A few weeks ago we finally made it to Knole Park. Knole Park is a National Trust (NT) property, situated in the market town of Sevenoaks (an approximately 30-minute drive from Chislehurst). There is a charge for parking at the entrance to the grounds (though it is obviously free to NT members displaying a valid sticker), and after that the park itself can be explored for free, making it a very affordable day out. There is also a house on the site which is open to the public, with other exhibitions and rooms to explore if you wish (though there is a charge for these if you are not members of the NT).
Our visit had been a long time coming; we have attempted the journey on numerous occasions in the past and then had to return home for one reason or another; once even parking up and getting out before realising that we could not stay. Admittedly, all of these previously failed trips have been tearoom related; the tearooms at Knole Park were under major refurbishment a while back and we always ended up visiting with no money (when a temporary van taking cash only was in place), or shock horror when no tearoom was available whatsoever! Anyway, I am happy to report that the tearooms are currently in full working order and are, in fact, quite lovely. On arrival they were obviously our first port of call!
After the obligatory tea and cake, and snoop around the shop, we set out for a little afternoon stroll. We headed straight up the hill outside the cafe towards some deer.
Knole Park is Kent’s last medieval deer park and is home to a 350-strong wild deer herd. They’re descendants of those hunted by Henry VIII and roam the 1,000 acres of parkland year-round. Knole’s parkland is exceptional in its vast size and unmanaged landscape.*
Despite visiting Dyrham Park the other year, being so close to so many deer still amazes me; I find them truly stunning animals, though I think they terrify A and E somewhat. We wandered around the side of the herd (staying at a safe distance so as not to disturb the beautiful creatures), and soon found many fallen trees that had been left to nature creating the most perfect natural playground to explore. This was heaven for A and E, and we spent most of the afternoon wandering from “climbing frame” to “climbing frame”.
A found fairy food and imagined we were in a fairy village, whereas E just wanted to climb, on anything and everything!
We collected fallen pine cones, and climbed and climbed!
At the moment E has a complete “Andy’s Dinosaur/Prehistoric Adventures” obsession, and every outing therefore involves a trip back in time, with lots of hiding from Allosaurus’, Andrewsarchus’ or woolly rhinos, riding along on a woolly mammoth migration, or playing with the Australopithecus (yep, me neither; he can’t say his sister’s name properly, but he can say Australopithecus without any problem)!
We stayed for the remainder of the afternoon, and the sun even made an appearance towards the end.
It really was the most beautiful place, with a mixture of unspoilt woodland and open meadows, as well as a network of buggy-friendly paths winding through the grassland. If, unlike us, you manage to avoid the trees, the park is a perfect walking site, with numerous routes to discover (including a woodland ramble which is particularly suitable for families); there are self-guided walking maps available from the Visitor Centre, and even free guided walks on offer on some days. I am determined to return in the warmer months in order to take advantage of these walks. It also didn’t seem to get overly crowded. Granted, it was the middle of winter, but the park is so huge you can easily lose sight of everyone else, particularly if you are prepared to move a distance away from the cafe/Visitor Centre area.
I did feel very guilty seeing children scooting around on the paths, as A had asked that morning if she could take her scooter; I had just dismissed it, assuming there would be no opportunity, but we will definitely be taking them next time.
Our first return visit will be in a few weeks’ time, for the Children’s Book Festival and I am so excited! I have booked a session with Jess French (of CBeebies fame) for A. This is for over 4’s only, so I couldn’t really get away with taking E along. As D and I could not amicably decide who was going to accompany her (we are big fans here), we ended up getting a ticket each; thankfully my mum is able to join us on the day so E will not be left to fend for himself during this session!