This is an English county home where the building itself comes second to who lived here and what they did here. It was in this house that one of the most important scientific advances ever made was first conceived by Charles Darwin, the Thoery of Evolution by Means of Natural Selection.
The site is now in the ownership of English Heritage who have lovingly tried to restore the building. The downstairs rooms are full of Darwins own furniture and possesions, with his scientfic papers and equipment scattered across the 'old study'. The tour of the house comes with an informative and engaging audio tour which takes you around the house as the Darwin's would have known it. The upstairs rooms have been turned into a gallery/museum of darwins specimens and watercolours with further information about his life and work.
The tour continues in the garden where Darwin conducted many of his experiments and investigations. A number of the experiments that Darwin recorded have been recreated for us to see. The greenhouses have a selection of interesting plants, including the carnivorous Drosera species.
In recent years there has been a campaign to try to get the site listed as a UNESCO world heritage site because of what happened and was discovered here and the importance of this to all of humanity.
Down House started life in the early 18th century and there had probably been a 17th century house on the site beforehand. At that time it was a simple box shape. It was extended with the addition of a kitchen and service wing by a local landowner and businessman who bought the house in 1778. Charles Darwin bought the house in 1842 and the Darwins soon set about making substantial changes and extensions to the building until we arrive at the building we see today.
Current entry prices are £9.90 for adults and £5.90 for children, which includes the audio guide.
Of the two pubs in Downe, this is the older (16th century, I believe) althought the trappings inside are more up to date (plasma TV and pool table). It is still, however, a very pleasant and atmospheric place with a roaring log fire and friendly staff and locals.
You can just imagine Charles Darwin, the most famous resident of the village, sitting here over a pint and chatting with the locals.
Downe is blessed with two very pleasant pubs, and this is one of them, the Queens Head. Friendly staff and locals and a pleasant atmosphere, it is a great place to spend a while. there is a large open fire and the bus stop is right across the road so you don't even have to drive!
Although I did not eat there, the menu looked very interesting with a lot of home made dishes offered.
If you don't have your own wheels the only way to get to Downe is by bus. There are 2 services which are likely to be of use and one passes by Down House. The number 146 leaves Bromley North and South Railway stations for Downe village, whilst the R8 bus goes from Orpington railway station to Downe and passes Down House on it's way to Biggin Hill.
Along Luxted Road (for Down House) the R8 is 'hail and ride' so you can hail the bus to stop at any safe place rather than actually needing to be at a stop. If you are wanting to get on at Down House to go back to Orpington then it's probably best to go to the entrance to the car park and wait there as you are away from the bend in the road so the driver is more likely to see you before passing by and they have more room to pull over and stop.
The number 146 runs hourly from Bromley North station and the R8 runs roughly every 70 minutes (both as at March 2012). Bus times do change and neither service is particularly frequent anyway so it's probably best to check up to date times on the Transport for London Website which has a journey planner you can use as well as timetables.