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Spotlight on: Tunbridge Wells

PUBLISHED: 16:35 27 November 2015 | UPDATED: 16:35 27 November 2015

KEN DEC 15 TW

KEN DEC 15 TW

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

With its fabulous architecture, rich history and superb green spaces, combined with a town centre packed with places to shop and dine, it's easy to see the attraction of Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Close to London by train yet far enough into the country to be surrounded by beautiful rural tranquillity, Royal Tunbridge Wells has a grand reputation to uphold.

Having grown up as a resort where royalty and aristocracy took their vacations, its history has certainly been colourful. Discovered to have a mineral-rich natural spring more than 400 years ago, the spa town was for many years the playground of the rich and famous.

By the Victorian period people were finding it made a good place to live, not just visit, and the town expanded beyond The Pantiles and the High Street, now referred to as ‘the village’.

It became ‘Royal’ Tunbridge Wells in 1909 when King Edward VII officially recognised its popularity with many important visitors over the years – including his own mother, Queen Victoria, who spent several holidays at Mount Pleasant House (now Hotel du Vin).

Today it is a town of two parts, with the modern shopping area at one end and the historic heart at the other. Packed with high street staples, small independents and beloved local names, the shopping and dining opportunities are superb.

There are some wonderful green spaces to relax in. Take a bracing walk across Tunbridge Wells Common, enjoy a stroll around Dunorlan Park or let the children run off steam at Calverley Grounds, The Grove or Grosvenor & Hilbert Park (now with a huge new children’s play area).

Eating and shopping

The town is spread between two main retail areas: the High Street and The Pantiles are in the historic ‘village’ area while the main shopping precinct and the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre are at the top end of town.

Our top picks from the old part of town include Trevor Mottram (TN2 5TE), the vast cookshop which celebrated its 40th year in The Pantiles this summer, dog accessory and gift shop 
Collared (TN2 5TE), jewellers G Collins & Sons (TN1 1YB), the Old Fishmarket Oyster and Champagne Bar (TN2 5TN), The Eating House at the Tunbridge Wells Hotel (TN2 5TD) and The Cake Shed (TN2 5TN). The top end of town mainly focuses on big-name brands, with M&S, Fenwick, Gap and Topshop among stores in the Royal Victoria Shopping Centre (TN1 2SS).

There is an eclectic mix of independents, cafés and restaurants in Camden Road. Try Locality farm shop (TN1 2PS), The Bicycle Bakery (TN1 2QZ) and Gusta (TN1 2QE).

My pop-up restaurant

With Alasdair Fraser of Chalybeate Food

Tell us a bit about you

I’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells with my partner and our son for two and a half years. If I’m not in the kitchen you’ll often find me at my allotment tending my fruit and veg. I’ve been committed to organic gardening for five years now and find great solace in tending the land.

The ‘field to fork’ concept similar to that of River Cottage really motivates me. To be able to create a fine dining experience from produce I have cultivated and harvested is what gets me up in the morning.

What is Chalybeate Food?

The name stems from the iron-rich spring water from the Chalybeate (Ka-lee-bee-at) Spring that Royal Tunbridge Wells was founded on. The idea was born from my time spent as a ‘stay at home dad’ cooking the family meals and running a B&B in London.

Our first event was in August at Perk And Pearl, the independent tea and coffee shop close to the station. We offer a variety of services including a supper club and pop-up restaurant.

What is a pop-up restaurant?

To me a pop-up restaurant is a one-off event that draws on its surroundings. Once a location is found we set up a little kitchen and work from the location. Most of our marketing is done through social media and that’s where the majority of our guests hear about our events.

We are relatively new to the area and as a family we are still exploring Kent and keep finding locations that we think lend themselves greatly to our concept.

Is Tunbridge Wells a foodie place to live?

There are some fantastic independent cafés and restaurants in and around Tunbridge Wells that I always try to support. If you look beyond the usual high street traps you will find some terrific places to eat including Rendez-Vous brasserie (www.rendezvoustw.co.uk) and Thai café Kai’s Kitchen (www.kaiskitchen.co.uk). Tunbridge Wells does not have the diversification of London but it definitely has a very buoyant café culture which lends its self well to the idea of pop-ups.

