Town guide to Tonbridge
- Credit: Archant
This busy town boasts both historical features and modern convenience. Working hard to reinvigorate its High Street and proven to be growing despite the economic climate, Tonbridge really is the place to be
Tonbridge is overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbours, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks, all too often. But this historic market town has a lot to shout about.
For a start it boasts some of the easiest commuting connections and best schools in the area – a fact which hasn’t been wasted on the many young professionals moving to the town to start families.
It also benefits from a stunning location, set on the banks of the River Medway, with an 11th-century castle at its heart and surrounded by beautiful countryside. Visitors are attracted by the popular indoor-outdoor swimming pool, as well as a multi award-winning country park, a superb, award-winning Farmers’ Market, regular community events and a new indoor trampoline centre.
There’s no doubt that 2016 was a year of exciting growth for Tonbridge. It’s true to say that in the past the town centre has suffered during difficult economic conditions but recent renovations in the High Street and several new housing developments have given it the boost it needed.
In particular, it has benefitted the local independent retailers, of which there are more springing up than ever before.
Added to that is the town’s new reputation as a haven for foodies and all the successful new cafés, bars and restaurants that have opened in recent years. The local Town Team is particularly thrilled with the success of the Tonbridge Loyalty Card scheme, with recent figures showing a significant increase of people using their cards to shop at one of the 60 local retailers signed up to the scheme.
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And although Tonbridge has long been appreciated for its easy 40-minute train journey into London, it’s not always been so easy to get around by car, but even this is being dealt with now.
The A21 between Castle Hill and Pembury is currently undergoing extensive alterations to create a dual carriageway and ease congestion. It’s a massive job and is already running behind schedule, but the much-needed work is now due for completion this summer.
Meanwhile, a development that is dividing residents is the former B&Q site in Cannon Lane. A planning application suggests the vacant warehouse will be divided into several smaller new retail units and concerns have been raised about the site becoming a retail park and attracting more traffic.
Rumoured to be among new businesses moving into the site are Go Outdoors, Home Bargains and Costa Coffee.
Eating and shopping
Half the fun of exploring an evolving place like Tonbridge is discovering places for yourself, but some great independents to seek out include gift shops Gorgeous George (see our Postcard from Tonbridge), Little Blue Finch and The Gift Box.
When you’re all shopped out, try some of the popular cafés, including Basil, The Bakehouse at 124, Finch House, Sulston’s Kitchen and Beyond The Grounds. Or head to some of the town’s busy restaurants, including more exotic choices like Havet (Turkish), Ghurka Planet and Gaab Kao (Thai), as well as more traditional options like Graze Kitchen & Bar, The Ivyhouse and Saltwater Fish & Chips.
Outside the town centre, the area has several excellent gastropubs including The Poacher & Partridge in Tudeley and The Chaser Inn in Shipbourne.
Property in commuter-friendly Tonbridge is cheaper than in nearby Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks although still expensive compared to many others major towns in Kent. Expect to pay anywhere from around £165,000 for a town-centre, one-bedroom flat and between £260,000 and £380,000 for a two-bed terrace. Three-bed semis are currently priced at £290,000-£620,000 and larger properties were available at the time of writing for up to £1.4m. Several new developments are being built in Tonbridge and surrounding villages, attracting couples moving out of London to start a family.
Improvements to River Walk
Due for completion this month, this town-centre pathway running alongside the River Medway and directly opposite the castle is the latest part of Tonbridge to undergo a facelift.
The thoroughfare is being transformed into a pleasant open space for pedestrians, encouraging people to stop and enjoy the lovely views. Losing its ugly asphalt surface and now boasting new areas of paving and resin bound gravel, complementing the upgraded High Street, the ‘pay and display’ parking has been removed, the street furniture upgraded, new trees planted and the ‘Penny Shelter’ refurbished.
The hope is that when special events like the Farmers’ Markets, food fairs and fêtes are taking place in the town, pop-up stalls and food vendors will be able to set up and trade there. In the summer it will be the perfect place to relax and enjoy one of the prettiest views in Tonbridge.
Multiple awards for Haysden Country Park
Haysden Country Park (left) has been awarded a Green Flag Award for the 11th year in a row, making it officially one of the very best parks in the UK.
Set in a beautiful area of countryside covering about 165 acres in the Medway Valley, Haysden stretches from Barden Lake at its eastern end, westwards to Haysden Water, with the River Medway running along the northern extremes of this pretty and popular site.
Its most prominent features of interest are the lakes along with the Environment Agency Flood Relief Barrier that provides a crucial role in the protection of Tonbridge from the threat of flooding.
The park is a designated Local Nature Reserve and visitors can explore the nature trails that wind through the park.
New features include a new children’s play area, a new jetty at Barden Lake and picnic tables overlooking the lake.
But its 11th Green Flag Award was just the beginning of the park’s success last year. In September it was awarded Accredited Country Park status for a further three years by Natural England.
One of 33 accredited parks in England, with only two in Kent, accreditation shows potential visitors that Haysden Country Park has all the facilities and services expected in a great country park.
Finally, in November, the park was awarded a Richard Neame Local Wildlife Sites Award Gold certificate from Kent Wildlife Trust for the work that the Haysden Country Park Volunteers and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council does at the park to benefit the natural environment.
Tonbridge is mainly served by the A21, part of which is currently being dualled to ease its frequent congestion. By train it’s a straightforward 40-minute journey into Charing Cross and the station, one of the busiest in Kent, also has lines towards Redhill, Ashford and Hastings.
Sat nav: TN9 1BG
My name is Teresa Seamer and I’m the owner of Gorgeous George, a quirky, independent gift shop based in The Pavilion in the heart of Tonbridge.
The shop is in its fifth year and we stock a range of unusual gifts, as well as specialist wines, beers and spirits, including our very own Lord & Lady Muck Toffee Vodka. We aspire to be different and thrive on the interaction we receive from our customers and offer a very personal service.
Customers are welcomed by music played on a retro record player which creates a unique atmosphere. We passionately promote local artisans and stock many locally made items, from cards to gin.
I am also the creator of our own toffee vodka, which we make in a small batch with a completely natural blend of English sugarbeet vodka, caramel, cocoa nibs and vanilla.
Having come from the wine and spirit trade I am passionate about quality and each of our bottles is hand wax sealed and numbered. Our new rhubarb and ginger gin will be available in the spring.
Tonbridge is an amazing town with a picturesque castle and the River Medway at its heart.
It has a strong community feel and with its rail links to London is fast becoming the place to be. Independent businesses are thriving and exactly what customers are looking for. We are delighted to say that in this difficult economic climate we are growing each year.
Tonbridge is full of passionate independent businesses all going that extra mile to deliver a great shopping experience. Among my many favourites are: Ian Chatfield Butchers, Grace Handbags, Pavilion Flowers and The Gift Box. There really is something for everyone.
There are also plenty of great eateries, including Finch House, Kathmandu Valley, Graze Kitchen & Bar and Beyond the Grounds. Come and visit soon!
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