10 good reasons to visit Tonbridge

With a Festival of Music and Fireworks taking place in the shadow of its ancient Castle this month, plus the centenary of open-air swimming in this lively market town, Tonbridge is definitely the place to be in July

An ancient CastleTonbridge boasts Kent’s best example of a motte-and-bailey Gatehouse, considered one of the finest in England and enjoying a prominent position by the Medway. Its story is interwoven with that of kings and archbishops, tyrants and heroes, murderers and mercenaries who, on this ancient site and inside these weathered stone walls, have helped write 900 years of English history. For further details, contact the Information Centre at Tonbridge Castle tel: 01732 770929.

Music and Fireworks Tonbridge Castle Festival of Music and Fireworks (23, 24 and 25 July) is a much-loved event in the local calendar, with all concerts being picnic style and ending with a fantastic firework display in the shadow of the town’s splendid castle. Friday is for all lovers of Motown, Saturday is Strictly West End, a combination of musicals and ballroom, while Sunday is a Magic of the 80’s tribute show. Ticket prices �24-�30.50, three-day festival pass �69, tel: 01732 876166

100 years of swimmingThere can’t be many towns that offer the unique chance to swim indoors and out, but Tonbridge swimming pool does just that – and this month it also celebrates its centenary. Tonbridge Outdoor Pool first opened on 9 July 1910 to an Edwardian audience to whom mixed bathing was a new and fascinating concept. In 1996 the indoor pool complex was built, along with a brand new outdoor pool, and officially opened by Olympic champion Duncan Goodhew, who returns to the pool on 10 July for a family outdoor pool party. Entry to the party (7.30pm to 10pm) is free but tickets must be booked in advance: tel: 01732 367449

Jane Austen Jane Austen has many links with Tonbridge. Her father, George, was born here and baptised in the parish church, where he worshipped until he was in his late twenties. Visitors can explore further on the Jane Austen Walk, which tells the story of the Austens and Tonbridge through the buildings they knew and lived in. You can visit Tonbridge Library in Avebury Avenue to hire an MP3 player loaded with the audio guide of the walk, narrated by local actor Louise Jameson, or pick up a printed walk guide. tel: 01732 352754.

Tonbridge Parish ChurchThe Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul is a vibrant Anglican church which has been at the heart of Tonbridge since Norman times. Sunday services are at 10am and 6.30pm and everyone is welcome to attend. If you are visiting, you can pop into the coffee bar, or enjoy some peace and quiet in the church or churchyard. The church is open every morning (9am-12pm), and there is a lot to explore. Many historical characters have a place in the church’s history, including Jane Austen; this was her family’s parish church and very significant to her life. tel: 01732 770962

Country pleasuresJust past West Kent College, Haysden Country Park provides a superb open space for the local community to enjoy and has lots to offer its visitors, including a children’s play area, catering at weekends and holidays, and a host of wildlife and nature that can be spotted at the park. A new children’s play trail follows the existing path around the lake with interactive wooden sculptures that have a park-life theme. Look out for the special Reptile Day on 11 July from 10am -12 noon (�1 per child), organised with the Ranger and Medway Valley Countryside Partnership. To book: tel: 07740 185220.

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A touch of theatreWhat was once a simple, 19th-century Kentish oasthouse, in use until 1966, has become home to the Oast Theatre (tel: 01732 363849), one of the most prolific theatre arts clubs in Kent. A production is presented every month (except August and September), with Lend me a Tenor, by Ken Ludwig, taking place from 24-31 July. The Oast Youth Theatre produces three plays and an Art Group meets here each week. Just down the road, the EM Forster Theatre (tel: 01732 304106) opened at Tonbridge School in summer 2000 and seats 400 in the main auditorium; there’s also a smaller Studio Theatre. As well as drama, dance and music, films are also shown here. 

Marching band celebratesThe 17th Tonbridge Scout and Guide Band, made up of 45 young people aged from 10 to 22, is joining four other groups to celebrate its 40th anniversary at a Tonbridge Castle tattoo on 17 July. Taking place from 3.15pm to 6pm, the event will see the band joined by groups from Romford, Surrey, Redhill and Burgess Hill. Admission is free, but do bring your own chair.

Let’s get physicalThe Angel Centre is in the heart of the town and for the sports-minded, offers a health and fitness suite plus a large sports hall where you can organise your own game of badminton, short tennis, table tennis, football or basketball (tel: 01732 359966).Poult Wood golf centre, set in rural woodland three miles north of Tonbridge, has 18-hole and nine-hole short courses both available and is a qualified starter centre for junior golfers. (tel: 01732 364039). If cycling’s your thing, the Tonbridge to Penshurst cycle route (Regional Cycle Route 12) between Tonbridge Castle and Penshurst Place offers an almost traffic-free ride from the heart of Tonbridge alongside the Medway, out into the country as far as Penshurst Place, some five miles to the west. And for details of boating on the river this summer, tel: 01732 876322.

Tonbridge Arts FestivalMake a note in your diary for Tonbridge Arts Festival (15-24 Oct), a week-long celebration of the arts that will include performances by world-class artists and local amateur groups in different venues across Tonbridge. Organised by a committee of representatives from the main organisations involved, Tonbridge School, Tonbridge Library, West Kent College and Hillview School for Girls, the festival will focus on literary events, performing arts (music, dance, drama, comedy) and visual arts (film, photography, sculpture, drawing, painting and printmaking. For further information, please contact festival Chairman, Andy Brett, tel: 01732 771737 or 07970 571737.

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