Guide to Charles Darwin’s Down House from Victoria Station
This is a fantastic day-trip from London Victoria. You walk through a little bit of countryside, see Darwin’s home and museum in Downe, and after have a wander through a charming little village – all within an hour (and a bit) of Victoria Station.
This is not a good trip for a pushchair as you cross a muddy field, but the museum and country pub are a really good day out for young and old alike. You get to ride through hedgerows, see barn yard animals, walk through muddy fields and kissing gates. The museum is great for kids and adults, and at the end of the journey – there is a GREAT pub with local beer and an open hearth fire. Also, near-by the pub is a remarkable playground.
From Victoria Station, there is a 15 minute direct train to Bromley South Station. Take a right and head to Bus Stop “Y” to catch the 146 to Downe. There is just one bus per hour and leaves at half-past, see the 146 bus schedule. Should your timing be a little bit off, there are shops and cafes on the high street, Over the Moon Café is right next to the bus stop and you can keep an eye on the bus times going back and forth.
It is about a 30 minute ride to Downe, but it’s a great bus journey. About half-way through you start catching sweeping views of fields and valleys, this eventually gives way to a narrow hedge row road that turns into the most exciting journey if the traffic is light and the bus can go through swiftly.
The Downe bus stop is next to St. Mary’s Church and a fascinating little church yard complete with an ancient yew tree and the Darwin family crypt, although Charles Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Getting to Down House from Downe:
This is a 15-20 minute walk that is really fun for all. Walk down Luxted Road (if your back is to the church, it is to your left) and stick to the footpath until you come to a little trail between two houses. There is a signpost indicating the path. Walk along, once you get into the field look between the trees to your left, you may see some cattle. Continue along the path until you reach the gate, cross over and you are at the opposite end of Christmas Tree Farm and can pet the Shetland ponies and other barnyard animals. With your back to the gate, follow the footpath to your right going towards a row of trees with your back towards the farm. Carry on into the next field, following the path until you come to a kissing gate. On the other side of the Luxted Road is Down House.
Down House is an English Heritage site, it is the home that Darwin lived in from his time after sailing on the Beagle until his death. The Darwins raised 8 children in the home (they had 10 all together, two tragically died in infancy) and the home is still very much “child-friendly”.
There is an arts and crafts room where younger children can play with puzzles and do some colouring. There is also a hands-on room with different exhibits explaining natural selection, habitats, traits, etc. The rest of the house shows different aspects of Darwin’s life and work. There is an interesting exhibit on The Beagle and an enormous collection of Downe beetles.
The bookshop has a really good book on The Beagle that my children thoroughly enjoyed and I use in teaching primary students about Charles Darwin. There is a nice café on the site with highchairs.
The Queen’s Head:
Walk back to the bus stop the same way that you came, when you come back to the roundabout, the church and the bus stop, you will notice a pub to the left called The Queen’s Head. This is the perfect place to give the kids a reward for their walking. They have large sofas right by the open hearth fire and lots of board games to choose from. The menu is good, the Somerset brie tart, pate, sausages and chips are all excellent (and we have been many times). The pub rotates in local beers and is warm and friendly. If you are covered in mud, there are slippers at the front door and blankets to keep you warm while you wait for the bus.
The buses leave near the top of the hour (check the 146 schedule here) and is located just to the left of the door.
Should you have a little bit of time to wait, there is an amazing playground a ten minute walk away at Downe Recreation Grounds. The playground has been updated with a great zip-wire and a flying balance swing. I have never seen one of these before, but its basically two seats that hang from a beam balancing on a pole. As the children run and get momentum, they are rise up with one side going a bit higher and the opposite side dropping down. Our kids left us alone long enough for the grownups to share a bottle for Prosecco over the holidays.
You can get to the playground by going out the back garden from The Queen’s Head, and following the pavement to the right. You pass a few houses, the school and then come to the playground.
Downe Riding Stables: just over the road from the playground is the Downe Riding Stables where children can have an instructed ride for 45 minutes for £17 a turn. They ponies are very gentle and each horse is led by a handler who will also help instruct your child on how to ride. They do not have a web site, but if you click on the link you will get a listing with their number. Ring them up – we have used them a lot and highly recommend them.Tweet