The good life
A popular choice for commuters, Sevenoaks has history, culture, a thriving high street and a reputation for being one of the best places to live in the country
T he original seven trees from which this pretty town took its name are long gone, but oak is still at the heart of Sevenoaks.
From town signs featuring oak leaves and acorns, to a group of trees in pride of place at the Vine Cricket Ground, you don’t have to look far to find a reference.
And it’s right that the symbol of this affluent town should be a green and leafy one. It is, after all, an idyllic Kentish town surrounded by countryside and a favourite of commuters in search of the good life.
The history of Sevenoaks is closely linked to that of its biggest attraction and this month’s cover star – Knole. The ancient estate is set so close to the centre of town that you can stroll from the High Street to the 1,000-acre deer park in a matter of minutes. Once a royal hunting ground, frequented by Henry VIII, the stately home at its centre was built in 1455 and was owned by several Archbishops until Thomas Sackville bought it in 1604.
All these years later and the house – alleged to be the largest in the UK and boasting a room for every day of the year – is still occupied by the Sackville family, although it is now managed by the National Trust.
Its most famous resident was poet, novelist and gardener Vita Sackville
West who, although most often linked to Sissinghurst, was born at Knole in 1892, grew up there and was even married in its chapel. Her love of it led her to write a history of the house and her family, Knole and the Sackvilles. Last year it underwent a massive renovation and featured in an episode of Channel 5’s Secrets of the National Trust. See also page 55.
Nearby is another piece of Sevenoaks’ history. Sevenoaks School was founded in 1432 and is thought to be the oldest secular school in England. Further historic places of note include St Nicholas Church. Mainly dating from the 13th and 15th centuries, its most famous clergyman was poet John Donne, who was rector there between 1616 and 1631. Sevenoaks even has a cricket ground of historical significance; The Vine is thought to be the oldest in existence.
Attractions in Sevenoaks include
Riverhill Himayalan Gardens, the enchanting grounds of Riverhill House, which were originally laid out by botanist John Rogers in 1842. Today Riverhill offers peaceful gardens to explore and is famed both for its view across The Weald, its excellent bluebell walks in spring and for its ‘yeti hunts’ during school holidays.
The town also benefits from a central arts centre, The Stag, which has both cinema and theatre facilities. Each Christmas it hosts the Sevenoaks Panto, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with Dick Whittington.
Sevenoaks is surrounded by pristine Kentish countryside. Close by are places like Otford, famous for its pretty pond, Eynsford, home of Eagle Heights Wildlife Foundation, Shoreham, known for its lavender fields in summer and Lullingstone – which boasts a country park, a Roman villa and the World Gardens at Lullingstone Castle. Tom Hart Dyke is heir to the Estate and is the 20th generation of the Hart Dykes to live at Lullingstone Castle.
Best of all, this slice of country life is all so temptingly close to London. One of Kent’s commuter hotspots, it’s just a 25-minute journey into London by train, and a quick drive to join the M25.
Picturesque charm of Six Bells Lane