Sevenoaks, Kent

Discover why Sevenoaks was chosen as one of The Sunday Times Best Places to Live 2022 in their words.

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Best Places to Live without Sevenoaks is like a scone without jam and cream, Aperol without prosecco or a cockapoo without a silly name. It just doesn’t feel right. This safe, dependable Kent town has appeared in our lists almost every year for a decade thanks to its powerful triumvirate of convenient commutability (the fastest train to London Bridge takes 22 minutes), excellent schools and abundance of greenery.

Sevenoaks isn’t sexy but it knows it — there’s a running joke that its high street is full of estate agents, coffee shops, charity shops and opticians (and, since the pandemic, this is more true than ever). 

Sevenoaks’ appeal lies in the fact it is surrounded by stunning countryside — it is encircled by the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty — but you’re no more than five minutes from an avocado. Or a Starbucks or a Gail’s Bakery, both of which opened during the pandemic to support all the families decamping from the capital. Indeed, Sevenoaks was the top destination in 2020 for Londoners to move to, according to Hamptons estate agency.

What the place lacks in a fine dining scene or high-octane nightlife (there’s always the last train back from London) it makes up for with a chatty community and an exhausting array of sports for all ages, including bootcamps, yoga classes, hockey, cricket, golf, football and rugby (Sevenoaks RFC — the Oaks — has a thriving youth academy with close links to the Saracens). The Sencio leisure centre has state-of-the-art facilities thanks to a £1 million investment in 2018. 

Cultural clout is offered by the Stag, a charity-run arts centre with a 450-seat theatre and two cinema screens. Sevenoaks also has a literary festival, a summer arts and music festival and a well-used library, which hosts crafting sessions and photography exhibitions.

Locals such as Roxanne Foster, who lives here with her husband and toddler son, also love having the 1,000-acre Knole deer park in the town centre. “It’s such a great place to go for a walk or a run,” says Foster, who co-runs Floral Findings, an eco-friendly floristry business. “The park was such an asset during lockdowns and every time I go I am so grateful that it’s here.” 

Although pedestrians can walk into Knole Park for free, it’s worth getting National Trust membership to visit Knole House. This Jacobean pile was the ancestral home of Vita Sackville-West and inspired her lover, Virginia Woolf, to write Orlando — you can see the original, fragile manuscript of the novel here, as well as sumptuous paintings by Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds. NT members certainly get their money’s worth round here with Ightham Mote, Quebec House, Chartwell and Chiddingstone village all within a half-hour drive.

High Street

Amid the chains you’ll find gems such as Sevenoaks Bookshop, named independent bookshop of the year 2021. “People here are quite proud of the independent shops in the town and are really supportive,” says Fleur Sinclair, the store’s owner. “Sevenoaks is a friendly place with a good community spirit.” 

There are delis (and Deliveroo) for every diet, with Italian fare from Marco, and predominantly plant-based deli, Knobbly Knees. There are various ad hoc markets, including a farmers’ market on the first Friday of every month and a craft market on the third Sunday at Reuthe’s, an 11-acre rare-species woodland that also has a plant nursery and café and puts on jazz nights, alpaca treks and forest bathing.

There are plenty of independent spots for your caffeine fix, from Malabar to Basil and the pro-plant café Life on High (which turns into a tapas restaurant and cocktail bar in the evening). For dinner out, Hive is a popular choice for its locally sourced dishes, while Number Eight opened recently, serving Mediterranean-style small plates.

There are plenty of pubs in the town and surrounding villages but not all are lauded for their cuisine — for a safe bet choose the White Hart by Knole Park (the roasts are hugely popular), the White Hart in nearby Brasted or the George & Dragon, in Chipstead. 

Connections

The fastest direct trains to London Bridge, Waterloo East, Cannon Street and Charing Cross all take from less than 35 minutes. The town is less than half an hour’s drive from both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells and is just off junction 5 of the M25 so Gatwick airport is a 30-minute drive and Heathrow 55 minutes (on a good run). You’re about half an hour from Ebbsfleet for the Eurostar and about an hour from lovely coastal spots such as Whitstable and Rye. 

Broadband

Three quarters of the town has access to full-fibre over the Openreach network - this is in addition to the older superfast network over the old telephone lines.

Schools

Sevenoaks has five entries in The Sunday Times Parent Power guide, including three state primaries: Amherst School (Ofsted rated good in 2015), Sevenoaks (good, 2013) and St Thomas’ RC (outstanding, 2014). Also in the guide are the independents Walthamstow Hall (for girls aged 3-18; fees £7,070 a term) and mixed secondary Sevenoaks School (fees from £8,340), an academic powerhouse that now ranks tenth nationally.

Selective Weald of Kent Grammar School for girls (boys admitted in the sixth form) is also sought-after, while the new Sevenoaks campus of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys opened in September to a first cohort of 90 year 7 pupils. The traffic at the start and end of the school day does attract some local grumbles. 

Best Address

Sharpen your elbows because most homes that come on sale are going to best and final offers, while the council has been sanctioned by the government after hitting less than 75 per cent of its housebuilding targets. In the centre, the most popular roads are Marlborough Crescent or Lyndhurst Drive — prices range from £1.1 million for an unmodernised four-bedroom house to more than £1.5 million for a property with all the bells and bifold whistles.

Homes in surrounding villages have become even more popular since Covid, with Otford and Ide Hill firm favourites; three-bedroom semis start from £500,000 and you’re unlikely to get change from £1 million for a four-bedroom home.   

Property prices

Average house price: £685,500 
Growth since 2020: 7%
Source: Halifax using Land Registry data

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Prices are correct as of April 2022.

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