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Tunbridge Wells in the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 15:45 20 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:23 20 February 2013

Tunbridge Wells in the spotlight

Tunbridge Wells in the spotlight

Since its Georgian heyday as a spa town and playground for aristocrats, Tunbridge Wells has been a wonderful place to be at Christmas, with sensational shopping, masses of festive fun, scores of fabulous restaurants and beautiful architecture

The gorgeous Georgian

Since its Georgian heyday as a spa town and playground for aristocrats, Tunbridge Wells has been a wonderful place to be at Christmas, with sensational shopping, masses of festive fun, scores of fabulous restaurants and beautiful architecture

Illustrious people are commemorated by red plaques on many buildings, and history is as ever present as the towns steep hills. At the southern, lowest, part of Tunbridge Wells is the wonderful Pantiles, where you can enjoy European-style caf culture in this beautiful colonnaded two-level walkway.

All the (Georgian) buildings are painted sparkling white and there are shops and restaurants and cafs galore, plus the Tourist Information Office. This section is linked to the rest of town by the lower High Street, which changes to Mount Pleasant Road: this is incredibly steep, so if walking isnt easy for you, take a bus or drive (plenty of car parks) between these two sections of town.

Open spaces include The Common, Calverley Grounds, the Grove and, slightly out of town, Dunorlan Park.

Festive things to do

The Spa Valley Railway (01892 537715)) runs from Eridge to Tunbridge Wells, with Groombridge and High Rocks stations in between. See steam and diesel locomotives, and winter events include Santa Special days on weekends throughout December.

LaplandUK at Bewl Water (0871 620 7063). Enjoy a Christmas adventure (1-24 Dec) at Father Christmass Arctic homeland, with husky dogs, reindeer and an ice rink

Skating at Calverley Grounds until 7 Jan 2013, with Father Christmas until 24 Dec

Let us entertain you

The Beacon Fringe Theatre (01892 524252), based at the Beacon Bar and Restaurant, is run by famous local actress Louise Jameson, who is managing director of TLC Productions and runs a Sunday Drama College for teenagers. Shows for December are The Amazing Adventures of Little Red (16 Dec) and Cinderella (28 Dec).

Trinity Theatre (01892 678678), has Peter Pan (12 Dec-1 Jan 2013, The Floyd Effect (1 Dec), Blow Northern Wynd: a medieval Christmas (23 Dec) , The Emperors new clothes (until 3 Dec), plus regular comedy caf evenings.

Assembly Hall Theatre (01892 530613), productions are Pirates of Penzance, (until 1 Dec), Greg Davies (3 Dec), Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra (2 Dec), A Christmas Carol Ballet (8 Dec) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (15 Dec-6 Jan).

Where to shop

The old High Street and Chapel Place have a range of excellent small independents, selling designer clothes, home furnishings, jewellery, gifts etc, while Calverley Road and Mount Pleasant offer a mix of chains and independents.

The shops in Camden, Monson and Vale Roads and Mount Ephraim are largely small and specialised. The two fine town malls are Royal Victoria Place and Great Hall Shopping Arcade.

The Pantiles has mainly home/design based shops, including antiques, boutiques, art galleries, kitchenware, and here theres a Christmas market on the first and third weekend of December.


Padani Jewellers

Andrew Langmaid is the manager of Padani Jewellers (01892 537533), whose exquisite gallery has been nominated for the Best retailer of West Kent business award and previously won the UK Jewellery Retail Star.

Its an extremely friendly, welcoming showroom, where youll find eclectic ranges of hand-crafted jewellery. Choose from an entrancing assortment of rings, necklaces, bracelets, ear rings and watches from brands including Cartier, Bulgari, Marco Bicego and Padani themselves. Pop in just to browse without obligation, for advice, or to discuss a one-off bespoke piece.

