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 — something that can be done in spectacular fashion at the nearby Riverhill Himalayan Gardens. 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.
For a caffeine kick, hit up Malabar Coffee — they take their hot drinks seriously, but also serve milkshakes and smoothies, along with toasties, cakes and other snacks. Dulce's Patisserie, tucked away down the back lanes of Bligh's, is favourite of ours. Swing by for sweet treats and special occasions — macarons are a speciality. Local mini-chain Basil has found itself a spot in the town centre, and Bigs Dessert Parlour is a recent addition to the high street, serving up ice cream, shakes and waffles late into the evening.
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 alongside Six Bells Lane. 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.
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
If you can arrive by car rather than train (and Sevenoaks is right next to the M25), you can visit more of the surrounding area, including lavender fields, Roman villas and castles.
Sevenoaks is less than 30 minutes by direct train from London Bridge. Check out these other things to do in Kent, including the stunning Hever Castle, and an intriguing, teapot-obsessed island, as well as the local towns of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Our big map of day trips has 150 ideas for days out near London.