Spotlight on: Westerham and Biggin Hill
PUBLISHED: 09:28 17 October 2014 | UPDATED: 09:28 17 October 2014
Home to two great leaders, with lovely countryside and glorious shops, Westerham is a delight while Biggin Hill is home to the world’s most famous fighter station
For a small, traditional Kentish town Westerham, six miles west of Sevenoaks, has some pretty big claims to fame.
Not one but two great leaders called this peaceful area home and tourists from all over the world still flock to visit their former dwellings. Not only associated with Winston Churchill, it was also the birthplace of Major General James Wolfe who became posthumously famous for his part in the British Army’s triumph in the Battle Of Quebec in 1759. Both great men have statues erected here in their honour.
Westerham, literally ‘westerly homestead’, grew up on the banks of the River Darent and many of its buildings date back to the 18th century. But the former market town has also fully embraced modern culture and become a vibrant shopping centre, boasting independent boutiques, interior design shops, restaurants and coffee shops.
And being just an hour’s drive from central London and very close to the M25, it’s a big hit with those looking for an easy commute plus a slice of country life.
Biggin Hill, on a hill between Westerham and Bromley, was once known as Aperfield. A small settlement with few homes and facilities, it began to spring up around the Biggin Hill Aerodrome in the 1920s.
The town’s links with the air base are so deeply engrained that you’re never far from a reference to its past. Whether it’s a mug of tea at the Spitfire Café or a drive past the full-size replicas of the Hurricane and Spitfire fighter planes at the entrance to the airport, it never lets you forget.
The area’s pride is well-deserved as it is home to arguably the most famous fighter station in the world. It was one of the principal airfields charged with protecting London and the south east from enemy bombers, and it is said that over the course of the war fighters based at Biggin Hill downed more than 1,400 German planes.
After the war the RAF continued to operate the site until 1958, when it also became the main airport for civilian light aircraft in the area. Today the airport is used by many companies for business flights.
The town around it is now thriving and offers modern, affordable, housing within striking distance of London. A traditional shopping area provides essentials such as hairdressers, DIY stores, two supermarkets.
In 2010 Biggin Hill also opened the area’s first swimming pool but what makes it unique is that the £5 million facility is dual purpose. The Memorial Library and Swimming Pool (01959 574468, TN16 3LB) is just that – both a pool and a library, unusually under one roof.
Shopping and eating
The Courtyard coffee shop in Westerham (01959 561706) prides itself on its tasty, home-cooked, local produce at breakfast and lunch. Deli di Luca (01959 569726) is a great choice for coffee and cake and also has a delicatessen. Good pub restaurants include the General Wolfe (01959 562104), Grasshopper On The Green (01959 562926) or The George And Dragon (01959 563071).
Westerham has everything from fish and chip shops to Italian and Thai restaurants, but one that comes highly recommended is the Indian restaurant Shampan at The Spinning Wheel (01959 572622).
When it comes to cute boutique shops, Westerham also has it all – including trendy children’s shop Bebe Bonito (01959 563385), designer lifestyle boutique The Stile at Ivy House (01959 569743) and hand-made homewares store Annies Attic (01959 565854). The shops and restaurants are mainly laid out around the square, with parking in the square and at the bottom of the hill as you enter the town from the A25.
Biggin Hill is more useful for grocery shopping with a Waitrose and a Tesco Express. Shops are mainly laid out along the town’s Main Road, there is plenty of parking and both the Costa coffee house (01959 577493) and traditional Spitfire Café (01959 57167) are popular for refreshments.
As a child I spent much of my time in the area and while courting my wife-to-be Barbara we often came to Westerham. Those visits formed the basis of our affection for the town and all it has to offer. In 1992 we found a house we liked and moved here. We’re still there 22 years later.
We have been active members of the local Amateur Dramatic group (WADS), and of Westerham’s film club (The Fleapit) for years.
My liking for chocolate is satisfied by visits to Chocs on the Green (01959 561666) while my wife’s liking for shoes and handbags is well met by Manuka (01959 565644). The Vintage Home Company (01959 569393) is a regular haunt, as is Ashton Taylor Smith’s fascinating antique shop (01959 563100).
Walk through Water Lane (opposite The Grasshopper on the Green) and up the hill to the top by the stile. On a nice summer’s evening the sunset is spectacular. A walk over the same route once winter frosts have come is bracing and beautiful. Pilgrims Way is another favourite of ours.