SPOTLIGHT ON TONBRIDGE
Tonbridge is a town of two halves. It can be busy, and it can be peaceful. It can be vibrant and exciting, and it can be calm and chilled. It can be packed full of history, and it can be looking – quite rightly – to the future. No matter which side you prefer (and there is no rule that says you have to have a favourite), you will find that Tonbridge is the ideal place for visiting, working in or even setting up home.
History in Brief
Tonbridge was, once, Tunbridge, which could explain both its pronunciation and the confusion that sometimes occurs between it and neighbouring Tunbridge Wells. The first sign of life in the area came in the 11th century, when building began to appear in the area known as Quarry Hill. This was the perfect place for a settlement, being high above ground and safe from the floods that regularly occurred lower down the hill.
Tonbridge isn’t actually mentioned in the Domesday Book. This is because it was a ‘lowy’ (gift) from William the Conqueror to Richard of Tonbridge, and it was therefore exempt from having to declare its population and income. Despite its seeming non-status, Tonbridge grew quickly, and within a few short years it had become the largest town in Kent – complete with its own castle.
Things to Do
Everyone has a hobby, and whether it is history, architecture, sports, animals, or any number of other things, Tonbridge will have something to offer you on a day out.
- Tonbridge Castle
With a fantastic view over the town from the top, and a history of Tonbridge (complete with waxworks) within, this ‘Motte and Bailey’ castle is a great place to start your exploration of the town. Continuing on this theme is Hadlow Tower. Slightly further afield, this is nonetheless worth a visit – the views are stunning, and the architecture is impressive.
- Greensand Ridge Distillery
Using advanced yet environmentally-friendly equipment and processes, Greensand Ridge Distillery is able to produce craft spirits that use only local ingredients (their Premium London Dry Gin uses eight botanicals that can be found just a mile from the distillery). The ‘Gin Experience’ is a fascinating tour that explains exactly what they do and how they do it, and you can even make a gin-based cocktail at the end.
- Artspring Gallery
Tonbridge’s lovely Artspring Gallery is proud to be friendly and welcoming, allowing anyone who wants to come in and browse the time and luxury to do so. Because this is an artist run gallery art truly is the focus here, and there are some wonderful pieces on display.
- Hadlow Tower
Just a little way outside Tonbridge itself is the village of Hadlow, and there you will find Hadlow Tower. It has recently been restored and is a most impressive sight. Visitors can climb the tower and enjoy the views from the top. On the ground floor is an interesting exhibition about the history of the tower and its recent renovation.
- EM Forster Theatre
The EM Forster Theatre is linked to the famous Tonbridge School. Both professional and amateur productions can be seen here, and it is a vibrant part of the local community.
- The Tudor Trail
The Tudor Trail is a walking or cycling route that runs from Tonbridge Castle to Penshurst Place. You will see parts of Tonbridge that can so easily be missed when travelling by car, and since the majority of the route is off road it is family friendly too.
- Tudeley Church
The little village of Tudeley is a well-known one. This is because its church, All Saints, is the only church in the world to have all of its stained glass windows decorated and designed by Marc Chagall, the famous Russian artist. He was initially commissioned to do just one – the east window – by Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid to commemorate their daughter, Sarah, who had died in a boating accident aged 21. When Chagall saw the church he declared that he would do all the windows instead of just one.
- The Poacher and Partridge
This traditional and welcoming Kentish pub can be found in the midst of orchards and rolling fields. The pub itself is a delight with many traditional features and modern touches, as well as a children’s play area, but it is the food that really impresses. An eclectic mix that includes tapas and seasonal cuisine, along with a good selection of real ales, makes this a destination restaurant for locals and visitors alike. The menu includes dishes such as local wood pigeon salad with blackberries, lentil, walnuts and a juniper berry dressing; local game and wild mushroom pie (venison, wild duck, rabbit) with winter vegetables and baby potatoes; and Bramley apple and pear crumble and custard.
- The Chaser Inn
The Chaser Inn is an award-winning restaurant and pub that caters to all tastes with great service and a smile. Customers return time and again to experience all that The Chaser Inn has to offer which includes ham hock ballotine with baby pickled vegetables and brioche toast; squid, clam and chicken stir fry with garlic, chilli and oriental vegetables; and salted caramel and vanilla panna cotta.
- Mamma Mia
For authentic, home-cooked Italian food in Tonbridge, look no further than the wonderful Mamma Mia. The restaurant is family run by owners who travelled to Kent from southern Italy 20 years ago, and who now offer fantastic food, including some spectacular desserts, for all (they even offer a takeaway service). Food includes pollo alla Diavolo (chicken breast cooked with porcini mushrooms and red onion and tomato sauce topped with melting goats cheese), funghi Mamma Mia (pan fried mushrooms with a garlic, white wine and tomato sauce topped with mozzarella) and trancio all’Amaretto (slice of sponge cake in Amaretto liqueur topped with Amaretto cream and decorated with Amaretto biscuits!).
- Tonbridge Food & Drink Festival // May
This event was new last year, but it is returning due to its huge popularity. From street food vendors to chefs showing you how it should be done, there are displays and information aplenty. And of course, loads to eat and drink.
- Tonbridge Summer Carnival // June
Starting with a colourful parade, this excellent event will have singers, dancers, a variety of stalls and games to play.
- Tonbridge Music Weekend // July
Held at the lovely and evocative Tonbridge Castle, Tonbridge Music Weekend is an excellent way to spend a warm summer’s weekend. This year the event is held on 7th and 8th July, and will feature Complete Madness by the Tonbridge Rock Choir and UK Beach Boys with Mad Hen.
- Medieval Fair & Heritage Weekend // Sep
Visitors to Tonbridge’s Medieval Fair & Heritage Weekend will be able to enjoy a wide range of 15th century sights, sounds and smells brought to life by a living history group. There will be re-enactments of famous battles, story telling, music and much more.
Nature lovers can enjoy a stroll (or run, or bike ride…) around the lovely Haysden Country Park. With plenty of parking, and flat paths that mean everyone can enjoy the peace and tranquillity, this really is a great day out. Feed the ducks, fish in the lake, let the children run wild in the play area, grab a hot drink and a snack from the café van, or bring your own picnic and while away a good few hours in the open air.
Did You Know?
‘Tunbridge Ware’, the decorative wood that is known across the world and is highly sought after by collectors, originated here.