Not all of London is built-up urban modernist sprawl. As the capital’s boundary has grown and shrunk since Greater London came into existence almost 65 years ago, much of it could easily be considered straight out of ‘chocolate box England’.
That’s the case of Downe in the southern part of the Borough of Bromley, four miles south of Orpington.
Known for being home to ‘godfather of evolution’ Charles Darwin, the village appears like many you would expect in its former county of Kent.
It’s surrounded by farms, golf courses and large private residences and is crisscrossed by dozens of public footpaths making it a prime location for a day out rambling, hiking or even exploring the idyllic London/Kent/Surrey border.
Best of all, its London location means it is served by two TfL bus services: the 146 (Bromley-Downe) and R8 (Orpington-Biggin Hill via Downe).
READ MORE : The stupidly pretty city just 17 minutes from London that’s home to England’s oldest pub
(Image: Robin Webster / Geograph, CC)
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Just £1.55 and a 20 minute bus ride from either Bromley South or Orpington stations, it is a great destination for those wanting to escape the feel of the capital for the day, without actually escaping the capital.
The main attraction in the village is Down House (note the spelling!), where Darwin lived. It’s now an English Heritage site open to the public, making it a great place to start or end a verdant adventure. On display is Darwin’s greenhouse where he conducted experiments, ‘The Sandwalk’ where he went for thinking walks and the study where he documented it all. Admission is £14.50 for adults and the R8 stops outside.
Just north of Down House is the village high street, adorned by the Grade II* listed St Mary’s Church, which dates back to the 13th century. There are also two traditional country pubs, an Indian restaurant and a village hall which are also on offer for the perfect quintessential away day.
For transport lovers, both the 146 and R8 offer unusual rides, being red buses thwarting down country lanes after escaping the busy SE London hubs of Bromley and Orpington. There’s also a bus stop on the High Street with an unusual half-sized bus stop flag, an anomaly on the London bus network.
(Image: Dudley Miles / CC)
Walking routes from the village go across fields and valleys to surrounding villages such as Keston, Green Street Green and the larger areas of Biggin Hill and New Addington, the latter of which involves a walking route around the northern perimeter of Biggin Hill Airport, known as London’s VIP airport. Again it’s a particular highlight for transport enthusiasts, especially aviation geeks, who can enjoy a host of exclusive and luxury craft taking off and landing.
Finally, the eastern flank of the village is Downe Bank Nature Reserve, which several footpaths go across. It’s here where Darwin conducted several scientific studies which helped him gather evidence for his evolution theory. There are 31 different species of bird which frequent the site and several rare plant species thanks to preservation efforts. There is no car parking available near the reserve, so the bus, a sturdy pair of walking shoes and a decent map or smartphone are duly recommended.
Route 146 runs every 60-65 minutes every day from Bromley North and Bromley South stations and route R8 runs every 60-90 minutes on Mondays-Saturdays only from Orpington station or Biggin Hill. South of Downe Church, route R8 is Hail & Ride so buses stop at wherever is safe along the country lanes, including at Down House – there are no fixed bus stops, so you must signal to the driver from the roadside.
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Travelled down to Downe yet? Tell us in the comments below!
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