Our items ranger from 150 to many thousands, explains Andrew. What customers like most is our service people often come in as strangers and leave as good friends. Theres no sales pressure whatsoever our approach is very relaxed, people often come in simply to browse, frequently returning later as buyers.

My previous career on the bench as a diamond setter means I can always interpret a customers ideas for alterations or bespoke designs. What I like most about this town is the people theyre genuinely warm and likeable.

Kitch boutique

Charlotte Newman owns and runs Kitch (01892 513613), a stylish boutique at the top of the High Street, showcasing a varied collection of international designer clothing brands, offering dresses, tops, knitwear, jackets, jewellery, shoes, bags and accessories. She buys collections from New York, LA, Paris Milan and London.

Were very much a one-stop shopping destination, and Id say service is what our customers like best, say Charlotte. We treat everyone as an individual we have fantastic regulars for whom I buy stock specifically. We have a few French and Italian brands that arent stocked anywhere else in Britain, however in addition to exclusive ranges we know nowadays customers want value for money, so Im always looking for new smaller niche brands that offer great value.


Tony and Ann Pattison and their extended family (including young children) camped near the town this summer. Tony, a transport journalist and railway expert who has personally driven a steam train, was particularly interested in the Spa Valley Railway, while Ann, a retired university lecturer, adores the town, having spent part of her childhood nearby.

Tony says: The railway was efficiently run and extremely friendly. The children loved the steam engine and the sheer thrill of riding in a big old-fashioned train. What interested me was the wonderful Jinty tank engine in the steam train, and how everything was beautifully turned out. The carriages were authentic and beautifully restored, with lovely seats and sparkling paintwork.

Ann says: Tunbridge Wells is a charming, old-fashioned town set in lovely countryside. I can certainly recommend our terrific campsite, Forgewood Camping (0772 029 0229), with its great bar and caf and lots of activities for the children, is in an ideal location. There are lots of splendid walks and the woods are great fun. Wed definitely come again.

Where to eat and drink

Top restaurants: Woods (01892 614411), La Casa Vecchia (01892 544700), Beacon Bar and Restaurant (01892 524252), Thackerays (01892 511921), Bistro at Hotel du Vin (01892 526455), Chandelier Restaurant at the Spa hotel (01892 520331).

Great pubs: The Ragged Trousers (01892 542715), Duke of York (01892 517619), Pitcher and Piano (01892 510555).

Property prices

For one- and two-bedroom flats expect to pay approximately 146,000 and 230,000 respectively, for a three-bedroom semi around 315,000 and a four-bedroom detached will be upwards of 529,000.

Getting there

Tunbridge Wells is in west Kent, approximately halfway between London on Hastings. Take the A26 turnoff from the A21, which links to the M25. There are two stations with good links to London and comprehensive bus and coach links, call Traveline 0871 200 2233 for details.

Satnav postcode: TN1 1JN


Martin Johnson, writer and actor

Tell us a bit about you

Im a writer and actor (stage name Martin Gower) and Ive lived just outside town in Southborough with my wife Judith for 15 years. My first book is a horror-thriller called Niedermayer and Hartand Im currently working on a psychological thriller Roadrage, which is set in Kent. I also write a weekly blog. Our son Tom is head of Art at Holmewood House School and has exhibited his art in the Royal Society of Portait Painters annual Summer Exhibition.

What do you like about Tunbridge Wells?

Its so conveniently placed. Great shops, good cinemas (the Odeon and at the Trinity), and two fine theatres.

Do you have a favourite walk?

For me, taking a walk is an essential part of every day, I always feel renewed.

My favourite is a brisk circular stroll through Southborough woods uphill to Bidborough.

Favourite places in town?

Trinity theatre, and the NT live screenings at the local Odeon.

Favourite restaurant?

Ishmaels coffee shop and the caf in Calverley Park. We have many other great restaurants.

Tunbridge Wells in a sentence?

Its a really attractive country town, close to London with excellent social cultural and educational facilities.

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