Image Credit: Richard Fisher
If London’s charter’d streets have taken their toll, and you need to get away from it all without sitting in traffic for hours on end, here are our best tips for seeking out the green and pleasant land that lie just an hour or so from London Victoria.
For anyone longing for parish prettiness with added intellect, Downe Village (in Orpington, Kent) ticks all the boxes. This chocolate box Kentish idyll was home to evolutionary idol, Charles Darwin, who studied the local wildlife which, in turn, aided him in his theory of natural selection.
The local churchyard is the resting place of Darwin’s relatives, although the man himself was given a prime spot in Westminster Abbey. Once a bustling village, it has resigned itself to a more relaxed pace of life. Hungry visitors can choose from two local pubs or enjoy a more exotic meal at the local Indian restaurant.
A thousand-acre wilderness just south of Sevenoaks, this spacious park makes for an idyllic wander at any time of year – though its exposed flats can be windy, so wrap up. A natural playground, the roaming deer herds offer a sense of the wild whilst the abundance of trees provide perfect gymnastic equipment for the more imaginative and robust children amongst your party.
When it gets a degree or two warmer, the ancient walled garden opens its doors to budding explorers (on Tuesdays only) and the great house that was once the Archbishop’s palace (and stuffed full of ungodly riches) is accessible from spring till late autumn.
1 hour 5 minutes
Just one hour from the capital, the lovely Leigh leaves traditional seaside amusements to its brassy neighbour, Southend. It offers, instead, seven miles of pristine sandy bay which stretch all the way from its charming cobbled streets, complete with tea gardens and quaint cockle sheds, to the unspoilt wilds of Shoeburyness.
Sunny weekends at the height of the holiday season do tend to attract a crowd, and although there’s more than enough coastline for everyone, you may want to plan a midweek visit to avoid the masses. If that doesn’t bother you, make sure you pack your beach towels, your bucket and spade and an appetite for fresh fish and chips.
1 hour 5 minutes
Achingly attractive all year round, the extensive grounds of Leeds Castle is a fantastic place to see the first signs of spring in action – and you won’t be short of company. As well as the innumerable water fowl that inhabit the gently trickling streams, lake and moat, you’ll never be too far from the residence’s famous black swans.
The wood garden makes a serene spot for a picnic, as snow drops give way to daffodils, which in turn give way to bluebells. Though for an even more secluded supper, head down to the cottage garden where wisteria drapes will be in full bloom along the crumbling walls. With a well-stocked aviary and outdoor play area for little ones, you might find that you don’t have time to visit the interior of the castle at all!
1 hour 5 minutes
Get back to nature at one of southern England’s biggest lakes. Set in 800 acres of Kentish countryside, Bewl Water’s 13 mile perimeter offers sailing and fishing, as well as pleasant hiking and biking in the country park beyond.
For those who aren’t already worn out by all that, there’s an adventure playground for kids (big and small), a model boat lake for the more contemplative and crazy golf for everyone else. It’s an easy escape where it’s possible to do as little or as much as you like, whether you want to get your feet wet or not.
1 hour 15 minutes