Spotlight on: Tenterden
PUBLISHED: 14:02 23 September 2015 | UPDATED: 14:02 23 September 2015
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
This gem in the heart of the Weald is the picture-perfect Kentish town that time forgot. With pretty architecture, cosy tea rooms and a nostalgic steam railway, is well worth exploring
The charming market town of Tenterden grew up around the local wool industry in the 14th century and flourished because of its handy access to the sea.
It’s hard to imagine now because the sea has long since retreated over the Romney Marsh, but the town was once an important shipbuilding centre and trading port, with ships docking at Smallhythe.
In 1449 Tenterden became a Cinque Port, as a ‘limb’ of Rye. Granted almost complete autonomy for many years and exempt from national taxation, the town prospered.
Now some 10 miles from the sea, much of Tenterden has remained unchanged and has escaped major development. It is one of the prettiest towns in Kent and is popular with tourists who flock to its wide, tree-lined High Street and admire its peaceful pace and its traditional weather-boarded buildings.
Surrounded by some of the county’s most productive land and boasting dozens of high-quality local food and drink producers, Tenterden is also a foodie paradise. And if exploring the town and then tasting the local produce in its many restaurants and cafés isn’t enough for you, there’s also the fabulous Kent & East Sussex Railway based in the town’s old station.
A trip to Tenterden is very much like stepping back in time, so put down your mobile phone, take a deep breath and discover what this ‘jewel of the Weald’ has to offer.
Eating and shopping
It’s a wonderful destination for a spot of relaxed shopping, with an eclectic mix of independent and high street brands. Big names include the likes of Monsoon, Waterstones and White Stuff, while popular independent stores such as Tenterden House Interiors offer showroom after showroom of items to browse and the much-loved Webb’s of Tenterden - one of the oldest family run shops in Kent – is finally reopening part of its housewares and hardware shop after a devastating fire in 2013. With a town that needs to appeal to tourists as much as provide for the day-to-day needs of residents, there are plenty of great places to eat in Tenterden. Coffee shops, tea rooms, cafés, restaurants and pubs – the town has something for everyone.
We recommend Peggoty’s tea room, Savannah coffee shop and restaurant and Ozgur Turkish restaurant. Good pubs include The White Lion and The Vine Inn. And if you’re looking to spend a long weekend in the area, there’s the lovely London Beach Hotel, Spa and Country Club (01580 766279).
4 of the best food and drink producers
While you’re in Tenterden, why not sample some of the wonderful food and drink made by local producers? We’ve picked our top four…
1 Chapel Down, Tenterden
One of a handful of successful wineries based in the Weald and a finalist in the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards, Chapel Down is the largest and best known. Generally regarded as England’s leading wine producer, its world-class sparkling and still wines, together with its range of Curious beers and ciders, make it one of the most important drinks companies in the country. There are a number of tour and tasting packages if you’d like to see the Tenterden winery and taste its award-winning wines and you can take a guided tour of the vineyard between April and November. There’s an excellent visitor centre and also the superb Swan Restaurant on site. Plan your visit at www.chapeldown.com
2 Wise Owl Cider, High Halden
Another finalist in the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards, Wise Owl are a new, small scale producer of award-winning, dry, slightly sparkling cider. Blending eight different types of local apples, the couple behind the operation painstakingly mill and press the fruit themselves to create a light and flavoursome cider that’s taking the Kentish cider scene by storm. It’s stocked by a growing number of local farm shops and restaurants. Pick up some at Silcocks Farm Shop in Tenterden.
