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A weekend in Sevenoaks

PUBLISHED: 13:51 24 August 2009 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013

Sevenoaks

Sevenoaks

With beautiful architecture, a famed deer park, a Literary Celebration this month and a strong artistic heart, Sevenoaks is a perfect choice for a weekend away...


A weekend in Sevenoaks



With beautiful architecture, a famed deer park, a Literary Celebration this month and a strong artistic heart, Sevenoaks is a perfect choice for a weekend away...


This bustling friendly place, once voted the 'happiest town in England', has a lively town centre, fascinating individual shops and sensational architecture. Niklaus Pevsner, the noted architectural historian, in fact considered that the southern end of the High Street had 'More worthwhile buildings than in almost any other street in the country.'


Nearby Knole, with its surrounding deer park, is possibly the most impressive stately home in England. Vita Sackville-West, who lived at the house and was a descendant of the Sackvilles of Knole, was just one of the town's literary icons.


Dickens, Jane Austen and John Donne were all residents, and this literary tradition still lives on today in the Sevenoaks Literary Celebration (25 Sept-9 Oct). There will be talks by a range of illustrious writers including Andrew Motion, John Julius Norwich, Patrick Gale and Shena Mackay, taking place at various venues around town; get tickets from The Sevenoaks Bookshop (01732 452055).



Revolutions to Railways


Though the town's motto is 'May the Seven Oaks flourish,' the eponymous trees have been replaced several times, six of the 1902 vintage succumbing to the Great Storm of 1987 (these have now been replaced).


Sevenoaks began as a settlement beside a hospital, a building which became the church of St Nicholas. The Archbishop of Canterbury founded the town's market in 1200, to capitalise on the newly formed, strategically important road.


In an age when the power of state and church were inextricably linked, Knole was owned and inhabited by successive archbishops of Canterbury, and presumably this is the reason why Sevenoaks has been at the heart of the nation's political wrangling.


Its history is peppered with much-vaunted rebellions that ended in failure, rather like a never-ending Tim Henman career: Sevenoaks man Jack Cade led the doomed Kentish revolt in 1450, a century later disgruntled locals' support of Sir Thomas Wyatt's rebellion also fizzled out. Even when 4,000 men gathered on the green to support the monarchy during the civil war, the Roundheads defeated them.


Excellent coaching inns arrived during the 18th century, as a result of being on a busy stagecoach route.


Cricket came to Sevenoaks in 1734 when the Third Duke of Dorset converted the Vine from a waste ground to one of first cricket pitches in the country. Cricket bat and ball manufacture then became a thriving local business.


In Regency times, Sevenoaks became an upmarket area then, in 1862, the railway's arrival transformed it into a commuter centre, since when it has grown steadily in both population and importance.



Looking around


You'll find the excellent tourist information centre (01732 450305) in the same welcoming building as the library, gallery and museum, just off the High Street. A huge part of the town centre is pedestrianised, and there are many individual shops and restaurants of every kind, plus plenty of car parks.


There's a cinema, two famous golf clubs, and one of oldest cricket clubs in the country, at the Vine. Bligh's Meadow development is an interesting new retail centre, with a mix of quality, specialist and nationally known shops, pubs and restaurants.


And in these recessionary times it's great to hear that not only has The Stag Theatre re-opened as The Stag Community Centre (01732 450175), but that it has also just been voted the fourth best comedy venue in the UK by The Guardian - not bad, considering that at the


time of writing there have been just five stand-up comedy events since the re-opening!


As well as comedy nights and tribute band performances, there's a bright new programme of drama, musical theatre, dance shows and pantomime, community reviews with drama and film clubs, art and craft markets and dance lessons.


September kicks off with comedians including TVs Sean Lock and resident host Maff Brown, there'll be music from Stan Webb's Chicken Shack, Eliza Carthy


and Adrian Edmonson and the


Bad Shepherds.


Don't miss the Sevenoaks Bookshop, described by The Guardian - whose writers really do love this town - as one of the best in Britain (see above).


A particularly beautiful part of town is The Shambles, just off the High Street. You pass under an ancient timber beam spanning the road to a cobbled alleyway, at the end of which is a large yard.


Recently, local artists produced murals and a three-dimensional sculpture set into the side of a building on the theme of the medieval trades that used to flourish in Sevenoaks. There's an annual festival in June, with events staged all over town.



Stimulating Saturday



WILDLIFE RESERVE


Wetland and woodland habitats for plants, fungis and animals, with more than 2,000 species identified. The Jeffrey Harrison Visitor Centre has displays showing the history of the site, and the creation of the reserve. See herons, siskins, peacocks, kingfishers and more from the hides. Picnic area.


01732 456407



KNOLE


At the centre of a wonderful deer park, this marvellous house now owned by the National Trust was originally an Archbishop's Palace. There are 13 superb staterooms, displays of Royal Stuart furniture and paintings by Gainsborough, Van Dyck and Reynolds. Shop, tearoom, children's trail and park.


01732 450608



EXCELLENT FOOD


Set in a listed 16th-century building with many original features, the Gavin Gregg restaurant has been awarded two AA rosettes for the last three years. Menus combine traditional dishes with international panache, and offer an extensive wine list to complement every dish. See p114.


01732 456373



Relaxing Sunday



SHOREHAM MUSEUM


Home to hundreds of aviation relics excavated from crashed British and German aircraft, including the blackout screen from the White Hart Inn, Brasted, signed by Biggin Hill pilots, plus helmets, uniforms and home-front memorabilia. Tearoom and gallery with prints by aviation artist Geoff Nutkins.


01959 524416



IGHTAM MOTE


This 14th-century medieval moated manor house owned by the National Trust is set in lovely gardens with water features, lakeside and woodland walks and a restaurant. Memorable rooms include The Great Hall, Tudor Chapel with hand-painted ceiling, and the Victorian Billiards Room.


01732 811145



EMMETTS GARDEN


Set in one of the highest spots in Kent, Emmetts (also owned by the National Trust) comprises four acres of tree-packed gardens and 14 acres of wooded valley. Noted for its rare trees and shrubs, it exhibits beautiful colours throughout the season and spectacular views. Tea room. See also page 88.


01732 868381




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