offer visitors space to explore, awe-inspiring gardens to admire and wonderful restoration stories to be enthralled by. Riverhill also runs unusually creative events for all generations, which this month include craft events such as a hand-tied flower bouquet workshop and a willow weaving basketry workshop. This summer also welcomes outdoor yoga to Riverhill, run by Danielle from The Journey Yoga Studio.
For those looking to take part in a little more outdoor action, Sevenoaks is home to many golf courses with beautiful surroundings and scenery, these sweeping landscapes and extensive views providing the perfect context for golf heaven. While a lot of the clubs are private, there are quite a few which offer pay and play options, or visitor days each week. Pay and play golfing experiences include Lullingstone Park Golf Course and The Darenth, which are both situated in the stunning landscape of the Darent Valley, with the clear chalk stream Darent River running nearby and the North Downs rising in the distance. Pedham Place Golf Course is also a pay and play only a short taxi ride from Swanley station.
For those looking for activities on the water instead, for a land-bound area of Kent, Sevenoaks has quite a few options for water sports. Longford Lake in Chipstead offers open water swimming and stand-up paddleboarding in a truly picturesque setting, with plenty of coaching available. There is a great sailing club at Longford Lake too, Chipstead Sailing Club, which offers dinghy classes, RYA Training Courses (sailing and powerboats), Junior and Youth training and racing, radio sailing and plenty of social events. Bough Beech Sailing Club also offers club sailing, regattas, radio sailing, windsurfing, paddleboarding and plenty of courses in all of this at one of the largest and most beautiful inland sailing waters in the South East. There is a sheltered boat park with easy access to the water and a clubhouse with hot meals, drinks and snacks at the weekend.
For those who fancy a more leisurely river trip up the Medway into the Eden Valley, check Tonbridge River Trips who offer electric power launches as well as row boats, not to mention special wildlife trips, picnics, guided tours and more.