10 good reasons to visit Tonbridge
PUBLISHED: 15:46 30 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:46 30 June 2016
With the High Street improvements finally complete, Tonbridge is enjoying a renaissance as not only a fantastic place to visit for its history and river setting but also as a foodie destination with a café culture
1 Exciting events
Tonbridge is a bustling town with a lot going on. With a surge of regeneration and investment, it’s the perfect time to try out some of the exciting events in store this summer. The annual Tonbridge Arts Festival is on 1-10 July and events across town will include art exhibitions, a comedy night, a beer festival and a variety show. The big attractions will be the live music events held on Castle Lawn and the grand finale will be the ever-popular Proms at the Castle. Visit www.tonbridgefestival.co.uk for details. Another annual event to look out for is the Tonbridge Town team’s fun Tonbridge Dragon Boat Race, taking place on 11 September. May saw the Team’s first Tonbridge Food and Drink Festival, and a big Christmas market is being planned.
2 On the river
Tonbridge has the River Medway running right through its heart. Great to picnic beside in summer, it’s also popular with lovers of water sports and a canoe club runs from here. The best way to see Tonbridge is to book a tour with Tonbridge River Trips (www.tonbridgerivertrips.co.uk), who run a launch, the Enid May, from under Big Bridge in the centre of town. Seating up to 12, trips include sightseeing and wildlife spotting. The company, which has been running since April 2015, has also returned rowing boats to Tonbridge.
3 Tonbridge Castle
Right in the centre of town, Tonbridge Castle (www.tonbridgecastle.org) is said to be England’s finest example of a motte and bailey castle, dating back some 900 years. All that remains today, however, is the 13th-century gatehouse, an adjacent 1600s building and some of the outer walls. You can experience life as it would have been in the castle 700 years ago, thanks to an audio tour, interactive displays and life-size figures in the gatehouse. There are enchanting gardens too.
4 Relaxed shopping
If you haven’t visited Tonbridge for a while you can’t miss the regeneration that’s been going on recently. The High Street has had a makeover with the aim of making it a more appealing, pedestrian-friendly shopping destination with new, wider pavements and street furniture. The increased footfall is likely to attract even more new shops to the town. For now, take a look around places like gift and lifestyles shops Gorgeous George, Little Blue Finch and The Gift Box.
5 Lakes and parks
Tonbridge is not only surrounded by beautiful Kent countryside, it’s also got its fair share of lovely green spaces. The Racecourse Sportsground, a 69-acre park which really was once a town centre racecourse, is a perfect spot for an active family day out. Its great play facilities, crazy golf, sports pitches, miniature railway and skate park are busy attractions over the summer. Just out of town, Haysden Country Park is well worth a visit, with lakes, cycle routes, woodland walks and picnic spots. Funding has recently been awarded so that some improvements can be made to the park’s Barden Lake later this year, including land drainage to avoid flooding, landscaping, creating a new path and a new jetty.
6 Leisure facilities
If the parks and sports aren’t enough for the fitness freak in you, Tonbridge also boasts two leisure centres. The Angel Centre is just off the High Street and has sports halls, a gym, a great variety of weekly classes and the Medway Hall for events and film screenings. A short stroll away is Tonbridge Swimming Pool which includes one of Kent’s few outdoor pools. A popular place for families over the summer months, the outdoor pool is connected to a larger pool indoors and also offers toddler and teaching pools.
7 Eating out
The choice of places to eat and drink in Tonbridge has grown rapidly over the last couple of years, with a move towards more independent cafés and restaurants. Popular eateries include Finch House, FCB, The Bakehouse at 124, Basil, The Ivy House and Graze. New names in the town also include Saltwater fish and chip restaurant, Turkish restaurant Havet, Thai restaurant Gaab Kao and Beyond The Grounds café. Just opened is Sulston’s Kitchen, a health-food restaurant in south Tonbridge, near the rail station. At the opposite end of town The Old Fire Station runs hugely popular pop-up restaurant events that attract top chefs from all over the country.
8 Film and theatre
With not one but two great theatres to choose from, Tonbridge is rather spoilt when it comes to culture. Based in a 19th-century oast house on the outskirts of town, The Oast Theatre (www.oasttheatre.com) is a prolific community theatre putting on a range of performances each year. Between 25 June and 2 July, you can catch Moonlight And Magnolias there, with comedy Funny Money between 23 and 30 July. Meanwhile, the EM Forster Theatre (www.boxoffice.tonbridge-school.co.uk), set on Tonbridge School’s campus, has all sorts of art, drama, music, comedy and dance events throughout the year. And for fans of open-air entertainment, between 22-24 July, Luna Cinema is showing Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Grease and Back to the Future at Tonbridge Castle.
9 Literary links
Jane Austen’s father George not only lived in Tonbridge but he was also a pupil at Tonbridge School and went on to teach there. Her family had many links to Kent, with branches living in nearby Horsmonden as well as in Tonbridge. Although there is no clear evidence that the writer herself ever visited, it’s more than likely that she did and the town takes pride in the association. There are several buildings left standing where her relations once lived and Explore Kent has a literary walk route available to download (www.explorekent.org) which takes in places including Tonbridge School, Blair House on the High Street – where Jane’s great uncle lived – and the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, where several of her relatives are buried. The church itself has just emerged from a refurbishment that has created more flexible space, improved the lighting and seen once-sooty monuments emerge gleaming against repainted walls .
10 Chagall windows
All Saints Church in nearby village Tudeley is the only church in the world to have its stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. The noted Russian-French artist had been asked to design one of the windows as a memorial to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, a local girl killed in a sailing accident in 1963. Her parents, the then owners of Somerhill House (now a school) commissioned just the one, but at the unveiling Chagall was so impressed by the church he decided to do them all. The last was installed in 1985, shortly before his death. Individuals and small groups are welcome to visit but contact the church first if there are more than eight of you.