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10 reasons to visit Tonbridge, Kent

PUBLISHED: 13:34 22 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:34 22 July 2019

Tonbridge Castle is one of the finest examples of an ancient motte and bailey castle in the UK (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Tonbridge Castle is one of the finest examples of an ancient motte and bailey castle in the UK (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

This historic market town is now just as well known for its foodie scene and independent shops as its riverside setting and ancient castle

1. Food glorious food

For great food and drink, head to Fuggles Beer Café (Newcomer of the Year in our 2018 Food & Drink Awards), The Bakehouse at 124, Finch House, Basil, Nii Haw, Gurkha Planet, Gaab Kao, Beyond The Grounds, Mamma Mia, The Gatehouse and many more. In an exciting move for two local businesses, our 2016 Newcomer of the Year Ben Sulston joins The Old Fire Station as its new development chef this month. Ben's original location, next to the Police Station, will transform into the TOFS Development Kitchen. Great British Menu contestant Scott Goss has opened Verdigris, a bar and restaurant on Big Bridge, Saltwaters fish and chips has rebranded as Fisk and popular local Turkish restaurant chain Hattusa is bringing a takeaway version to town. Ale house The Beer Seller has opened The Hidden Seller on its first floor, selling high-quality British beers, wines and spirits.

2. Castle gatehouse

The 13th-century gatehouse of Tonbridge Castle sits in a prominent position overlooking the River Medway in the heart of the town. It's the best-preserved part of the ruins of this ancient 'motte and bailey' castle, one of the finest examples of its type in the country. Visitors today can take an interactive audio tour explaining its 900-year history, but it also remains a focus for the town's cultural events, with castle lawn a natural amphitheatre for concerts, film screenings and festivals.

The Old Fire Station welcomes 2016 Kent Life Food & Drink Awards Newcomer of the Year Ben Sulston on board this month (photo: Manu Palomeque)The Old Fire Station welcomes 2016 Kent Life Food & Drink Awards Newcomer of the Year Ben Sulston on board this month (photo: Manu Palomeque)

3. Epic events

There's a fantastic food festival each May, and the town's summer carnival is held in June. Coming up there is the Tonbridge Castle Music Weekend (5-7 July), an open-air performance of A Winter's Tale at the castle (11 July), Luna Cinema's outdoor film screenings (19-21 July), the popular Medieval Fair and Heritage Weekend (7-8 September), the annual Dragon Boat Race on the river (8 September) and a Christmas Festival (24 November), as well as many live music events held at the castle over summer.

4. Historic haunts

Far older than neighbouring Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge has several buildings of historical importance. Founded in 1553, some of the ornate buildings of Tonbridge School are visible from the road, and lovers of ancient churches will enjoy the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, thought to be Saxon in origin.Author Jane Austen's father hailed from Tonbridge, and a Jane Austen walking trail is available, pointing out spots including the churchyard where her grandparents are buried.

Without the River Medway, Tonbridge would never have become a town in the first place (photo: Manu Palomeque)Without the River Medway, Tonbridge would never have become a town in the first place (photo: Manu Palomeque)

5. Independent spirit

The High Street has seen a lot of change. Now leaning towards unique and independent shops and businesses, it has everything you could need within a short walk, from supermarkets to local florists, delicatessens to gifts shops. The busy Tonbridge Town Team runs a number of the town's most popular annual events and is responsible for a retail reward scheme, with dozens of local businesses signed up to a loyalty card system. Look out for ArtSpring Gallery, Bea children's and dancewear store, Gorgeous George, Little Blue Finch, Cycle-Ops bike shop, Mr Books, Sankeys fishmonger, Ian Chatfield butcher and deli and record shop Vinyl Destination.

6. Green scene

Multi award-winning Haysden Country Park covers 160 acres to the west of Tonbridge and features lakes, marshland and woodland habitats. Popular with runners, dog walkers and families, the lakes also offer sailing and angling. It's been awarded a Green Flag every year since 2006 and is Natural England accredited as a valuable home for all sorts of flora and fauna. The Tudor Trail cycle path, which links Tonbridge and Penshurst, passes through the park and can be picked up here to shorten the distance a little.

7. Local produce

Tonbridge is surrounded by pristine countryside and boasts a number of popular Farmers' Markets in the area. Shipbourne was our 2018 Farmers' Market of the year in the Kent Life Food & Drink Awards, and there are excellent markets in Tonbridge itself, Hildenborough and Penshurst to explore. Haywards Farmshop in nearby Hadlow was our 2018 Farm Shop of the year and the area is even home to its own brand of gin; Greensand Ridge Distillery in nearby Shipbourne is open for tours.

8. Culture club

The Oast Theatre, on the outskirts of Tonbridge and Hildenborough, is home to a thriving local amateur dramatics group and puts on 10 shows per year. Tonbridge School's EM Forster Theatre is open to the public, offering a lovely space for drama, music and dance events. Each Christmas it becomes the home of local pantomime company Wicked Productions, with tickets for this year's production of Peter Pan already selling fast. Upcoming shows include We're Going On A Bear Hunt (24-25 July).

9. Good neighbours

A tiny rural village close to Tonbridge, Tudeley features highly on the area's list of attractions thanks to All Saints', the only church in the world to have all its windows designed by the artist Marc Chagall. And just a bike ride or run away for the energetic, Penshurst Place is a great place for all the family to visit, with its 500 acres of parkland, an adventure playground, 'maize maze', a woodland trail and toy museum. Inside the ancestral home of the Sidney family, you can admire opulent staterooms such as The Solar, Queen Elizabeth Room and Long Gallery and marvel at the lofty medieval Baron's Hall.

10. Peaceful river

Without the River Medway, Tonbridge wouldn't have become a town in the first place. An easy crossing place on the London to Hastings route, a Saxon settlement grew up around an original timber bridge. As buildings hide much of the town's riverside setting from the road, it's worth exploring on foot to discover this hidden side. Popular with kayakers and home to a local canoe club, during the summer it's a great place to hire a rowing boat or take a short cruise on the Enid May, both through Tonbridge River Trips (under Big Bridge).

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