Visit Tenterden: What to do, see and eat

PUBLISHED: 12:47 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:47 08 October 2019

The town has a large conservation area, with a leafy, wide High Street, plenty of whitewashed weather-boarding and an array of architectural styles (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The town has a large conservation area, with a leafy, wide High Street, plenty of whitewashed weather-boarding and an array of architectural styles (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

This rural town in the heart of the Weald with a surprising maritime past is famed for its local food and drink and the traditional Kentish experience it offers

Tenterden is well known as one of our county's best-preserved market towns. Set deep within the Weald of Kent, it's considered well-to-do, easy on the eye and has more than its fair share of nearby attractions - making it a popular spot for visitors.

The history of this country town, so far from the sea, is a surprising one. Now best known for the pristine countryside and productive agricultural land that surrounds it, it was once a busy port with an easy route to the sea from the River Rother.

It was at the centre of the Weald's wool trade, as well as a major ship-building centre thanks to timber taken from the surrounding Wealden forest. So important was the area that it was granted special powers of self-government, becoming a 'limb' of the Cinque Ports in 1449.

It was only after the storms of the 16th century that the river silted up, effectively cutting off the prosperous port. Today the sea is 10 miles away, across the marshes, and much of Tenterden's maritime heritage has been long forgotten. The best way to get a glimpse of this unlikely past is to visit the exhibition at the small but fascinating Tenterden Museum in Station Road.

St Mildred'’s is a 12th-century church set just behind some of the shops (photo: Manu Palomeque)St Mildred'’s is a 12th-century church set just behind some of the shops (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The town has a large conservation area, with a pretty High Street, plenty of whitewashed weather-boarding and an array of architectural styles.

But although the heart of the town remains largely unspoilt, Tenterden is an area marked for expansion, with several housing developments being built and more at the planning stage.

There are plans afoot to regenerate parts of the town too, with a proposed scheme to makeover the Town Hall, remodel the recreation ground, maximise the use of community halls and even convert one of its historic buildings to create a new cinema. These days the area's biggest claim to fame is as the centre of the English wine industry. Leading brand Chapel Down is based in Smallhythe Lane, with a winery, visitor centre, restaurant and vineyards on the site.

World famous for producing award-winning red, white and sparkling wines, the drinks company has also branched out into beer - with a new brewery in nearby Ashford - as well as cider, gin, vodka and brandy. Just a short drive away is one of the area's smaller wine producers, Woodchurch Vineyard.

The town crest references Tenterden's maritime past (photo: Manu Palomeque)The town crest references Tenterden's maritime past (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Wine is only one of the products of this area, long known for its fabulous food and drink. Local apple orchards and hop gardens mean that fruit juices, ciders and beers have all been produced here for centuries. Visit the Old Dairy Brewery's visitor centre or Nightingale Farm Shop, home of Nightingale Cider. And local fruit and vegetables are available at Farmers' Markets and farm shops - look out for Silcock's Farm Shop and Café, and the very aptly named Potato Shop.

One of Tenterden's best-known visitor attractions is the Kent and East Sussex Railway, a heritage line running vintage steam and diesel locomotives from the town's railway station to Bodiam and back, with stops along the way at Rolvenden, Wittersham Road and Northiam.

The 11.5 miles of track is the remains of a light rural railway which served the area until 1961. There are currently plans to replace a missing part of the line after Bodiam, which will allow the railway to join up with another heritage line in East Sussex - the Rother Valley Railway, based at Robertsbridge. Fans of the era of steam engines will be fascinated by the small museum at the Tenterden station, dedicated to the life and work of railway engineer Colonel Stephens.

For lovers of gardens, there are some spectacular attractions nearby. Hole Park in Rolveneden is famed for its carpet of bluebells each spring, while Boldshaves Garden in Woodchurch is a hidden gem, a magical private garden open to the public each summer and home to the charming Wealden Literary Festival held in July.

Desirable shops include trendy interiors boutique Kagu (photo: Manu Palomeque)Desirable shops include trendy interiors boutique Kagu (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Meanwhile, the National Trust's Smallhythe Place offers not only beautiful gardens but also the former home of Victorian stage actress Ellen Terry, complete with a collection of her costumes and an ancient beamed barn converted into a theatre in the grounds.

And in nearby Woodchurch, the Rare Breeds Centre has plenty of farm animals, tractor rides and fun for all the family.

Exploring the High Street itself is just as much of an attraction to many of the town's visitors. The pretty, tree-lined street is packed with character and there are photo opportunities at literally every turn.

Look out for the tall spire of St Mildred's, a 12th-century church set just behind some of the shops, and for the impressive Town Hall, dating from the late 1700s.

Fascinating Tenterden Museum is housed in a two-storey, weatherboarded building typical of the latter part of the 19th century (photo: Manu Palomeque)Fascinating Tenterden Museum is housed in a two-storey, weatherboarded building typical of the latter part of the 19th century (photo: Manu Palomeque)

There are plenty of tea rooms, antique shops and historic pubs in the centre of the town, and the walk along from East Cross at one end of the High Street to West Cross at the other end is a pleasure in itself.

Music features heavily in the town's social scene, with live acts performing at many of the local pubs. Tenterden Folk Festival is a big event every year (3-6 October), attracting crowds to its annual celebration of folk music and dance.

And popular local music festival Tentertainment is set to return to the town next summer after a disagreement between organisers and the local council saw it cancelled over the last few years. The event, which attracts around 10,000 people, was last held in 2017 but it is hoped that Tentertainment 2020 will go ahead as planned.

There are plenty of other annual events to enjoy too, with the Tenterden Christmas Market (22-24 November), the traditional May Fayre and the exciting Spirit of Tenterden Festival next August, which incorporates a beer festival, live entertainment, food and craft stalls.

Shopping and eating

When it comes to shops, there is everything from big brands such as Waterstones, Space NK, Mint Velvet and Oasis to traditional independent stores like Tenterden House Interiors, Handmade Rugs, Woodcocks and Webbs of Tenterden, the family-run hardware store celebrating its centenary this year.

Others to look out for include trendy interiors shop Kagu, ladies boutique Elizabeth Rose, Rising Star gift shop, eclectic boutique Ibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and the tiny Electric Palace record shop.

Try out one of Tenterden's historic pubs, including The Woolpack, The White Lion, The Vine Inn and The William Caxton, as well as alehouse and tapas bar This Ancient Boro. Choose from a number of great cafés and restaurants, including Montalbano, Ozgur, La Cantina di Tenterden, The Lemon Tree, Peggotty's Tea Shoppe, HunnyBeez, Bottega Montalbano, The Nutmeg deli, The Secret Pantry, Mr Bean coffee house and The French Gourmet deli.

For something special, head to The Swan at Chapel Down or the restaurant at The London Beach Hotel.

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