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Spotlight on: Sevenoaks

PUBLISHED: 08:01 04 September 2015 | UPDATED: 08:01 04 September 2015

Knole, Sevenoaks

Knole, Sevenoaks

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

With its grand deer park, independent shops and restaurants and own community theatre, Sevenoaks is set in beautiful countryside – and all only a 30-minute train ride from the centre of London

It’s only 19 miles from London but Sevenoaks and its pretty surrounding villages could be a world away from the big smoke. Surrounded by pristine Kent countryside and with a relaxed, small town feel, it is blessed with great commuter links and a real community spirit.

Add to that attractions like the National Trust’s historic house, Knole, the enchanting Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, The Stag Theatre, Bligh’s Meadow shopping centre and an annual literary festival, held this month, and it’s no wonder that The Sunday Times included Sevenoaks in its top 50 best places to live in the UK this year.

Shopping and eating

When it comes to eating out, Sevenoaks has it all. From lunches at lovely independent café Nonna Cappucini’s (TN13 1DS) and Italian restaurant and deli Valentina (TN13 1UX) to Thai food at Giggling Squid (TN13 1LL, 01732 465898) and Japanese at Wagamama (TN13 1XXE, 01732 758900), there is something to suit every taste. And for fine dining we recommend The Vine (TN13 3TB, 01732 469510).

Great pub restaurants are plentiful, with The Black Boy (TN13 1UW) and The Chequers (TN13 1LD) in the town centre and The Bricklayer’s Arms (TN13 2RZ) in nearby Chipstead and The White Rock Inn (TN15 0SB) in Underriver.

As for shopping, the High Street and London Road boast everything from chains including White Stuff (TN13 1UP) and Fat Face (TN13 1XA) to traditional independents like Sevenoaks Bookshop (TN13 1XJ) and the historic Hoads of Sevenoaks shoe shop (TN13 1UP).

Jewel in the crown has to be the new Marks & Spencer store on London Road (TN13 1AT) that finally opened its doors last October after years of discussions, planning and construction. As well as the M&S mix of food and fashion, the giant retailer also brought with it 80 car parking spaces in a town that has been struggling to find enough bays to satisfy its popularity.

Running in between the two main shopping streets is Bligh’s Meadow, the town’s modern shopping centre, combining big name brands and independents. Markets are also held here.

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

The historic gardens of the Riverhill Estate are just two miles south of Sevenoaks and were first planted in 1840 by current owner Ed Roger’s great-great-great grandfather. A founder member of the RHS, John Rogers was a patron of the great Victorian plant hunters who risked their lives sourcing plants from the Himalayan region – many examples of which still thrive in the gardens.

Today Riverhill is run by Ed and his wife Sarah as a visitor attraction, following its regeneration after an appearance on Channel 4’s Country House Rescue in 2010. The Himalayan Gardens now offer den building and Yeti spotting for little explorers and a place to enjoy the exquisite planting and extraordinary views for adults.

Sarah Rogers is obviously proud of their achievements but it is the newly re-landscaped Walled Garden at the heart of the gardens which she is most excited about.

“It is as if a certain calm is contained within these historic walls,” Sarah says. “It is a wonderful place for plays and performances, as well as a sculptural gallery, and we weren’t surprised that many of the writers at a recent writing day we held based their poetry on it”.

But although this special new space is now its beating heart, it’s by no means all that Riverhill has to offer.

Break out from the walls to explore a quintessentially English rose garden, fine specimen trees, a viewpoint known as ‘Little Everest’ which is said to offer one of the best views in Kent (but as the name implies, it’s a bit of a hike) and follow a route leading through an ever changing collection of contemporary sculpture by leading British artists. It’s all topped off with excellent homemade lunches, cakes and teas served in the gardens’ charming café.

Take the opportunity to visit Riverhill before the end of the school holidays for plenty of family fun but its’ open season ends on 13 September, not beginning again until March. You can also attend one of their special events. On 3 September you can join Riverhill’s Poet in Residence, Abegail Morley for a Late Summer Literary Evening and Dinner. For more information visit www.riverhillgardens.co.uk

My Town

Andrew Eyre, General Manager, The Stag

Tell us a bit about you

I am General Manager of the Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks – although we are much more than a theatre with two digital cinemas showing 3D and we are just embarking on a £100,000 refurbishment programme covering the projection computing and most importantly the seats. I run the business alongside an excellent (but small!) professional team and more than 200 volunteers.

What’s your background?

