The good life

Kent Life - - Art Life - WORDS: Caro­line Read PIC­TURES: Manu Palomeque

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

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