Kent Life - - Town Life: Chislehurst - WORDS: Caro­line Read PIC­TURES: Manu Palomeque

It may have been swal­lowed up by Greater Lon­don, but it still feels more like an idyl­lic Ken­tish vil­lage


Chisle­hurst Caves started out as chalk and flint mines, first ex­ca­vated around 800 years ago. Later the un­der­ground labyrinth was used as a huge war­time air raid shel­ter and then as a live mu­sic venue, with leg­endary per­for­mances by bands in­clud­ing Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones in the ‘60s and ‘70s. These days, vis­i­tors are led on en­ter­tain­ing tours of the tun­nels by lamp­light and along the way hear tales from the site’s long and var­ied past.


Over­look­ing the val­ley of the River Cray is Scad­bury Park Na­ture Re­serve – 300 acres of stun­ning coun­try­side. Once the es­tate of the Wals­ing­ham fam­ily, and Lords of the Manor of Chisle­hurst, it is now a na­ture re­serve with a cir­cu­lar trail and foot­paths lead­ing through an­cient wood­land and mead­ows and past the ro­man­tic ru­ins of Scad­bury Manor.


Chisle­hurst is a great place to wine and dine, with plenty of in­de­pen­dents. Try out The Im­pe­rial Arms, Denny’s Seafood, Thai­dine, The Thyme and Annabel’s II shop and tea room. And don’t miss Royal Parade, an el­e­gant row of shops built in the 1860s at the cen­tre of the Com­mons. Hav­ing achieved royal sta­tus in 1876, in recog­ni­tion of Napoleon III, it’s an at­trac­tive home for a num­ber of shops and busi­nesses, with restau­rants in­clud­ing Due Amici, Wal­nuts Café Bistro, The Ben­gal Lancer and Pizza Ex­press.


Al­though pedes­tri­ans en­joy un­lim­ited right of ac­cess, Chisle­hurst Com­mons are pri­vately owned and main­tained by a board of trustees. Made up of 180 acres of woods, grass­land, heath­land and ponds in and around the town, they pro­vide a home for sev­eral rare species of plants as well as birds, rep­tiles, am­phib­ians and small mam­mals. There are three main ar­eas: by the par­ish church; around the cricket ground and Mill Place; and the largest sec­tion, which starts at Cam­den Place.


Napoleon III, de­posed Em­peror of France, his wife Em­press Eu­ge­nie and their son lived in Chisle­hurst af­ter they fled from France in the 1870s. The fam­ily stayed at Cam­den Place, which was briefly buzzing with diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity; it’s now the club­house for Chisle­hurst Golf Club. Napoleon was buried in St Mary’s Church, but 15 years later his re­mains were moved to an abbey in Farn­bor­ough.


Made up of 300 open spa­ces of wood­land, com­mons, parks and re­cre­ation grounds, all linked by a 50-mile walk­ing net­work, the Green Chain Walk is one of Greater Lon­don’s most in­ter­est­ing long-dis­tance walks. With Chisle­hurst as one start­ing point and Dul­wich as the other, it’s pos­si­ble to walk all the way to the Thames river­side at Wool­wich, Thames­mead or Erith.


If you’re in Chisle­hurst for the day, you’re within strik­ing dis­tance of one of the south-east’s big­gest fam­ily golf cen­tres. Sid­cup Fam­ily Golf has a re­cently re­fur­bished 46-bay flood­lit driv­ing range, a Mr Mul­li­gan’s Dino Golf ad­ven­ture cen­tre, a golf shop and a cof­fee shop. Golf lessons for all ages and group classes or in­di­vid­ual tu­ition through­out the year.


St Nicholas Church con­tains Scad­bury Chapel, link­ing the church with the Wals­ing­ham fam­ily and later the Lords of the Manor. Many of these im­por­tant res­i­dents of Chisle­hurst were in­terred here. Ro­man Catholic St Mary’s Church was built in 1854 and was where the ex­iled Napoleon III was buried in 1873, joined six years later by his son.


Chisle­hurst has kept its friendly vil­lage feel, with plenty of reg­u­lar com­mu­nity events. June sees free mu­sic fes­ti­val Chisle­hurst Rocks at Walden Re­cre­ation Ground and the Ro­tary Club’s Sum­mer Fair on the Com­mons, also the venue for open-air cin­ema events in July. Still to come this year is the an­nual fire­works spec­tac­u­lar on 3 Novem­ber at Chisle­hurst Re­cre­ation Ground.


Ten min­utes away by car is one of English Her­itage’s gems. Part Art Deco show­piece and part Tu­dor royal res­i­dence, Eltham Palace is where Henry VIII grew up. The orig­i­nal palace was given to Ed­ward II in 1305 by the arch­bishop of Durham but was al­most en­tirely re­built in the 1930s by mil­lion­aire Stephen Cour­tauld and his wife.

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