10 good reasons to visit Tonbridge

PUBLISHED: 19:24 21 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:31 20 February 2013

In 'Olympic fever month', there's plenty of outdoor activities for all the family in and around this lively market town with fast train links to the capital


1. Theatre and dance
Based in a 19th-century oast house, Tonbridge Oast Theatre (01732 350261) is one of the most prolific arts clubs in Kent, presenting 13 productions a year. In July they are staging Silhouette, a detective mystery written by Simon Brett.
The E M Forster Theatre (01732 304241), on Tonbridge School campus, has two theatres and also holds theatre workshops. Productions for July include The Browning Version and a performance by the National Youth Ballet.

2. History and gardens
Nearby Penshurst Place (01892 870307) dates from the 1500s and not only has fascinating state rooms and a Toy Museum to visit, but also boasts what have been described as the most beautiful gardens in England (now including the lovely new Jubilee Walk that opened in June). Theres a lime walk, ponds and water fountains, ancient trees, a Lake Park, Adventure Playground and a woodland trail picnic area. Regular entertainments and craft activities, plus a tea room and gift shop.

3. A river runs through it
Haysden Country Park is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest and a much-loved local nature reserve with open water (two lakes), grassland and woodland. There are nature and historical trails, childrens play and outdoor picnic areas, and part of the River Medway runs through the land. It has abundant wildlife, including wild flowers and waterfowl, rare insects and wildflowers. Activities on offer include sailing, fishing, cycling and riding.

4. Castle and grounds
Dating Tonbridge Castle (Visitor Information Centre 01732 770929) is Englands finest example of a motte and bailey castle, dating back to medieval times. All that remains today is the 13th-century gatehouse, an adjacent 1600s building and River Wall and Curtain Wall. However, in the gatehouse you can experience interactive audio tours and displays, with life-sized figures, dramatic lighting and special effects, and the fantastic castle grounds Tonbridge Riverside Gardens are a delight to explore.

5. The old town
Above the impressive white Big Bridge on the High Street (great for river views) is the original part of town that arose around the castle and is where youll find some attractive independent shops. Historic buildings to see include: The Priory, Ivy House, Ferox Hall and Port Reeves House, as well as the marvellous ancient Ye Olde Chequers Inn. Below is the more commercialised part of town, including the station, and Little Bridge.

6. Jane Austens church
At the heart of the community is the vibrant parish church of St Peter and St Paul, which once served the largest parish in Kent, including Tunbridge Wells. Much of the building dates from the 1300s and Jane Austens family worshipped there; those remembered on the north wall are largely her friends and relations. Janes grandfather William and his wife are buried in the churchyard, and two former vicars were connected to the Austen family.

7. Where to eat and drink
Among the national chains and takeaways on the High Street are some real little gems. Acclaimed Indian restaurant Alishan (01732 770616) is a favourite, as are two authentic, very friendly Italian eateries, The Olive Room (formerly Antonias, 01732 368877) and Mama Mia (01732 353660). Ivyhouse is both a dining room and bar (01732 771249) and you can get spooked at the famously haunted Cardinals Error (01732 770107).

8.Fun and games
Tonbridge Farm Sportsground (01732 359966) has a floodlit all-weather pitch, and cricket and football pitches. There are childrens play areas, picnic tables, a bowls club plus a Skatepark, with many jumps, ramps and grinds. Tonbridge Swimming Pool (01732 367449 has a hugely popular indoor/outdoor pool and is right in the heart of Tonbridge Racecourse Sportsground (01732 876162), which has a multi-use games area, tennis, crazy golf, bowls, angling, model train rides and a childrens play area.

9.Russian art
All Saints Church at Tudeley is the only church in world to have all its dozen windows designed by artist Marc Chagall, including one dedicated to Sarah dAvigdor-Goldsmit, who tragically died in 1963. The churchyard has a prayer labyrinth, a special grass pathway that was once a feature of many medieval churches, notably Chartres Cathedral. All Saints is also the venue for The Tudeley (early music) Festival.

10.Hops and funfairs
The Hop Farm Family Park (01622 872068) is terrific fun for adults and children alike, with the UKs first magic factory, a Victorian Carrousel, Childrens Driving School, Giant Jumping Pillows, mini funfair, crazy golf, pirate cove, and Shires and Friends animal farm (with llamas, reindeer, goats and pigs), a soft play area, pottery and The Hop Story, an exhibition of hop farming.

Getting there
Tonbridge is in west Kent, halfway between London and the south coast, just off the A21, 20 miles from the M25 and M20. There are fast rail links to London (40 minutes) and other Kentish places, plus good bus and coach services (call Traveline, 0871 200 2233 for details).
Satnav postcode: TN9 1BG

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