A regal day out in Royal Tunbridge Wells

10 June 2022

Surrounded by parks, Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent gives you the impression of being in the middle of the countryside. Situated in the heart of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, affectionately known as “the Garden of England”, the town is surrounded by 256 acres of common land as well as orchards, hop farms, vineyards and market towns.

The town itself is a little Regency gem, and is a great place to visit for a day out, although beware, it is very hilly! King Edward VII granted the town “Royal” status in 1909 as a testament to his mother Queen Victoria’s love of the town.

The discovery of the Chalybeate Spring in the early 1600s with its distinctive reddish-tinted mineral deposits, quickly made the area known as Tunbridge Wells the most fashionable drinking spa near London. This was helped by Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I who visited, giving the place the royal seal of approval.

The spring was located on the northern side of a walkway paved with pantiles, which are clay tiles baked in a pan. In the 18th 19th centuries, The Pantiles became the hub of the town with some of the original wood buildings still intact. This area remains the throbbing heart of the town along with its adjoining streets, filled with independent shops and cafes.

A jazz festival takes place here from May to September on the bandstand opposite the family run  Tunbridge Wells Hotel. The owner and his family are foodies as well as lovers of wine and their excellent restaurant reflects this. A bonus, particularly for me as a dog-owner, is that their stylish, boutique hotel is also dog-friendly.

Although it looks fairly ordinary from the outside, the parish church of King Charles the Martyr, the oldest building in the area, has a Baroque interior with a ceiling created by Sir Christopher Wren’s chief plasterer. Close to it, there’s a line on the pavement that at one time separated the town into two boroughs. The boroughs had different drinking times, so the pub on the site had to make their clients walk across the line to continue drinking.

During the early 1800s, an area known as the Calverley Estate was designed by Decimus Burton, already known for his work on the buildings around London’s Regent’s Park. The Calverley Grounds, in the centre of town, are one of the town’s many green spaces, with ornamental gardens and an ice-rink at Christmas. 

It’s also worth popping into the newly opened Amelia Scott Centre, which as well as being the town’s community centre, has a programme of cultural events and activities. Check out the library with its wall to ceiling windows, murals, and interesting architecture.  Discover more about the history of Tunbridge Wells at the local museum that is also housed here together with an art gallery and an impressive play area for children.

If time allows, take a ride on a steam or heritage diesel train with the Spa Valley Railway which runs a variety of excursions, some geared specifically for children while others include a meal.

Walking trails include a Heritage Walking Trail, so visitors can explore some of the town’s most iconic and historic sites, as well as more High Weald walks and, for children, mini beast safaris and bug hunts.

Don’t forget to explore the town’s high street where at Geography, (the local wine bar and meeting place), they have over 50 wines by the glass as well as local spirits, beers and ciders.

At Dunorlan Park, with its boating lake and Grecian Temple, there is also a natural adventure play area. Visitors can follow the tree trail and learn about some of the 730 species of tress found there. If great food and live music is your thing, then plan your visit between the 8th and 10th of  July to coincide with Pub in the Park, a celebration of food and live music taking place there.