I was part of the team which put the business plan for The Stag together when the Town Council took it over in 2009. I am a Town Councillor and worked as Chairman of Trustees for several years before becoming executive manager in 2012.

Our aim is to continue the successful plan we have followed for the last six years as a not-for-profit charity – allowing local, regional and national acts the opportunity to put on shows using brilliant facilities and to show first-run blockbuster films on the day of national release alongside Stag Select films and live transmissions from the National Theatre and RSC.

What makes The Stag special to the community?

The Stag has very special memories for so many of us. People tell me about visiting there in its cinema heyday in the 1950s (and we get people hiring it for golden wedding anniversary celebrations to show films they saw while courting) to Stag Theatre shows in more recent years and now international theatre with live transmissions from the National and RSC alongside excellent local theatre productions.

Its position in the centre of town makes it a place to go during the day and during the evening. It is the heart of our community.

Your biggest challenges?

It is a lovely job which I enjoy greatly. The biggest challenges are in letting people know that we are a charity and 96 per cent free of local authority grants. Very few theatres can claim that and I believe it will become more important as the country continues its economic recovery and local authority budgets continue to be squeezed. It does mean we need to persuade people that improvements to the building and equipment need donations or for people to hire the spaces for theatre or business.

What do you love about Sevenoaks?

I love the friendliness of the people and the open spaces and trees, and the variety of smaller shops alongside the bigger shops such as M&S.

And I love that a town of this size has a theatre and cinema, a youth club, so many sports facilities and open spaces and the generosity of such a large number of volunteers who make The Stag, the sports clubs and so many other organisations work so well for so many ‘Sennockians’.

Your favourite shops and restaurants?

The centre of Sevenoaks has such a variety of eating places that it is difficult to choose a favourite. There are certainly many places to get an excellent cup of coffee, including The Lodge at The Stag. I love Wagamama’s fresh food and flavours.

With a slight quirkiness, my favourite stores are the hardware stores on London Road (The Hardware Centre is split into a gardening and DIY store and a cookware and homeware store). They seem to stock everything there! I don’t think I’ve ever failed to get what I want.

Visit www.stagsevenoaks.co.uk for more information about The Stag.

Sevenoaks Literary Celebration

25 September to 10 October

Newly elected Oxford Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage will be among the writers heading to Sevenoaks for the town’s annual book festival. The Sevenoaks Literary Celebration, now more than a decade old, also includes top novelists Andrew O’Hagan and Kate Mosse, who will bookend the festival. The events include a traditional literary lunch and tea, an innovative evening of new short stories performed by professional actors, and a film night.

Robert Sackville-West (Sevenoaks’ own Lord Sackville) will talk about the background to Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, which will be followed by a screening of the 1992 film by Sally Potter, starring Tilda Swinton.

Fans of Wolf Hall will get the chance to hear about the real Thomas Cromwell from his biographer Tracy Borman and the organisers of this year’s festival are delighted to welcome Andrew Lownie, whose long-awaited biography of the spy Guy Burgess is published in October.

The programme, taking place at a variety of venues in and around Sevenoaks, also includes two free events for local schools. Tickets for most events cost £9 and are on sale from Sevenoaks Bookshop by calling 01732 452055.

Visit www.sevenoaksliterarycelebration.com for full details.

Events

11 September: Out Of Bounds comedy club at Dunton Green Social Club. Comic Ben Norris headlines this evening of comedy at the club’s new home in Dunton Green. Call 07976 637804 or visit www.outofboundscomedy.co.uk for tickets.

19 September: The Coco Club at The Stag. Bringing alive the golden age of British dance band music from the 1930s. Call 01732 450175 or visit www.stagseveneoaks.co.uk for tickets.

24 September: National Theatre Live encore of 2013’s Coriolanus broadcast at The Stag. Call 01732 450175 or visit www.stagsevenoaks.co.uk for tickets.

Property prices

In such a lovely town, with such useful transport links for commuters, it is no surprise that property here comes anything but cheap. With two-bed properties priced from around £310,000 right up to £600,000 and three-bed properties averaging at £550,000, Sevenoaks is up there with the most expensive places to live in the county. Lovely four-bed detached houses are priced at around £800,000 and there are plenty of stunning places with six or seven bedrooms for anything from £1,250,000 right up to £3,850,000.

How to get there

Sevenoaks is only around 19 miles from London, accessible from the A21 from the M25. Sevenoaks station has fast trains to London in around 30 minutes.

Satnav postcode for the centre of town: TN13 1LQ

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