10 good reasons to visit Sevenoaks, Kent

PUBLISHED: 01:16 05 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:55 20 February 2013

10 good reasons to visit Sevenoaks, Kent

10 good reasons to visit Sevenoaks, Kent

Close to capital and countryside, with a fine choice of shops and places to eat, Sevenoaks celebrates its fantastic annual Literary Festival this month...

Close to capital and countryside, with a fine choiceof shops and places to eat, Sevenoaks celebrates its fantastic annual Literary Festival this month...

Meerkats, otters and birds
Eagle Heights (01322 866577), overlooking Eynsford, is one of the UKs largest bird of prey centres with a collection of 150-200 birds. In the wildlife park youll find everything from cheetahs and meerkats to snakes and short-clawed otters. Try a falconry or animal experience day - and you can even adopt the animals. Theres a caf, aviaries, play areas and a shop, plus face painting and a craft cabin. Free parking.

Spot the Yeti
Riverhill Himalayan gardens (01732 459777) is a historic hillside garden, famous for its rare rhododendrons and azaleas, great views across the Weald, primroses, bluebells, and specimen trees. Activities include building your own secret camp and den, spot the Yeti, climbing into trees to explore plant hunters hideouts, a Himalayan hedge maze and the little Everest viewpoint, from where you can enjoy one of the finest view in Kent. Gift shop and caf.

Arts and music
The Stag Community Arts Centre (01732 450175) was originally the Playhouse theatre, a 1930s-style art deco building with a traditional foyer and grand staircase. It is now a 450-seat theatre with one of the largest stages in the south east. The Plaza Suite is a self-contained area, with its own toilets, bar and stage and can host any kind of event, conference or concert, and the Stag has two digital cinemas that show classic and art films. Entertainment for September includes John Otway (3rd), Letz Zep (10th), Think Floyd (23rd) and two performances on 24 September: Troy Boy, and blues music from Earl Green and the Barcodes.

Sevenoaks rocks
Dryhill Local Nature Reserve (01732 823570) was originally a limestone quarry but for 60 years has been reverting to nature, allowing woodlands, flora and fauna to develop. Its fossils and rocks have made it Kents first geological local nature reserve and geologists come here to study the environmental conditions that existed during the Lower Cretaceous period. Picnic-friendly woodlands.

Wide open spaces
Sevenoaks has a number of areas of common land to explore. Farningham Woods Nature Reserve is an ancient woodland covering a hill to the north of Farningham. Shoreham Woods is the councils largest site, with five different woodlands linked by rolling downland, where you can see bluebells, rare orchids and ancient yew trees. Oxenhill Shaw and Meadow, between Otford and Kemsing, haschalk grassland, shrubs and trees,while Kemsing Downs is high on the North Downs escarpment and enjoys far-reaching views.

Talk to some authors
Sevenoaks Literary Celebration is an annual event, now over a decade old, and organised by Sevenoaks Bookshop (01732 452055), from whom you can buy tickets. The celebration runs from 19 September-

October, and guest speakers are: Rachel Campbell-Johnston (19th) talking about her new biography of Samuel Palmer, TV newsreader Peter Sissons (23rd), John Mullan (24th), Weald Literary Walk (25th) led by Gilly Moysey, Literary Lunch with TV presenter and author Daisy Goodwin (27th), Patricia Lovett (28th), Schools Event with novelist Meg Rosoff (29th), poet and writer Jackie Kay (29th), Biographer Mary Lovell on The Churchills (30th) , Book Lovers Tea with bestselling author Vanora Bennett (1 October), Schools Event with author and historian Christopher Lloyd (4th), researcher Alastair Hazell (4th), and biographer Hilary Spurling on the 5th.

Walk by the water
Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve(01732 456407) is an area of135 acres, with five lakes, ponds, pools and reed beds. See warblers, tits and woodpeckers, goslings, herons and kingfishers, plus a vast range of fungi, plants and insects, including the peacock butterfly. It was an agricultural area crossed by the River Darent, until it was turned into a nature reserve by local doctors James and Jeffrey Harrison, who landscaped the area and planted trees and wetland plants. The Jeffrey Harrison Visitor Centre has displays showing the creation of the reserve and history of the site, a childrens nature trail and refreshments.

Deer in the heart of town
Knole (01732 450608) is in the middle of a medieval deer park and at the core of the towns history. Sevenoaks grew up around the estate, which has been owned by the Sackvilles since Elizabeth 1 gave it to her cousin, Thomas Sackville. You can see 13 staterooms furnished in 1600s style, tapestries of that century, plus paintings by Gainsborough, Van Dyke and Reynolds. Theres also a shop, tearoom and childrens trail, and in Knole Park fallow and sika deer roam freely.

Solar system at Otford
On the outskirts of Sevenoaks, Otford village has a uniquesolar system model, built in 2000by David Smith, which consists ofmodels of the planets depicted by pillars placed all around the village according to their position in the galaxy. Otford Heritage Centre(01959 522384) is a museum with models of Otfords Tudor palace, a 19th-century aviators glider, displays of Roman artefacts, old photos and local artwork, plus a journey through 4,000 years of the villages geology, natural history and archaeology.

Whats in a name
There are some fine 18th-century cottages in Six Bells Lane, and at the southern end of the High Street theres The Old Vicarage (late 1700s), The Chantry (1600s), the Manor House, and St Nicholas church. The Old Market House (1700) is the site of the original market, and its upper storey was used as a corn exchange and court house. Approach the Shambles by passing under an ancient timber beam spanning the road to a cobbled alleyway. Near here Blighs, now a pub restaurant, was once an isolated farmhouse. The Vine cricket ground is the oldest cricket pitch in Britain; here you can see the towns namesake Seven Oaks plus an extra one, planted after the 1902 oaks were destroyed in the 1987 hurricane.

The print version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue ofKent Life.
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