Here's a sample of the additions that I've made to the new Daytrips From London guidebook, available now. This guide will be more like the 1983 original, focusing less on London itself and more on exciting one-day adventures that can be taken from it.
A Daytrip from London
This little excursion is not for everyone, but if you enjoy visiting some of England’s most outstanding country homes along with a few miles of real country walking you’ll have a great time. Actually, most of the walking could be eliminated by taking a bus or taxi between sites, but that would be missing half of the experience.
You’ll probably only have the time (and energy) to visit two of the famous homes in one day; which two is up to you.
Sevenoaks is an old commuter town located some 21 miles southeast of London, and is easily reached by rail or road. Its sole attraction for visitors is Knole House, one of the largest, oldest, and most famous of England’s stately homes. Although still occupied by the same family since 1577, much of this enormous mansion is open to the public under the auspices of the National Trust. Surrounding this is 1,000 acres of deer park and millions of trees, the perfect place for a country stroll.
A completely different kind of house, Ightham Mote, lies just four miles away and can be reached on foot over pleasant country lanes, or by car, bus or taxi. This early-14th-century moated manor house retains its unspoiled medieval appearance, making it perhaps the best-preserved home in England.
Chartwell, the third possible destination, was the home of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill from 1922 until his death in 1965. It remains almost exactly as he left it, complete with his personal effects and paintings.
Trains depart London’s Charing Cross Station frequently for Sevenoaks, where Knole is located. From there follow the text and map.
By Car, take the M-25 to Exit 5, A-224 London Rd. to Sevenoaks, then A225 Tonbridge Rd. to Knole Lane and entrance.
Bring comfortable shoes if you intend to walk between the sites. The Sevenoaks Tourist Office, T: (01732) 450-305, is in the Library on Buckhurst Lane. A good tourist website for this area of Kent is W: visitheartofkent.com.
FOOD AND DRINK:
No. 5 Bistro (Royal Oak Hotel, Upper High St. in Sevenoaks, near Knole) Modern European and traditional British cuisine in the restaurant, bar, or alfresco conservatory. T: (01732) 451-109. ££ and £££
Knole Tea Room (Knole Estate) Lunches made from fresh local produce in season, some to historic 16th and 17th century recipes. T: (01732) 741-762. £ and ££
Ightham Mote Restaurant (Ightham Mote Estate) Light meals served when the estate is open. T: (01732) 811-314. £
The Plough Pub (High Cross Road, Ivy Hatch, 1 mile from Ightham Mote) Real country cooking in addition to seafood and vegetarian dishes. T: (01732) 810-268. £
Chartwell Restaurant (at Chartwell Estate) Light meals and refreshments, with a children’s menu. £
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leaving the Sevenoaks Train Station (1), you can either walk or take a taxi the one-mile distance to Knole. If you walk, just turn right and continue straight ahead until you come to a sign pointing to Knole Park on the left. Go through the park to the Manor House and take the guided tour. A leisurely stroll in the surrounding deer park is absolutely delightful.
*KNOLE (2), T: (01732) 450-608, W: nationaltrust.org.uk. Open March, Sat.-Sun. noon-4; April-June, Wed.-Sun. noon-4; July-Aug., Tues.-Sun. 11-4:30; Sept.-Oct., Wed.-Sun. 12-4; with some variations. Check first. Adult £10, child £5.
Knole (photo, above) ranks as one of the largest and most famous of England’s stately homes. It is also among the oldest. The building as it stands today was largely begun by Thomas Bouchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the mid-15th century. It remained a palace for the archbishops until being appropriated by Henry VIII for the Crown. In 1566 Queen Elizabeth I presented the estate to her cousin, Thomas Sackville, whose descendants have lived there ever since. One of these was the famous writer Victoria Sackville-West, whose close friend Virginia Woolf immortalized Knole in her 1928 novel, Orlando.
Sometimes called the “Calendar House,” Knole is said to have 365 rooms, 52 staircases, and seven courtyards. Those parts that are open to the public contain a large number of paintings by various artists, including some good ones by Gainsborough and Reynolds, magnificent tapestries, and furnishings dating from Elizabethan times. The surrounding park covers a thousand acres of pleasant countryside where tame deer roam freely.
Those wanting to visit Ightham Mote (3) can get there by walking the four-mile distance, which is completely over pleasant country lanes, or by returning to Sevenoaks and taking a bus or taxi. If you go by bus, take one that follows route A-25 and get off at Ightham Common, then walk the remaining mile-and-a-half. The map shows the way on foot or by bus.
IGHTHAM MOTE (3), T: (01732) 810-378, W: nationaltrust.org.uk. Open April-Nov., Sun.-Mon. and Thurs.-Fri. 11-5. Adults £10, children £5.
Hidden away in a secluded spot at the foot of a hill, Ightham Mote (photo, above) has all the appeal expected of a 14th-century fortified and moated manor house. In fact, it is often regarded as the best-preserved medieval house in all of England. It only survived the 17th century Civil War because Cromwell’s armies were unable to find it and so raided another house instead. Ightham had been used as a hiding place for priests during that conflict, making it a target for the Puritans seeking to overthrow the Royalists.
Pronounced as “item moat,” the name is deceptive as “mote” refers not to the moat but is an ancient Saxon word for a council meeting place, or moot. It had long been home to well-known and important people, but never to royalty, and its fortifications were designed to protect against robbers, not armies.
Legend has long told of a woman’s body being hidden inside the walls of Ightham Mote to ward off evil spirits, but a recent reconstruction of the interior found none, only shoes. A visit to this thorough restoration will transport you back in time to the Middle Ages, if only for an hour or so.
To get to Chartwell by public transportation, return to Buckhurst Lane near the Tourist Office in Sevenoaks and take Kent Bus 238 to Westham, a half-hour ride. From there walk 1.5 miles to the estate following Route B-2026, which is signposted. It is also possible to just take a taxi from Sevenoaks. Ask at the Tourist Office for current information.
Driving to Chartwell is easier. Just follow routes A-225, A-224, A-25, and B-2026. The total distance is about 8 miles.
CHARTWELL (4), T: (01732) 868-381, W: nationaltrust.org.uk. Open mid-March through June, and Oct., Wed.-Sun. 1105; July-Aug., Tues.-Sun. 11-5. Adults £11, children £5.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the revered wartime prime minister of Great Britain, and his wife Clementine bought this estate in 1922 and lived there on and off until his death. Today it is preserved exactly as it was when the Churchills lived there, with extensive displays of memorabilia and original furnishings. If it were not for these historic attractions the property would hardly be worth visiting as, in the words of its present administrator, the National Trust, it is an example of “Victorian architecture at its least attractive, a ponderous red-brick country mansion of tile-hung gables and poky oriel windows.” Nevertheless, for anyone interested in Churchill’s life or World War II history, this is a must-see.
Text and map copyright © 2010 by Earl Steinbicker