3 Old Dairy Brewery, Tenterden
Having been set up in an old milking parlour in 2010, the Old Dairy Brewery’s beers were an instant hit, with locally sourced ingredients, finely crafted recipes and an interesting variety of styles. The company soon outgrew the milking parlour and built a new brewery last year, inside two Second World War Nissen buildings in the heart of Tenterden. There is a brewery shop where you can view the machinery itself and buy some of its lovingly produced artisan beers. Visit the website for details: www.olddairybrewery.com
4 The Potato Shop, Tenterden
As its name suggests, the potato shop at the Morghew Park Estate grows and sells exotic, heritage and conventional potatoes both online and from its honesty stall at the estate. With around 20 varieties grown per year in their 35-acre potato fields, the shop supplies restaurants, farm shops, pubs and school across Kent and Sussex. Take a look at the shop’s website for more information and for some of their wonderful potato recipes: www.thepotatoshop.com
Full steam ahead
From the earliest days of steam engines, Tenterden had wanted its own railway. After all, it was a prosperous town surrounded by rural villages and pretty far from anywhere by horse, but early proposals failed because of the difficulty of building through the hills and valleys of the Weald. Another option needed to be found. Thought up by engineer Holman F Stephens, the answer came in the form of a light railway, built cheaply and run at low cost to serve the rural communities. Thanks to Colonel Stephens - after whom the museum at the Kent & East Sussex Railway is named - the railway finally arrived in 1900.
“The original route used to run from Robertsbridge to the station we now call Rolvenden,” explains museum curator Brian Janes. “But it was called Tenterden then. Then it was extended up the hill here to our main Tenterden station in 1903 and on to Headcorn in 1905.”
It was a triumph and was very successful for a great many years. But times were changing rapidly and the railway closed to passengers in 1954 and then closed to freight in 1961.
Thanks to a group of local enthusiasts though the line was preserved and it was partially reopened again in 1974 as a small-scale steam railway attraction running between Tenterden and Rolvenden. In 1990 the line was extended to Northiam and in 2000 services returned to Bodiam. “We’d already gone as far as Bodiam and we thought that would be it but work is going ahead now to go on to Robertsbridge, just as the line would have done originally,” says Brian.
Not long after the original idea to restore the line as a heritage railway, a group of local people began gathering all the artefacts they could find about it.
Brian explains: “The group, including John Miller who was the first curator of the museum and has since sadly died, started assembling artefacts and originally exhibited them in the town museum here. Then they got this rather basic Romney Hut that we’re based in now – it’s a big Nissen Hut next to the station – so we were able to put all this stuff they had assembled on display. They decided that the interest was in ‘The Colonel’ as much as the railway, so they decided to display all the railways he designed, not just this one.”
They must have done a good job as the fascinating museum won a prestigious award just last year - Morton’s Media (Heritage Railway Magazine) Interpretation Award – for what was called ‘continuing magnificent highlighting of a unique dimension of British railway history.’
“We have people who have spent half a day here at the museum,” says Brian. “We have a huge photographic collection and although most of it is in the archives upstairs, we have used it generously around the museum so people can see the railways as they really were.”
The museum’s star attraction, however, is a little locomotive called Gazelle. It’s the smallest normal-gauge engine probably ever built and part of the national collection.
For Brian, who now spends two days a week at the museum, the interest in the railway had always been there but it wasn’t until he retired that he offered to help out former curator John Miller.
“When he died, I took over. Strangely enough, I’ve since discovered that five of my great uncles worked on this railway!”
Brian’s fascination with the story of the rise and fall and rise again of this little railway has even led him to recently write a book, a short history of the Kent & East Sussex Railway, which is due to be published soon.
● The Colonel Stephens Railway Museum (01580 765155) is open on the days the railway operates, which is mainly between April and October but check the website at www.kesr.org.uk as there are special event dates too.
The museum charges £2 to visit, or £3 per couple, and children under 16 are free of charge if they are accompanied by an adult.
Visit the museum’s website at www.hfstephens-museum.org.uk for more information on the exhibits.
Deep in the heart of Kent there are plenty of superb country piles on the market in and around Tenterden, which can cost around £1,300,000 but there are also many individually designed four-bedroom homes costing between £340,000 and £600,000. Three bedroom properties average around £380,000 and there are two-bedroom cottages on the market for an average price of £250,000.
How to get there
Tenterden is accessible via the A28 between Hastings and Ashford. The closest mainline station is Headcorn, some nine miles away, and Ashford is just a little further.
Sat nav for the town centre: TN30 6BW