Spotlight on Tunbridge Wells
Tunbridge Wells (or rather, Royal Tunbridge Wells) is a town that offers the traveller a choice: London in one direction and the coast in the other. Both can be equally tempting, although once the delights of Tunbridge Wells itself have been experienced, anyone would be forgiven for wanting to put their onward travels off for just a little while in order to stay there for longer. Tunbridge Wells has a special kind of charm.
History in Brief
Archaeologists have always enjoyed working in the Tunbridge Wells area because there is so much there to – literally – uncover. Iron Age settlements (including evidence in the shape of an iron forge beneath Bayham Abbey) that the Wealden iron industry had begun there, as well as plenty of Roman artefacts and a defensive fort from that period show quite how popular Tunbridge Wells has been for millennia.
Of course, it is the wells themselves that make the area famous today. And they were first noted in 1606 when Dudley, Lord North (courtier to James I), travelled to Eridge in the hopes that the country air would improve his failing health. When the air was seemingly doing nothing at all, and Dudley was getting worse, he decided to go for one last walk before returning to London to, we have to presume, prepare for death. The poor man took a drink from a spring he passed on his stroll and immediately felt better. Another drink and he was a new man! Word soon spread, and within days nobles from London had travelled to Kent to try the waters for themselves.
There must have been something in it – by 1664 a spa retreat was doing great business there. Not long after, shops, cafés, and other businesses sprang up by the spring, and a town was born.
Things to Do
- Groombridge Place
If you want adventure, fascinating literary connections, and beautiful surroundings, Groombridge Place is ideal for you. Discover the beautiful award-winning gardens and the forest with its giant swings, zip wires, and Crusoe’s World, and see where Pride and Prejudice was filmed.
- Assembly Hall Theatre
With the capacity to seat just over 1,000 people, The Assembly Hall Theatre has long been the central place for people to come together, enjoy music, drama, dance, and much more (including some fascinating talks).
- Royal Victoria Place
If The Pantiles is your ticket to the past, Royal Victoria Place shopping centre is the future. This 1,000,000 square foot (93,000 square metre) covered centre has over 100 different shops and services under one roof, and with eight floors of parking you can enjoy your retail therapy without any hassle.
- Trinity Theatre
Located in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, Trinity is a vibrant theatre in one of the most beautiful buildings in the region, hosting around 350 events a year, ranging from the best in theatre and dance through to the biggest names in comedy and music. With some 90,000 people coming through its doors each year alongside a dynamic programme of participation for young people, it is acknowledged as one of the leading venues in the South East.
- Spa Valley Railway
Experience the delights of real old fashioned steam locomotives; take a trip on one, learn about how they are cared for, or even enjoy a special event – a meal or perhaps a Day Out With Thomas – on board one of the beautifully restored trains.
- Scotney Castle Garden
A country house, romantic garden, and a 14th-century moated castle – all in a beautiful wooded estate; Scotney Castle Gardens, a National Trust property, is a wonderful family day out. You can have a meal in the tea room after exploring the fairytale castle, the mansion house, or the 770-acre woods, and before you leave you can pick up some Scotney honey from the property’s own bees from the shop.
- Dunloran Park
Dunloran Park has it all; it’s a beautiful spot for a walk, ideal for a bit of boating, and with its attractive lawns, ornamental gardens, and lovely café, a whole day could be spent here without any trouble at all. Included within the grounds are a boating lake, children’s play area, Victoria Cross Grove, pond dipping, and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Model Boat Club.
Amongst the oldest of the buildings along London Road is one that is weather-boarded, tile-hung and built in a traditional Kentish style; this was William Makepeace Thackeray’s home, and it is now Thackeray’s restaurant by Richard Phillips. The menu here is refined and elegant, delicious and delightful and includes layers of smoked salmon with lightly curried butter; pecorino and bacon croque monsieur with tomato and rosemary fondue; and chargrilled rump of Kentish lamb with Moroccan style couscous, apricots, mint, tomato, red onion, and ‘Ras al Hanout’ spice as well as many other intriguing and mouth-watering dishes.
- Spa Hotel
When it comes to a wide range of dining choices, Tunbridge Wells’ highly regarded Spa Hotel gives you them all. The Chandelier Restaurant offers classically based modern British cuisine. If you prefer a more relaxed dining experience, the beautifully refurbished Zagatos Bar & Brasserie is perfect. The extensive Zagatos menu incorporates the classic dishes from the restaurant, plus sharing plates and bar favourites. Brunch and sandwiches are available in the Lobby & Orangery, and The Spa Hotel’s renowned afternoon teas are served there daily.
- The Kentish Hare
The ethos behind the food at Bidborough’s the Kentish Hare is that it needs to be simple, delicious, and locally sourced. Perfect! And it is – with dishes such as fried duck egg, adiondack pancake, smoked ham and maple and mustard seed, roast duck breast, creamed mash and cherries and Kentish Hare salted chocolate brownie with a milk sorbet, this is Kentish food at its finest.
- Jazz on the Pantiles // Jun-Sep
Jazz on the Pantiles is a popular and well-loved festival that takes place in the town’s beautiful bandstand, and has done for the past 20 years. It lasts from June until September, giving those long, leisurely evenings on the Pantiles an extra fun flare.
- Unfest // May
This annual music and arts festival is held every spring bank holiday, and offers an eclectic mix of performance, art, and music.
- Mela // July
Mela’s aim is to celebrate diversity, and show the local community a variety of music, visual arts, food, and dance. A lively, tasty (foods hail from India, Bangladesh, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America) experience for all.
The Pantiles – Tunbridge Wells’ lovely old shopping area – offers boutique stores, independent shops, specialist sellers, and all of it is high quality and exquisite. Try out the gorgeous cafés, or enjoy the art galleries. Allow yourself to get lost in time.
Did You Know?
Dudley, Lord North, went on to live a full and healthy life and died at the age of 85 – almost unheard of in the 17th century! Was his longevity due to the waters of Tunbridge Wells?