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Things to do in Tunbridge Wells – a local’s guide

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In the latest in our ‘A local’s guide to…’ seriesTim Beach tells us about his favourite places in Tunbridge Wells and his top tips.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m now in my late 50’s and having worked in corporate life for too long, decided to take life a bit easier that includes plenty of travel when I can, both nearby to appreciate the wonderful countryside in Kent and East Sussex but also internationally too. Looking back, I realise I wasn’t too adventurous when I was younger but have certainly made up for that over the last 15 years or so.

How long have you lived in Tunbridge Wells?

Coming up for 11 years now. I was born in nearby Pembury that makes me a ‘Man of Kent’. Interesting fact: traditionally, those born to the north or west of the River Medway are defined as a Kentish Man/Maid, whilst those born to the south or east, would be a Man/Maid of Kent. The Medway itself, runs in a somewhat haphazard route from its source in the High Weald of East Sussex through Tonbridge and then Maidstone before flowing out to Rochester.

I was raised by my parents in a lovely village called Leigh that is just to the west of Tonbridge. It is the quintessential English village with a green, primary school and cricket pavilion at its centre, overlooked by a lovely church upon a hill. Nearby Penshurst is where the tourists will go because of the world famous Penshurst Place but Leigh is the nicer of the two villages.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
Game of cricket on the village green at Leigh.

If a visitor only had one day in Tunbridge Wells how would you recommend they spend it?

Coming from a village near Tonbridge, I may be biased but I find Tunbridge Wells town centre very disappointing and consider it over-hyped. Instead, use your own car or hire one to get out and about exploring the lovely villages in the surrounding area. Or, there are many foot and cycle paths to do that should you have more time and plenty of energy – plus there are many delightful pubs in the area.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
Penshurst Church

Where are your favourite places to eat in Tunbridge Wells?

Many of the restaurants in the town are over-priced and for day trippers from London or ‘townies’ rather than the traditional local community. For a decent pub, get yourself to the Sussex Arms, Ragged Trousers or Duke of York on or near to the famous Pantiles. Also consider the Compasses that claims to be the oldest pub in the town. For a drinkers Ale House, head for the nearby Grove Tavern. This area is my favourite part of the town and compares well with the Pantiles that many visitors often consider disappointing.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
Beer at the Sussex Arms

What is your favourite local food dish?

Traditional pub grub at the Ragged Trousers on the Pantiles. It’s a small venue so you may have to wait a while especially at busy times. However, they have a French chef who does the best chilli con carne you’ll find anywhere, plus many other traditional dishes. If you like fish, head for Sankey’s in the Mount Ephraim part of town.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
The Pantiles
Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
The Pantiles

Where are your favourite drinking spots in Tunbridge Wells?

Too many to mention other than those already but again get yourself out into the surrounding areas. A few hot tips, the Plough at Leigh, the Bottle House at Penshurst, the Crown Inn at Groombridge and the Whestsheaf at Bough Beech.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
The Plough at Leigh

Do you have any favourite walks?

Tunbridge Wells to Eridge Station via the High Rocks and Groombridge then catch a train on the Spa Valley Railway back to town.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
Spa Valley Railway

Where is your perfect place to relax?

Cycle ride from Tunbridge Wells to Penshurst via Bidborough (wonderful views overlooking the Medway valley) Tonbridge and Leigh. Cycle back or catch the Southern service back from Penshurst or Edenbridge if you want to go a bit further.

What is your favourite neighbourhood in Tunbridge Wells?

The Grove Park area and Tunbridge Wells Common, head for the Wellington Rocks.

Things to do in Tunbridge Wells
Wellington Rocks

Is there anywhere / anything you think is overrated or would recommend to avoid?

As already mentioned, I think the whole town is overrated but maybe that’s because I’m fully familiar with it. Some people will find the Camden Road area interesting with its unusual shops but others will want to avoid.

Camden Road

Are there any festivals in Tunbridge Wells you would recommend to visitors?

There are regular music festivals in the town at the Pantiles, Dunorlan Park or the Calverley Grounds. Also, the Forum on the edge of the Common regularly wins awards for UK small music venues. The Spa Valley Railway holds several events through the year including a large and popular beer festival each October.

Spa Valley Beer Festival

Any other tips for visitors?

It’s quite true that ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ does live here. My grandfather always used to say “You can always tell the difference between true gentry and those who think they are”! Sadly, the number of ‘Chelsea Tractors’ being driven around the town is a strong indication there are too many of the latter. Don’t be surprised unfortunately if as a mere visitor, some of these look down their noses at you!

Thanks Tim for all these Tunbridge Wells recommendations!

Follow Tim Beach on Instagram >

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