Spotlight on: Tonbridge
PUBLISHED: 19:16 11 July 2014 | UPDATED: 19:16 11 July 2014
What to see and do this month in the pretty west Kent market town on the Medway
1Castle and grounds Only the gatehouse remains of what was once the finest example of a Motte-and-Bailey castle in Britain, and beside it is a Georgian mansion and the tourist information centre (part of The Gateway). The earthworks are testimony to the massive medieval construction process, and there are pretty landscaped gardens, with the River Wall and Curtain Wall ascending the Mound. Do choose the excellent audio tour to guide you around the gatehouse, and in summer watch out for band concerts, fêtes, festivals of music and fireworks held on Castle Lawn, which forms a natural ampitheatre.
The original town grew up around the castle and from here to the High Street’s white-painted Big Bridge you will find the oldest part of Tonbridge. There are some fine old buildings, including the wonderfully welcoming parish church of St Peter and St Paul, the 18th-century Priory, Ferox Hall (a 1500’s mansion, partially rebuilt in 1878), and 15th-century timber-framed Port Reeves House. The ancient Chequers pub (1400s) and revitalised Rose and Crown Hotel (1600s) are both in the High Street, near the castle.
Eat and drink
Restaurant choices in the long High Street range from The Ivy House (01732 771249, TN9 1BW) to Turkish newcomer Uskudar (01732 351261, TN9 1BB) and modern brasserie Grand Appetito (01732 368877, TN9 1BB). Going slightly further afield, The Poacher and Partridge (TN11 0PH, formerly The Poacher) will open in Tudeley this September with Elite Pubs, while The Kentish Hare has just opened in Bidborough (01892 525709, TN3 0XB). Pubs include The Cardinal’s Error (01732 770107, TN9 2EP), The Carpenter’s Arms (01732 850307, TN11 0AD), The Vauxhall (01732 773111, TN11 0NA) and, down by the river, The Humphrey Bean, with gardens opposite the castle (01732 773850, TN9 1AP) and The Wharf (01732 350729, TN9 1EX).
All the world’s a stage
The Oast Theatre (01732 363849, TN10 3AN) is home to Tonbridge Theatre and Arts Club. Originally a farm oast house, it is now an active arts and theatre club. The theatre club’s production Double Double, Cyprienne, runs from 26 July to 2 August.
Wide open spaces
Tonbridge Farm Sports Ground (TN10 3JF) is a multi-purpose, floodlit all-weather sports area beloved by walkers, dogs and families, with children’s play facilities, ball court and a skate park, plus the fabulous indoor-outdoor swimming pool. Haysden Country Park (TN11 9BE) is a designated Local Nature Reserve, with wildlife and walks and two lakes, cycle routes and water activities. Tonbridge Racecourse Sports Ground (TN9 1DS) has a multi-use games area, and facilities for tennis, crazy golf, bowls and a skate park
Tapestries and toys
A short drive or cycle ride away is Penshurst Place and Gardens (01892 870307, TN11 8DG), the best-preserved example of a defended manor house in England. Its 48 acres of renowned gardens contain a mile of yew hedging dividing the areas into a series of ‘rooms’, plus an adventure playground and woodland trail. Splendid state rooms, with royal and family portraits and costumes on display, plus a toy museum complete the picture.
It’s not all charity shops, pound shops and hairdressers in Tonbridge you know – there are some real (independent) gems. Gorgeous George (01732 369871, TN9 1TE) is a fab lifestyle fashion, gifts and wine boutique with a new upstairs gallery for local artists, Ian Chatfield Butchers (01732 354733, TN9 1EJ) has done so well in the High Street he’s opened a second store in Notcutts Pembury, while Finch House (01732 367770, TN9 1TE) is adored for its coffee, cakes and fresh produce for sale. Don’t miss the brilliant Tonbridge Farmers’ Market (winner of that category in 2013’s Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards), second Sunday of every month.
All Saints church at Tudeley (TN11 0NZ) boasts all 12 of its windows decorated by Marc Chagall, the famous Russian artist. The East Window was commissioned in 1963 as a memorial to a local young woman who died in a tragic accident; Chagall then made the rest of the stained glass windows over the following 15 years. In the peaceful churchyard find the prayer labyrinth, a circular range of grass pathways. n