Town Spotlight on Sevenoaks
Sevenoaks is the perfect commuter town; the trains run directly to London, taking around half an hour from the fifth busiest station in Kent, and the M25, M20 and A2/M2 are all mere minutes from the centre. Yet the area around Sevenoaks itself is idyllic countryside, comprising of a number of parks and green spaces, historic buildings, and plenty of wildlife. Sevenoaks has always been a favourite for families, offering something for all ages and all interests, and being located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the North Downs makes it all the more special.
by Lisamarie Lamb
History in Brief
In 800 AD, Sevenoaks was known as Seouenaca, meaning just what it does today – seven oaks. These oaks were to be found on the area now known as The Vine, and these trees and the town’s small chapel were practically all there was to see. The chapel became synonymous with the town, and was also named Seouenaca. This chapel was a place of sanctuary for many pilgrims, and the town became a resting place not only for the weary but for the sick too – two hospices grew up in the town to take in ill and dying travellers.
Not much else is known about the town between this first mention (apart from it becoming a market town) until 1432, when William Sevenoke (or Sennoke) – who had been found on the steps of the chapel, and was raised by the town, taking its name for his own – founded the now world-renowned Sevenoaks School, along with the adjacent alms houses.
Sevenoke became mayor of London (interestingly, he was Dick Whittington’s predecessor), but never forgot where his life began, and the school was to thank the people and the town for his start in life. Not long after this, the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier, built Knole House in the large estate he had bought in 1456, and the house – as well as the beautiful park – is still enjoyed by Sevenoaks’ residents today.
Things to Do
The Stag Theatre – This community arts centre, proudly looked after by Sevenoaks’ locals, is a combined cinema and theatre, and boasts a long history of enticing the most famous and interesting of performers to grace its stage. With two screens showing the latest blockbusters, a café, and exhibition space for talks, meetings, and indoor markets amongst other things, this is a great example of how community spirit can create something wonderful.
Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve – Just outside of the town itself is the stunning Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. This tranquil, lovely spot is perfect for taking a stroll on a sunny day (or not so sunny day if the mood strikes), meandering along the flat stretches of pathway. There are many events that take place here, including listening to the dawn chorus and bat walks. Entrance is free (although donations are welcome), and there is a small shop, museum, and snack hut.
Emmetts Garden – Found in Ide Hill, just minutes from the town centre, Emmetts Garden boasts six acres of gorgeous plants, shrubs, and lawns, and is a wonderful way to while away the time, enjoying the beauty that man and nature combined can bring to the world.
Riverhill Himalayan Gardens – A treat for the whole family, this fantastically fun garden is full of excitement from world-class British sculpture, links with Darwin, den building, secret pathways, superb views over the Downs, and of course the elusive yeti! Try to spot him as you enjoy the garden. Afterwards, you can take tea in the Riverhill Café – everything is homemade and the ingredients are locally sourced.
Sevenoaks has a wealth of restaurants to choose from, each one catering to your personal tastes and giving you a memorable experience.
The Vine Restaurant – Located directly opposite the famous Vine Cricket Ground and with a lovely conservatory addition to the building, The Vine Restaurant serves delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Food such as lobster thermidor tartlets, eggs Benedict, and fresh dressed crab with fries adorn the menu, and the Sunday roast here is a special treat!
Giggling Squid – The Giggling Squid offers simple, rustic Thai food that is sumptuous, fresh, and vibrant. With everything cooked from scratch by authentic Thai chefs, your meal here will always be something to look forward to. Food includes Thai ‘tapas’, Thai steamed mussels, prawn ma kham, pad cha, and paneang curry amongst many other mouth-watering dishes.
Côte Brasserie – Cote Brasserie has everyone anyone could want for a good night out – exceptional food, friendly service, and a relaxed atmosphere. With attention being paid not only to the food but to the interior design of the dining room as well, you can feel well fed and comfortable; a powerful combination. Food includes asparagus risotto, pan roasted pork belly, tuna carpaccio, and a decadent chocolate fondant.
Rafferty’s Café – “Simple, fresh food at its best” is how Rafferty’s describes its menu, and it couldn’t be more accurate. With dishes including filling breakfasts (pancakes with various toppings, and smoked salmon bruschetta, for example); fabulous brunch and lunch meals (such as chicken and chorizo ciabatta and lemon orzo pasta salad); a children’s menu (sausage sandwiches, beans on toast, and much more), and hot drinks including perfectly roasted coffees, Rafferty’s is a great place to go for some ‘me’ time.
Sevenoaks – as its history suggests – is and always has been a town that its residents adore and care for. That’s why there are a number of excellent annual events put on for everyone to enjoy.
The Sevenoaks Summer Festival // Jun-Jul
This two-week festival celebrates the many different performing and visual arts around the town, and includes celebrity events and concerts. It always begins on the nearest Saturday to 21st June (Midsummer’s Day) and includes singing, dancing, acting, and acrobatics to name just a few of the exciting treats on offer.
Sevenoaks Literary Celebration // Sep-Oct
Kent has always attracted the literary crowd, and Sevenoaks and the surrounding areas have been home to many famous authors including W. H. Davies, Edward Thomas, and of course Vita Sackville-West. The Sevenoaks Literary Celebration is an amalgam of talks and events, and luminaries such as Penelope Lively, Jeffrey Archer, Jenny Uglow, and Hilary Mantel have all attended in the past.
Sevenoaks Fireworks // Nov
Presented by the Sevenoaks Round Table, the Sevenoaks fireworks display is one of the best in the whole of the south east. With a torchlight procession through the high street to begin, and then choreographed fireworks, as well as stalls and plenty of food, this is a great night.
Owned today by the Sackville family (who still live in the house), the National Trust manage the building and grounds and it is open for everyone to visit. With a long, varied history dating back to 1456, Knole has famously been the home of Henry VIII (who took it from Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury). It passed to the Sackville family in 1566, when Elizabeth I gave it to her cousin, Thomas Sackville. It is what is known as a ‘calendar house’ as it has 365 rooms (as well as 52 staircases, 12 entrances, and seven courtyards).
Knole Park is a 1,000-acre area of parkland that incorporates the magnificent Knole House. There are open spaces and woods too, and has been designated a site of special scientific interest. Deer roam freely here, along with many other creatures. Come for a stroll, a jog, to play with the children, or a leisurely romantic picnic. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole
Did You Know?
The Vine Cricket Ground dates back to 1773, and is one of the oldest cricket grounds in the country. It is also the the first ground at which cricket was played with three stumps rather than two.