Town Spotlight on Orpington
Orpington, part of the London Borough of Bromley and one of the 35 major centres of Greater London, is still completely Kentish in its history and its inhabitants. Surrounded by orchards, hop fields, and farmland, Orpington is a hub of activity and commerce with fantastic links into both London and the rest of Kent, allowing those who live there to commute in comfort, and those who wish to visit to get there with ease.
by Lisamarie Lamb
History in Brief
The first settlers in the area now known as Orpington were Romans, who inhabited Crofton Roman Villa from AD140 to AD400. During this time, the farmed land became rich and fertile; in fact, by 862, it was so prized that it became a reward to be given away by the King of Wessex, Ethelbert, and it was Dryhtwald, his first minister, who received it.
In 1032, the land belonged to Orpedingetune who gave his farm (known as Orped’s Farm, which is where we get the name Orpington from) to Christ Church Priory in Canterbury. From then on there was competition between Orpington and neighbouring St Mary Cray, as to which area was more important with regards to farming and produce. The ‘argument’ continued well into the 19th century until Orpington’s railway was built in 1868 (this was later improved and enlarged in 1904). At this point, along with new shops and buildings, Orpington became a town, and St Mary Cray became a self-contained village.
Things to Do
Orpington has so much going on that there is never a dull moment; no matter what your tastes and hobbies, you will find something to keep you occupied in this vibrant part of Kent.
Down House: Home of Charles Darwin
Down House is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the South East, and it’s not hard to see why. Fascinating displays and exhibits show how Charles Darwin was influenced and impressed with the world around him. From the study where the great man wrote On the Origin of Species to the large gardens that gave him many scientific ideas, as well as a wonderful interactive tour narrated by David Attenborough, you will be able to get a glimpse of Darwin himself.
Crofton Roman Villa
Crofton Roman Villa is the site of the first settlement in Orpington, and is hugely important in both historical and anthropological circles. It was occupied for 260 years between AD140 and AD400, and it’s now possible to visit the remains of this 200-room farmhouse. There are 10 rooms still visible, and there is even evidence of Roman under-floor heating. On the first Sunday of every month, there is a guided tour by an expert archaeologist, and the ‘touch table’ offers real Roman artefacts that can be examined and even handled.
Bromley Ski & Snowboard Centre
Do you want some exercise that’s fun and fresh? Whether you fancy trying something new or you’re a skier who can’t wait to get back on the slopes, the Bromley Ski & Snowboard Centre is for you. Located in Orpington, it is easy to access from the main roads, and offers great value for money when it comes to your winter sports fix. There are classes for all, no matter what experience you have (even if you have none), children’s sessions, party organisers, and the centre is open late from 2pm until 10pm Monday to Friday. Weekend times are from 10am to 5pm.
Fast and exciting, paintball is an excellent way to enjoy time with friends and family whilst getting some exercise at the same time! From teambuilding to stag dos and everything in between, Delta Force offers a combat zone to suit your occasion. Delta Force is set in 30 acres of woodland, and there are five different game zones to play in including the Vietcong village, the D-Day Landings zone, and Castle Wallenberg. Here, a full day of fun and inclusive excellent lunch is guaranteed – all you have to do now is win!
High Elms Country Park
This 250-acre park and 150-acre golf course forms the High Elms Estate, which is made up of woodland, a nature centre with onsite café, ice well, formal gardens, and wildflower meadows. High Elms is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and nature reserve, which makes it a very special place to visit on a day out. Why not follow the nature trail, or the audio trail for younger visitors? What about coming to the Walking for Health event on a Tuesday, or discovering more in the well-designed environmental education building? This beautiful place certainly deserves more than just a passing glance.
There’s plenty to choose from in Orpington when it comes to picking a great place to eat!
With restaurants in nearby Locksbottom and Petts Wood, Cyprianis is not just your run-of-the-mill Mediterranean restaurant chain. The brainchild of well-known Kent restaurateur, Nick Constantine, Cyprianis prides itself on offering a wide range of dishes from classic Cypriot cuisine through to house specialities, breakfast, Sunday lunch, and a gourmet Italian night. In addition, Nick and the team are wholly committed to using the highest quality produce from trusted and sustainable sources.
Michelin-starred chef, Andrew McLeish, is the master behind the exceptional dishes on offer at Chapter One in Locksbottom, just outside Orpington. Here you can enjoy a sumptuous lunch or dinner, excellent wines, and exciting cocktails. From the jugged hare through to the roasted leg of partridge and peanut and chocolate tart, you’ll enjoy every bite. And with the attentive staff and comfortable atmosphere in the restaurant, you can really make the most of your time there.
With twice-Michelin starred chef, restaurateur and TV personality, Atul Kochhar, at the helm, it’s little wonder Indian Essence is a great success. Situated in the heart of nearby Petts Wood, this award-winning eatery celebrates the best of traditional Indian cuisine combined with Kochhar’s contemporary approach. Proudly awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2015, this restaurant is certainly one to watch – and even more so, one to visit.
Ephesus Mediterranean Grill and Meze Bar
For great value, great tasting food, this is the place to go in Orpington. The chef here offers a fabulous combination of Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine, which is delicious and filling. Choose from such delicacies as lahmacun (a Turkish take on pizza with minced lamb); dolma (stuffed vine leaves); spicy tiger prawns; kleftiko and much, much more. From the express lunch menu to the à la carte, you can pick the dishes that suit you. And on certain nights, you can enjoy a belly dancing show too!
Boasting a modern, spacious décor, and a varied range of traditional and contemporary Indian cuisine, this high street haunt ticks all the boxes when it comes to local dining.
Orpington offers a wealth of annual events to enjoy throughout the year. Here are just a few of the highlights:
Beer and Cider Festival // February
With beers, ales, ciders, and perries from around the county and beyond, the Orpington Beer and Cider Festival is a must-visit for those who enjoy their tipple. CAMRA approved, and boasting a huge range of different drinks to sample, this fun, convivial, interesting weekend is well worth stopping by.
The Big O Festival // July
This two-day festival is all about ‘suburbia through the decades’. With art, fashion, and music from the 50s to the 80s, it is sure to be a fun and fascinating trip down memory lane.
Orpington Festival of Dance // October
This stage dancing festival is open to all ages, and includes ballet, tap, and modern dance. The festival has been running for 25 years, and has attracted dancers from across the country to attend and to go for gold. There are prizes to be won, which include a heat for the IDTA Miss Dance and Dance Master competitions.
The Walnuts Shopping Centre can be found in the middle of Orpington High Street, and it contains everything you might need under one roof. With plenty of parking, shops, cafés and restaurants, plus access to the rest of Orpington right on its doorstep, this is a great place to start your exploration. You can also find out all about the redevelopment of Orpington here, and on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays it hosts a market too. www.thewalnutsshoppingcentre.com
Did You Know?
The Orpington breed of chicken is named after the town itself, and was bred by William Cook in 1886.