What’s next for you?

All our upcoming events and menus are on our website www.chalybeatefood.co.uk. One event that I am particularly looking forward to is at an artist’s studio called Canvaspace, it is the most glorious of rural settings and has a backdrop like no other. Our cheeky take on Burns Supper in January will also be fun to host.

My shop

With Hannah Gee of Love Inc Ltd

How long has your shop been open?

We opened in the High Street in May this year and have had an amazing response from customers who love our eclectic mixture of old vintage and super-cool modern homewares and gifts.

It’s been an absolute dream come true and to combine that with a partnership with Manna (the café next door run by Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells) and give 50 per cent of our profit to the Mathare Project, which helps the biggest slum in Nairobi, well, the whole thing gives me goosebumps!

Tell us about your recent win

We’ve just been awarded Best Shop Front by Royal Tunbridge Wells In Bloom and to think that little old us won this prestigious award so soon after opening is mind blowing. I put so much into making the shop look amazing so it’s fantastic to be recognised for our creativity and for giving life to some lovely old planted wellies out the front.

Why do people love small independents?

People love how independent shops make their town unique and are bored of being offered the same products in the same way. I know one of the reasons people enjoy shopping with Love Inc is because our customers matter to us.

We’ve been known to make home visits to customers to deliver or set up their pieces! I also think there is a general consciousness of choosing where you spend your money. Our customers love our products first but knowing that by shopping with us they are making a positive contribution elsewhere in the world is a bonus.

What does the town offer Christmas shoppers?

Tunbridge Wells is an amazing town. You can shop in the ‘big boy’ department stores at the top end of town, then enjoy a selection of the best cafés and restaurants in Kent. The High Street is full of independent shops, so finding a unique outfit or present is always easy and really enjoyable.

For an enhanced festive vibe, there’s the ice skating rink in Calverley Park, which is a favourite with my family and works really well to bridge the two shopping zones in Tunbridge Wells.

● Hannah’s shop is in the High Street (TN1 1UL) or visit: www.loveincltd.co.uk

Retailers working together

Following on from the success of last year’s Christmas campaign, local businesses are once again working together to attract visitors to Tunbridge Wells over the festive period. In November and December the town has a number of established festive events (see Events) and late night shopping with free parking in all the council’s car parks.

Joe Lloyd, managing director of Perk And Pearl, an independent coffee shop, says: “As an independent business in Tunbridge Wells, I believe it is vital all businesses, big and small, should pull together to embrace everything that this brilliant town has to offer. We have a unique offering of places to shop, eat, work and stay. The concept of working together ensures that Tunbridge Wells is at the top of the list of places to visit during the festive season”.

● Car park fees in all council car parks in the town will be suspended between 4pm and 8.30pm, 17-23 December.

Events

5 and 6, 12 and 13, 19 and 20 Dec: Pantiles Christmas markets.

10 Dec to 3 Jan: Oliver! The musical, at Trinity Theatre. Box office: 01892 678678 or book online at: www.trinitytheatre.net.

11 Dec to 3 Jan: Cinderella starring Dani Harmer, Jamie Rickers and Louise Jamieson, at the Assembly Hall Theatre. Box office: 01892 530613 or book online: www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk.

Until 3 Jan: Open-air ice skating rink and Christmas village at Calverley Grounds. Book tickets at: www.tunbridgewellsatchristmas.com or call 01892 554645.

Property market

Tunbridge Wells is one of the most desirable towns in Kent’s commuter belt and that is reflected in its property prices. A five-bed detached house can cost as much as £2m and a town centre four-bed Victorian townhouse can set you back up to £900,000. On the outskirts of town a three-bed semi can cost between £300,000 and £650,000 and two-bedroom houses can be found for around £250,000. One-bedroom flats are from £145,000. New developments at Knights Wood (www.knightswood.co.uk) and Royal Wells Park (www.berkeleygroup.co.uk) are on sale now.

Getting there

Tunbridge Wells is in west Kent, on the border with East Sussex. It can be accessed via the A21 from the M25. The centrally located train station is on the mainline to London (45 mins).

Sat nav: TN1 1RS

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