Spotlight on: Tonbridge
- Credit: Archant
During the summer Tonbridge really comes into its own, with an outdoor swimming pool, parks for family picnics and its popular Arts Festival on Castle Lawn
1 Swim in the sunshine
Once all swimming was done in the open air but now there are precious few outdoor pools. Tonbridge Pool (01732 367449) has the best of both worlds. With a 25-metre indoor fitness pool, teaching and toddler pools, plus a heated outdoor pool open all summer, people come from miles around to enjoy the holiday feeling of swimming in the sunshine. Add to that a spa and exercise classes and there’s always plenty going on.
2 Take a tour of the castle
Tonbridge Castle (01732 358198) may only retain the gatehouse from what was once the finest example of a motte-and-bailey castle in Britain but it is still well worth taking an audio tour (which lasts around an hour) to guide you around the gatehouse, explaining what life was like there over its 900-year history. Its pretty grounds overlook the River Medway and the castle lawn, a natural amphitheatre, is ideal for the many outdoor events held here.
3 Jane Austen links
Jane Austen’s father George was born in Tonbridge in 1731 and and her grandparents are buried at the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. You can explore the Tonbridge Jane would have known on a fascinating circular walk, In Austen Family Footsteps, put together by the Jane Austen Society and the borough council. You’ll see the castle, once leased by Jane’s great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Weller, Tonbridge School, where Jane’s father was a pupil and later returned to teach, and Chauntlers, where Jane’s great-grandmother was raised.
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Download the walk from www.tmbc.gov.uk/services/leisure-and-culture/events.
4 Shop and eat
There are some real gems in Tonbridge these days. Finch House (01732 367770) is a wonderful independent café and The Ivy House (01732 771249) is a great choice for something more substantial. New arrivals on the High Street are wholefoods café Basil (01732 354637) and The Bakehouse At 124 (01732 360382). With shops like Gorgeous George (01732 369871), a boutique gift store and art gallery, and Mr Books Bookshop (01732 363000), there are plenty of places to browse after lunch. Don’t forget to get your Tonbridge Loyalty Card stamped at participating outlets and you can enter a monthly draw every six stamps to win £50 of vouchers to spend in town (www.tonbridgetownteam.org.uk).
5 Farmers Markets
Tonbridge has the biggest Farmers’ Market in Kent, offering around 85 stalls on the second Sunday of every month, with everything from artisan bread to plants, crafts and seasonal fruit and veg. As if one award-winning market wasn’t enough (Tonbridge won the first Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Farmers’ Market of the Year award), just up the road is the 2014 winner, Shipbourne Farmers Market, held at St Giles Church (TN11 9PF) every Thursday.
6 At your leisure
Just behind the High Street, the Angel Centre (01732 359966) is the town’s main sports complex, providing indoor sports halls, function rooms and film screenings, children’s parties and fairs. It also has a great gym and dozens of weekly exercise classes, including Insanity, Yoga and Body Pump.
7 Get some fresh air
Tonbridge Racecourse (TN10 3JF) in the centre of town is a huge 69-acre site with a sports ground, crazy golf course, riverside walk, summer snack hut, skate park, mini golf course and probably the best children’s play area in the area. It leads to the refurbished Tonbridge Memorial Gardens, where a statue and commemorative stone were unveiled last year at an opening ceremony by The Duke of Kent. A little further out is Haysden Country Park (TN11 9BE), a designated Local Nature Reserve with lakes, cycle routes, walks and picnic areas. A woodland area, known as the Heusenstamm Friendship Wood, has a new sign explaining its history. After the great storm of 1987, the German town of Heusenstamm sent a gift of 400 saplings to Tonbridge, with which is twinned.
8 A trip to the theatre
Tonbridge boasts two theatres. The Oast Theatre (01732 363849, TN10 3AN) is home to Tonbridge Theatre and Arts Club and this month sees performances of The Thrill Of Love (27 June-4 July) and a farce called Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue S’il Vous Plait (25 July-1 August). And at Tonbridge School, the EM Forster Theatre (01732 304241, TN9 1JP) will be hosting a number of events including Dario Fo’s Accidental Death Of An Anarchist (2 July).
9 Take to the river
Ten years after the last boat took residents and visitors for a relaxing tour of the Medway, the service is back. The new electric launch Enid May gives up to 12 people at a time a 50-minute ride, hearing tales of the area’s history from the skipper and getting up close to the river’s wildlife. Also on offer are several rowing boats for hire. The service runs from the Big Bridge in the town centre and will run daily through the school summer holidays. Visit: www.tonbridgerivertrips.co.uk
10 Tonbridge Arts Festival
This popular festival (10-12 July) will focus on the performing arts. Look out for The Best of Tonbridge Talent on the Friday night to spot local performers including Irish dancers and the town’s very own Rock Choir. Saturday sees a mass Morris Dancing display in the morning and an All About The ‘80s concert (featuring Phil Collins tribute band No Jacket Required) in the evening. The Sunday afternoon concert offers classics and show tunes from the Brompton Military Wives’ Choir, who will be accompanied by two big military bands, raising money for Help For Heroes.
Visit: www.tonbridgeartsfestival.co.uk n