Spotlight on Tunbridge Wells
PUBLISHED: 07:40 29 January 2014 | UPDATED: 07:40 29 January 2014
10 good reasons to visit this charasmatic spa town
1 In the beginning
The Pantiles – named after tiles laid on the muddy ground in 1689 – is the site of the original settlement clustered around the town’s raison d’être, the ‘health-giving’ Chalybeate Spring. Nowadays it’s a fine colonnaded walkway on two levels full of welcoming home-oriented stores, antique shops, art galleries, gift and clothes shops, pubs, a hotel and restaurants.
2 Cooking with Rosemary
On the Pantiles’ lower level is the impressive Corn Exchange, originally built as a theatre in 1801. Here you’ll find the Rosemary Shrager Cookery School (01892 528 700), which is attracting students from all over the world. There are one-day, half-day and evening cookery courses, and a deli and café are planned for 2014.
3 Music and theatre
Trinity Theatre (01892 678678, TN1 1JP), originally Holy Trinity Church, is an atmospheric theatre (with cinema) offering a varied and original programme. In February look out for the Bolshoi Ballet’s Lost illusions (2 Feb), comedy with David Doherty (6 Feb), and singer Barb Jungr (13 Feb). The nearby Assembly Hall Theatre (01892 530613, TN1 2LU) has February shows that include: Russell Kane (1 Feb), An Audience with Nigel Farage (10 Feb), Rumours of Fleetwood Mac (12 Feb) and Killer Queen (14 Feb). See also page 14.
4 Retail therapy
Royal Victoria Place shopping mall, which celebrated its 21st birthday last year, has a wealth of fashion and home stores, lots of places to get a quick bite to eat or drink and ample parking. The High Street and Calverley Place offer an excellent range of small independents, specialising in home furnishings, high-end fashion, jewellery and gifts, and there are also more specialist shops in Camden, Monson and Vale Roads and Mount Ephraim. Calverley Road and Mount Pleasant have a mix of both chain stores and independents.
5 Eat, drink and be merry
There’s a vast, ever-changing selection of places to eat and drink, from established names such as Thackeray’s (01892 511921, TN1 1EA), Wood’s Restaurant (01892 614411, TN2 5TH) and the Chandelier Restaurant at the Spa Hotel (01892 520331, TN4 8XJ) to the more recent, such as the popular Basil café (01892 526422, TN4 9NY), and the revamped: the Tunbridge Wells Bar & Grill (01892 522 963, TN1 1YB) has a new retractable roof so you can eat outdoors all year round. Pubs include the attractively refurbished Pitcher & Piano (01892 510555, TN1 1HT), and The Mount Edgcumbe (01892 618854, TN4 8BX).
6 Toys and Tunbridgeware
Recently modernised, which included adding a lift for the first time in its history, Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery (01892 554171, TN1 1JN) is packed with interesting exhibits. Highlights include a magic lantern collection, dolls, toys and games, the world’s largest collection of Tunbridgeware (locally made decorative marquetry woodware), thousands of natural history specimens , plus items of clothing and accessories from the 1700s to now.
7 A martyr’s church
St Charles the Martyr church is the oldest building in town, described as the Jewel in the Pantiles, although it’s just on its edge. The ceiling has plasterwork by John Wetherell and Henry Doogood and there’s an interesting turret and clock, presented in 1760 by Lavinia Fenton. The church is noted for its music, with the finest organ in the area; it hosts concerts, the parish choir performs here and it’s home to the King Charles Singers.
8 Go for a wander
There are plenty of parks where you can enjoy a winter’s stroll. Just outside town Dunorlan Park has a river, pond and boating lake, while in the town centre Calverley Grounds has a fine sunken Italianate garden and a café. The Grove, the oldest of them all, was given to the townspeople to provide ‘a grove and shady place’ and has some lovely ancient trees.
9 Stupendous sandstone Visit the High Rocks complex to see amazing sandstone rocks interlinked with 11 bridges. Originally a Stone Age camp, it is now a national monument and popular with rock climbers and walkers. At its foot is the High Rocks Hotel, which hosts live music events and dances, has a restaurant and bar and is a popular wedding venue. There’s even a steam railway platform in the garden where trains operated by the Spa Valley Railway (01892 537715) run from Tunbridge Wells old West Station to Groombridge & Eridge (main line station), stopping at High Rocks on route.
10 Not so Common
The best way to view the lovely Common is from the lofty heights of Mount Ephraim, from where you can see the town’s roofscape and the sloping Common and Wellington Rocks: red sandstone crags looking incongruous against the greenery. There are also some interesting houses on the Common: Saint Helena, a former lodging house, and Gibraltar Cottage, its name an allusion to the rocks on which it stands; Gibraltar was once used as a general term for the rocky eastern apex of the Common. n