Spotlight on Tonbridge

Tonbridge castle glimpsed from the Medway

Tonbridge castle glimpsed from the Medway - Credit: Archant

10 good reasons to visit this pretty West Kent market town with a castle and river at its heart

1 Festival season

Tonbridge Arts mini festival runs from 5-7 July. Many events take place in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle (see below), including Killer Queen and Guests (tribute band) (5th), Tonbridge Castle Proms (6th), Theatre on the Lawn (6th) and Music on the Lawn (7th). There are also two talks on 6 July: best-selling author Kate Mosse discusses her work at K College (0845 207 8220, TN9 2PW) and Introducing Jane Austen: Her Life and Works is in the town library (08458 247200, TN9 1TG).

2 Footie fun

Tonbridge Junior Football Fiesta, on 13-14 July, is the 20th Football Fiesta and takes place at The Racecourse Sportsground (01732 353048, TN1 1DS. On Saturday the younger children will perform (under 7s to under 14s, organised into age groups) and on Sunday the under 11s, under 15s and the under 8s. Ages under 7s and 8s play in the Fun festival, while all the other age groups play on a league basis.

3 Sportsground for all

Located in the heart of Tonbridge, this nearly 70-acre site extending from Avebury Avenue to the Castle has pitches for a number of different sports. With play facilities, crazy golf and walks out into the countryside, including Haysden Country Park, this is a much-loved local favourite for an active family day out. Here you’ll also find the popular indoor/outdoor swimming pool, sister to the council-owned Angel Centre (01732 359966).

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4 Fine old church

The lively and always welcoming parish church of St Peter and St Paul is the oldest building in town. The original 12th-century church forms the chancel of the present structure, and it has strong connections with Jane Austen and her family. There are fine high vaulted arches, and the chancel is at an angle, a deliberate architectural feature that reflects Christ’s view at the crucifixion. Note the fine stained-glass windows.

5 Theatre in an oast

The Oast Theatre (01732 363849, TN10 3AN) was originally a farm oast and is now home to Tonbridge Theatre and Arts Club. One of the most prolific theatre and arts clubs in Kent, it presents 10 major productions a year, and has a thriving art group and a youth group. This month’s play, 20-27 July, is Harvey by Mary Chase.

6 Stately living

Close by, Penshurst Place and gardens (01892 870307, TN11 8DG) – home to the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and our cover star this month – is a fine historic house and Tudor gardens with ancient parkland. There’s a toy museum, children’s and woodland trails, the Garden Tea Room and a gift shop. There are re-creations of historic events, storytelling, craft activities, seasonal children’s garden trails around the gardens, the Maize Maze in summer, as well as an adventure playground with chickens you can feed.

7 Motte-and-bailey castle

Although only the gatehouse remains (plus a Georgian mansion built alongside housing the tourist information office) this and the remaining earthworks comprises Tonbridge’s Norman Castle (01732 770929, TN9 1BG). We recommend the excellent audio tour; note also the River Wall and Curtain Wall ascending the Mound, set in landscaped gardens. What you see reflects the huge transportation of earth in the 11th century that created the castle mound.

8 Sporting heaven

Tonbridge Farm Sportsground (TN10 3JF) is a multi-purpose, floodlit all-weather sports area for cricket, football and netball. It has children’s play facilities (swings, sand pit and ball court) and a freerider, which simulates the style of surf and snowboarding. There’s a ball court and skatepark with many jumps, ramps and grinds, in-line skating and BMXers, mini five-a-side football area and a bowls club.

9 Lovely old buildings

Above Big Bridge is the oldest and most picturesque part of town that grew up around the castle. Here you’ll find many ancient buildings, from the 18th-century Priory, Ivy House, Ferox Hall (1500s) and Port Reeves House (medieval) to Tonbridge School, the famous independent day and boarding school for boys founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judd . Below Big Bridge is the more modern part of town, with some larger shops, plus a growing number of new independents such as Finch House coffee shop (01732 367770), Ian Chatfield Butchers & Delicatessen (01732 354733) and gift/specialist wine shop Gorgeous George (01732 369871).

10 Wine and dine

A number of new restaurants have opened this year in Tonbridge, including Mexican El Mariachi (01732 771106), Grand Appetito Brasserie (01732 368877) and Turkish newcomer Uskudar (01732 351 261). Other stalwarts in and around the area include: The Poacher (at nearby Tudeley, 01732 358934), The Ivy House (01732 771249), The Carpenters Arms (off the Hadlow Road, 01732 850307), The Vauxhall Inn (01732 773111 and The Hand & Sceptre (01892 529292) just outside town.


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