Kent Life explores Tenterden

Famous for its wide tree-lined high street, superb architecture and colourful history, Tenterden is the perfect place to unwind for a relaxing weekend

Kent Life explores Tenterden

Famous for its wide tree-lined high street, superb architecture and colourful history, Tenterden is the perfect place to unwind for a relaxing weekend Words by Geoffrey West pictures by Manu Palomeque

Three Tenterden ‘insiders’ gave us their views on this exquisite town that’s referred to as The Jewel of the Weald and this month celebrates its Folk Week, where dancers and musicians take over the town for a splendid four-day festival.

Sir Donald Sinden, CBE – actor and celebrity

“I’ve known about Tenterden all my theatrical life, because the famous Victorian actress Ellen Terry lived in nearby Smallhythe. In the 1820s and 1830s there was a theatre in an enchanting little corner of town, Bells Lane, and there are still some ‘theatre’ cottages behind the Caf� Rouge, which was originally the Eight Bells Inn. For me Tenterden is a magical, friendly place, with a fine steam railway, grand old town hall, marvellous baker, Huntley’s butcher, and the absolutely wonderful Nutmeg Delicatessen in Sayers Lane – I go there all the time.

My favourite shop of all is the fabulous Webb’s ironmongery store, because I’m a trained joiner and love woodwork.”

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Phil Bogdanovski – general manager, London Beach Hotel

“Tenterden really is one of the most picturesque smaller towns in Kent, with a wide variety of shops and a local market every Friday morning in the High Street. The town also has its own vineyard, Chapel Down Winery, which produces a fantastic selection of local wines and beers, which we stock.

We are inordinately proud of our little slice of Kent, with its lovely landscape, fantastic views and spellbinding sunsets. It’s ideally placed for visiting a number of gardens: Sissinghurst, Bedgebury National Pinetum and Knole Park.”

London Beach Hotel (01580 766279)

Family owned and run since the 1960s, The London Beach offers spacious bedrooms, private balconies, and overlooks a stunning parkland golf course, plus there’s a superb restaurant, luxury Health Club and Spa, as well as free parking and Wi-Fi.

�— Mid-week offers for both Spa Breaks and Golf breaks are only �130 per room, inclusive of a two-course dinner, overnight accommodation and full Kentish breakfast, and use of the Spa or two rounds of golf.

Martin Easdown – Railway enthusiast and shop manager K&ESR

“Tenterden is one of the most picturesque towns in Kent. I love Smallhythe Place, Sissinghurst Castle, villages Goudhurst and Cranbrook, and of course the railway. Taking a ride on the Kent & East Sussex Railway is like stepping back in time to the era of leisurely branch line train travel.

The Colonel Stephens Railway Museum (01580 765155) is one of the finest of its kind, and holds a fascinating collection of railway artefacts; there are 34 displays, as well as the engine Gazelle, said to be the smallest standard-gauge engine in the country.”

Kent & East Sussex Railway (01580 765155)

Runs through 10.5 miles of beautiful countryside from Tenterden to medieval Bodiam Castle in Sussex, using steam locomotives and historic carriages. In December 2012 there’ll be the popular Santa Special trains.


Town and theatre

Enjoy wandering along the lovely long, wide High Street, with its beautiful tree-lined grass verges and fabulous shops. Don’t miss St Mildred’s ancient church and all the beautiful buildings, mostly dating from Elizabethan to Georgian eras. At nearby Smallhythe Place is the Ellen Terry museum (01580 762334), with theatrical and Terry family memorabilia, as well as the Barn Theatre and a Cottage Garden.

Local history

Tenterden and District Museum (01580 764310) has displays of hop picking and farming, there’s the Tenterden Tapestry and a horse-drawn fire engine. 

Wine and dine

Fine restaurants include The Swan at Chapel Down Restaurant and Bar (01580 761616), The Vine Inn (01580 762718) and The White Lion (01580 765077). 


Rare breeds and village life

The Rare Breeds Centre, Woodchurch (01233 861493) has friendly animals, falconry, woodland assault courses, pig racing, butterfly tunnel, maze and more.  Woodchurch Village Life Museum (01233 860240) has displays of farm carts and agricultural curiosities.

Wine from the vine

Biddenden Vineyard (01580 291726) is Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard. Visitors are free to wander along the marked walks, there’s a coffee shop, that also sells honeys, chutneys, jams biscuits etc, and you can see the presses and tasting room. Chapel Down Winery (01580 763033) is the largest producer of English wines, and there’s a fine food store selling wines, beers, cheeses handmade chocolates and chutneys. There are pre-arranged guided tours of the vineyard, including tastings at weekends (phone to check availability).


The 20th annual Tenterden Folk Festival runs from 4-7 October, and there’s a temporary campsite for visitors

4 Oct: concert by the Acoustic Strawbs, supported by Steve O’Kane and Fiona McBain and others.

5 Oct:: workshops, concerts, music and song sessions in various pubs, culminating in an English Barn Dance with Climax Ceilidh Band at the Tenterden Club in the evening.

6 and 7 Oct: almost 60 Morris sides on the streets in the town centre plus a free music showcase stage, dance stage, crafts marquee, music fayre, street stalls and concerts, music sessions and sing-a-rounds, workshops, folk clubs etc. Tickets available from Tenterden Gateway (01580 762558).

Getting there

Tenterden is in south Kent near to the Sussex border, on the A28 between Ashford and Hastings. Take the M20 (linked to Folkestone and the M25/London) and leave at junction 9 for the A28. Nearest mainline stations are Headcorn (nine miles) and Ashford International (12 miles), the latter with high speed links to London.

Satnav postcode: TN30 6AU


Alan Castle, director, Tenterden Folk Festival,

Tell us about your role

I’ve been director ever since the Festival’s beginning and it’s not so much a job as a way of life. When we started Tenterden Folk Day in 1993, I had no idea it would grow to a four-day event. Long may it continue. As a trustee of the registered charity that runs the festival I do the work on a voluntary basis. I deal with the overall planning and the logistics for the events and since I’m an accountant, I also deal with the bookkeeping and accounts.

Does the festival benefit Tenterden?

It brings thousands of people into the town, they boost local businesses with their custom, and many return later: generally it raises the town’s profile.

What do you like most about the festival?

Its friendly welcoming atmosphere – and it gives people a chance to see, hear and mingle with professional and semi-professional folk musicians.

Highlights for the 20th anniversary?

We have a record number of Morris sides and other folk dance teams, and some great free performances in the marquee, for example the Short Sharp Shanties Show, and Jeff Warner’s From the Mountains to the Sea audio-visual show.

What do you like about Tenterden?

The wide High Street gives the town much of its unique character, and it always retains its traditional ‘market town’ appeal

Your favourite places?

It’s surrounded by some of the best Kentish countryside and some remarkable villages and National Trust properties – nearby there are the unique features of Romney Marsh and Dungeness.

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