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Things to do in Downe, Greater London

View of Downe © Jeffrey Darlington
View of Downe © Jeffrey Darlington

Downe is an old village on the North Downs, traditionally in Kent but now part of the London borough of Bromley. Its main attraction is Down House, the home of Charles Darwin when he wrote his famous book on the Origin of Species, now in the care of English Heritage. Life at Down House is vividly described in the delightful memoir "Period Piece" by Gwen Raverat, one of the Darwin family.

The downstairs is furnished as it would have been then, with some of Darwin's possessions, while upstairs there is an exhibition of his life and work. The gardens have been restored, and some of his experiments on Natural Selection re-created in the garden and greenhouse. Visitors can also stroll around the Sandwalk, the path winding through trees that Darwin paced as he worked out his ideas.

Downe village has the 13th century church of St. Mary the Virgin, with a sundial, stained glass windows and brass memorials to Giacomo Verzelini (born 1522), a glass maker from Murano, near Venice, and his wife. The village also has two pleasant pubs and a teashop.

Down House looks out on to unspoiled countryside, and the village is a good starting point for country walks to Cudham, Knockholt and the rural outskirts of Biggin Hill. High Elms Country Park, between Downe and Farnborough, covers 250 acres of countryside and offers woodland walks, formal gardens, wildflower meadows, nature trails, a picnic site and an Environmental Education Centre.

Downe village is easily reached by bus from Orpington.

Description by Jeffrey Darlington

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