Sevenoaks. Sounds bucolic doesn't it. Well, you can shred that image right away; the original seven trees in Knole Park are long gone, and six of their seven replacements at the Vine Cricket Club were ripped brutally from their eponymous home in the Great Storm of 1987. Cheers, Michael Fish.
Despite its arboreal credentials (or lack thereof — although we wouldn't go as far as describing it as a "one-horse town where someone has shot the horse"), the Kent town of Sevenoaks is worth a trip, being less than 30 minutes out of London Bridge on the train.
First things first; they love a hill around these parts. The town centre itself is built on the top of a hill designed, we like to think, to allow its residents to look down on the surrounding parts of Kent. If you're arriving by train, be prepared to trek up a mini-mountain before you even get to the town centre. Once you're there, there's all this to do:
Visit Knole Park
The main attraction is Knole Park and House, a National Trust property and formerly an archbishop's palace. You may have heard of it. Alan Titchmarsh went poking around in the house's innards for Channel 5 in 2017. The house is home to artworks by the likes of Reynolds, Gainsborough and Van Dyck. For many though, the highlight is the herds of deer that roam wild in the parkland surrounding the house.
The Beatles filmed videos for Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever in Knole Park.
Admire the architecture and street art
The high street and town centre is a real mish-mash of architectural styles. Look out for Sevenoaks Society listed building plaques — in some parts of town, it seems almost every building has one.
Take the time to wander the back alleys around The Shambles for some impressive art detailing the area's history as a market town.
If you're having London withdrawal symptoms by this point, fear not. You're only 23 miles from Southwark, apparently.
That's not the only arty offerings in the town. A few ghost signs linger high up on the walls, including this one referring to the Young Women's Christian Association Home of Rest & Institute, on London Road:
Just around the corner, outside Bill's restaurant, look out for this youthful statue. It marks the site where Lady Boswell's School, a local primary school, was originally established.
The school is now located a few hundred metres away on the edge of Knole Park.
Where to eat and drink
Until recently, Sevenoaks was a bit of a wasteland for independent eateries, mainly dominated by the chains. While Wagamama, Pizza Express, Costa, Bill's, Zizzi and Prezzo are all still present (and Wetherspoons is named The Sennockian, the name given to people from Sevenoaks), more independent places are springing up.
Top of our list is Eatnmess cake shop, ideal for those with a sweet tooth. Seating is limited, but do swing by for a takeaway cupcake if you have time. If it's savoury you're after, Brunch@73, just a few doors down, offers salads, paninis and other light lunches.
Sevenoaks isn't short of a coffee shop. For character, Otto's coffee house, situated in one of the old-fashioned, leaning buildings at the south end of the high street, is bigger than it looks. Supper clubs are held on a regular basis, but if you're hoping for a coffee and a sit down, time your visit right, as the place is often swarmed with teenagers from nearby Sevenoaks School.
For somewhere that feels a bit secret, step inside Sevenoaks Bookshop where you'll find a tiny tea room (just three tables) serving coffee and homemade cake among the books.
Wander through beautiful gardens
The main town centre is sandwiched between two beautiful , if petite, gardens, ideal for a sit-down or a picnic on sunny days.
The Vine Cricket Club is fringed by a small, paved garden complete with benches, flowerbeds, and a bridged fish pond. It's not huge, and in winter can appear quite bleak, but in summer you'll be fighting for a bench or a place on the grass. On our most recent visit, a phone box could be seen recuperating, perhaps from a heavy night out.
To the south of the town, a smaller park peeks out next to Otto's. Initially it seems like a tiny space — a couple of benches and an ornamental well — but peer through those trees and a further, more secluded, part of the park will reveal itself to you.
Once you've recuperated, take time to wander the area around the park. You'd be hard-pushed to find a more Kentish street than the row of cottages sitting on the steep, cobbled hill of Six Bells Lane that runs alongside the park.
A time machine was born here
Just a five minute walk from Sevenoaks station, on Eardley Road, is the house that H.G. Wells lived in while writing his novel The Time Machine. It's marked by a blue plaque.
Visit a yeti
To the south of the town centre you'll find Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, set on a hillside with fantastic views over the Kent countryside. You'll need a car to get here from the town centre. It's a family friendly attraction with gardens to explore, a sculpture trail, a cafe, and a resident yeti to look out for.
Get a proper dose of Kent