10 reasons you should visit Tonbridge
- Credit: Archant
Rich in culture and history, with an ancient castle, an important literary connection and a beautiful riverside setting, Tonbridge is great for families, art lovers and foodies alike
1. King of the castle
One of the country’s best surviving motte and bailey gatehouses, Tonbridge Castle enjoys a prominent position by the River Medway. Its story goes back 900 years and visitors get an idea of what life in Tonbridge was like centuries ago with an audio tour and interactive displays. The castle’s lovely gardens are a popular venue for events hosting outdoor film screenings, an annual music festival, outdoor theatre performances, a medieval fair and many others.
Visit www.tonbridgecastle.org for details.
2. Parks and lakes
Tonbridge is not short of green spaces to relax, play and exercise in. The Racecourse Sportsground, once a town-centre racecourse, now provides 69 acres of parkland with a great children’s play area, sports pitches, a miniature railway and a skate park. To the west of town, award-winning, 160-acre Haysden Country Park has had a facelift to improve landscaping around its lakes, woodland walks, cycle routes and picnic spots. Perfect for dog walks and days out.
3. Entertaining events
A busy town with an active Town Team and a strong community spirit, it’s no surprise that Tonbridge hosts so many great annual events. This month sees Tonbridge Castle Music Weekend (7-9 July) and Luna Cinema’s outdoor screenings of La La Land, Mamma Mia and Ghostbusters (14-16 July). The Tonbridge Calling music festival is on 12 August, the Medieval Fair is 9-10 September and the thrilling annual Dragon Boat Race on 10 September on the river. Earlier this year was the Tonbridge Food and Drink Festival (held each May) and the Tonbridge Carnival (held in June).
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4. Walking trails
As part of a new iniative called ‘100 miles for 100 years’, Tonbridge has become the first town in Kent to launch its own walking trails app in commemoration of the First World War. Developed by Screen South in partnership with residents Pam Mills and Dave Swarbrick and supported by Heritage Lottery Funding, it’s a great way to see the town and its history brought to life. “Even if, like me, you’ve lived in Tonbridge for decades, you will be amazed at what you learn and what has changed,” says editor Sarah Sturt.
Discover more and take part in a fun quiz at: kentww1.com
5. Food and drink
It’s become a foodie hub over recent years, with independent eateries ranging from Turkish restaurant Havet, Graze, Saltwater fish and chips, Thai restaurant Gaab Kao to coffee shops Finch House, Basil and Beyond The Grounds, and tapas at The Clock House. The fabulous Old Fire Station runs ever-changing, exciting pop-up restaurant events, Sulston’s Kitchen provides health food and popular Tunbridge Wells-based Fuggles Beer Café is due to open a second branch in Tonbridge High Street this summer. The town also has a great multi-award-winning Farmers’ Market on the second Sunday of every month (the next two being 9 July and 13 August).
6. Local theatres
The Oast Theatre, set in a converted 19th-century Kentish oasthouse, is home to one of the county’s most prolific theatre arts clubs, with 10 productions a year. Between 24 June and 1 July, catch Murder, Margaret and Me, while from 22-29 July, the group performs Three Men in a Boat.
The EM Forster Theatre at Tonbridge School hosts art, drama, dance and comedy shows throughout the year. July sees a number of National Theatre Live screenings and bookings are already being taken for the Christmas panto produced by local theatre company Wicked Productions.
7. Jane Austen
This year marks the 200th anniversary of her death and Jane Austen has many links with Tonbridge. Her father George was born here. Baptised in the parish church, he attended and later taught at Tonbridge School. Visitors can explore further links on the Jane Austen Walk, which tells the story of the Austens and Tonbridge through the buildings they knew and lived in. Explore Kent has a walk route available to download and buildings along the way include Tonbridge School, Blair House and the recently refurbished parish church of St Peter and St Paul, where several of her relatives are buried.
Visit www.explorekent.org for the route.
8. Art scene
Tonbridge has warmly welcomed the Artspring Gallery on the High Street. Friendly and artist-run, it brings together a collection of work from local and regional contemporary artists in a range of media and is celebrating its first birthday this month. Renowned sculptor Guy Portelli is also based in the town. Often working with local schools, he created ‘The Torch’ at Tonbridge Memorial Garden alongside a Tonbridge schoolgirl who won a design competition. For an art pilgrimage, visit the nearby village of Tudeley where its stained-glass windows were designed by artist Marc Chagall.
9. Cycle to Penshurst
An excellent Tudor Trail cycle route leads from the car park at Tonbridge Swimming Pool through Haysden Country Park to the Penshurst Estate. The mostly traffic-free route is relatively child friendly and should take around an hour. Skirting around Barden Lake and cutting underneath the A21, the six-mile route takes you to beautiful Penshurst Place, where you can spend the day exploring the gardens, find the heart of the seasonal Maize Maze and wander the halls of this medieval country house.
10. Kids’ activities
Thanks to its much-loved indoor/outdoor swimming pool and the Sportsground, Tonbridge has always been a great place for children. But it’s also become home to a number of fun activity centres, with soft play centre Wear ‘M Out joined recently by Jump In trampoline centre, Mr Mulligan’s Dino Golf crazy golf course and the Clip ‘N Climb climbing centre. You can hire a rowing boat from Tonbridge River Trips, next to Big Bridge. A little further afield are The Hop Farm family park and Poult Wood Golf Centre.