A car-free short break
A car-free short break near London
You don’t need a car to discover the Kent countryside. Hop on the train and stroll to vineyards, lavender fields and stately homes on this two-day itinerary.
Leave London traffic behind on this car-free getaway in the Darent Valley. London, and many of the best things to see and do in Sevenoaks District, are connected by the Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership, so you can take the train to breathe in the heady scent of lavender, taste award-winning wines and see historic homes and amazing gardens.
Day 1: Explore the attics of an ancient country estate, then linger over lunch at a critically acclaimed vineyard.
Morning: Sevenoaks, at the southern end of the tourism-oriented railway network, is less than 25 minutes from London Bridge Station, meaning you can roam Kent’s last medieval deer park within an hour of leaving the capital. It’s a 30-minute walk (uphill) from Sevenoaks Station cutting through the High Street (although we suggest you allow time to browse the shops) to Knole, a 600-year-old estate with sweeping views, winding trails and some wild deer. In the historic house, tour the hidden attics, wander the exquisite showrooms and climb the spiral staircase to take in views across the countryside you’re about to explore.
Afternoon: Pick up a snack from Knole’s Brewhouse café (with a view) then head back to Sevenoaks station for the 10 minute rail journey to Shoreham (Kent). From there, it’s a 10 minute walk down to The Mount Vineyard (open Thu – Sun, 12-6pm) where you can linger over lunch. The sharing boards are delicious, but the stone-baked pizzas really steal the foodie show here – and they’re the perfect preamble to the vineyard’s trophy-winning wine-tasting experience.
As well as pretty scenery, the sunny micro-climate of the chalk-stream Darent Valley creates the ideal conditions for The Mount’s award-winning still and sparkling wines. Tastings take place year-round on the terrace in the orchard or in the restaurant, but some summertime sessions include a tour of the vineyard. If you’re visiting in late September/early October, look out for harvest announcements on The Mount’s social media channels – you could join the picking and post-pick celebrations!
Dinner: Choose from the three cosy country pubs along Shoreham’s Church Street and High Street.
Stay: Darent Hulme Barn’s B&B accommodation is a short walk from Shoreham village centre. The full-height shuttered windows frame views of the surrounding leafy countryside – admire the panorama from your king-size bed or step out of your private entrance onto the walking trails. Opt for a more rustic experience in a shepherd’s hut (hosted by Dominic) among the trees in countryside a 10-minute walk up the hill from Shoreham village.
You’ll find alternative accommodation at the Georgian Castle Hotel, or Tabsfield, a B&B in an Arts & Crafts house (be prepared to walk along the busy A225 from Eynsford station, one stop further on from Shoreham, or take a taxi), both in nearby Eynsford.
Day 2: Lace up your walking boots to follow Discovering Britain’s 8km (5 mile) From Hops to Lavender walk along the Darent Valley from Shoreham to Eynsford (download the audio or written version before you go).
As well as vineyards, this beautiful corner of English countryside is known for its lavender fields. It’s fitting then, that the walk is narrated by local farmer William Alexander of Castle Farm, the UK’s largest lavender producer. The best time of year to do this walk is late June to late July when the lavender fields are heady with colour and scent, but it’s a fascinating walk all year round, with Lullingstone Park, Lullingstone Castle and World Garden, Lullingstone Roman Villa, and Eynsford Castle lining the route.
One of the walk’s highlights is The Hop Shop at Castle Farm. Take a break to see the rows of lavender and browse the hops and lavender-inspired products in the shop. If you’re there in season, book a lavender tour to walk deeper among the intoxicating plants. It’s also an opportunity to pick up some local produce for a picnic to eat later on your walk.
Before you reach Eynsford Station (cut up right across the field just beyond the Roman Villa) and board your train back to London, stop off at Lullingstone Castle & The World Garden. Tom Hart Dyke, the current heir to England’s oldest family estate, designed continent-inspired The World Garden when he was famously kidnapped on a plant-hunting expedition in the notorious Darien Gap on the Panama-Colombia border, in 2000.
Opening times of the various things to see and do mentioned in this car-free weekend break itinerary vary throughout the year. Please check train times and individual attractions’ websites before you visit. Always check availability and book ahead for tours.