The Pantiles - is a colonnade of shops, once very popular with the gentry, but now just as popular with Joe Public. The name Pantiles is the name of the paving slabs or tiles which were baked in pans. It's a pedestrianised area where you can meet friends in one of the numerous little coffee places or pub or restaurant or just browse the many interesting (but somewhat expensive shops!) The Chalybeate Spring is also here (see Local Customs tip).
There are lots of little interesting gift shops, antique shops, galleries and boutiques as well as a lovely kitchenware emporium. (Looking for a a quirky cake tin?? This is the kind of place you might find it! :))
There's a variety of architectural styles in evidence here, eg Regency, Georgian, Victorian and white clapboard cottages. There is a real village feel about the place, especially on a warm sunny Sunday morning!
This is a definite "Must See" for visitors to Tunbridge Wells.
Situated in the Old Fish Market in the Pantiles, the Tourist Information Office is the place to go to find out about accommodation, historic places of interest, guided walks, and other events happening in and around the Tunbridge Wells area. You can also buy postcards and souvenirs there.
Summer: Mon-Sat 9.00-17.00 Sunday 10.00-17.00
Winter: Mon-Sat 9.00-17.00 Sunday 10.00-16.00
Gorgeous park in the town centre, perfect for a spring morning stroll with a variety of plants, flowers, shrubs etc and a really welcoming tea room with outside terrace area. Lots of young families on the day we were there enjoying the mild weather.
It's well situated between the Pantiles and the Town Centre - so a good "half-way break" kinda place to stop for a cold drink or coffee.
Wander along the Pantiles and you cannot help but come across the Chalybeate Spring. It was discovered in it's natural rural state in 1606 by a 'hung-over' Dudley, Lord North who alighted from his horse and felt invigorated after drinking the iron-rich reddish waters. To be honest, I believe that anyone who stops to drink from a muddy red pool of water in the middle of a field would have to be mad or intoxicated to do so. No matter. the Spring became famous for it's restorative powers and by the 18th century it was a fully-developed feature of Regency Tunbridge Wells, where a gulp of the reddish brew would assuage your guilt after hours spent at the coffee house or the dicing tables.
Nowadays those wanting to sample the waters will probably have to visit dutring the Summer months. For those of you unable to make the trip, licking a wet iron bar might provide the sensory and culinary experience you crave. I have never 'taken the waters' anywhere - be it here, Bath or Buxton - without feeling as if I needed a medal for bravery for doing so. Bottoms up chaps!
Well, I've got to admit that I do like my food...my food, your food, in fact just about any food that hasn't been securely chained to the table. If you're lucky enough to be passing Tunbridge Wells when the Farmer's Market is in town, I strongly suggest you take a timely detour and tuck in. Purveyors of provisions from Kent and Sussex set up stall selling an array of produce from organic vegetables to luxuriously flavoured loaves of bread, from organic wine and honey to herbs, and joints of lamb to vegetarian curries. Why not do as I do and purchase a pie to snaffle down whilst you thread your way through the stalls? It isn't enormous (that's the market, not my pie!) but there are plenty of decent stalls to attract your attention.
If interested, you'll find that the market takes place outside the Town Hall on specific Saturdays between 9am and 2pm. Don't leave it too late or you'll find yourself with little left to buy! The remaining dates for 2008 are as follows...
12th and 26th July
9th and 23th August
13th and 27th September
11th and 25nd October
8th and 22nd November
23 December (for this day only, 12pm til 6pm)
The ever growing popularity of the Chalybeate Spring inevitably led to the spread of commerce nearby - but in Georgian 'Royal Tunbridge Wells' it happened in the most tasteful way possible, namely the construction of the 'Pantiles'.
The Pantiles (or the 'Walks' as they were known in the 18th century) were THE place for a pomp-filled promenade. The collonaded walkway was split into two distinct levels - the 'Upper Walks' for the toffs and gentry and the 'Lower Walks' for the rest of us! Back then, the local 'dandy' Richard Beau Nash patrolled to ensure that breakers of protocol were properly censured. Alas, this does not happen today...though it is worth noting that with a well-timed prang of your umbrella any skateboarder may be successfully tipped into the 'Lower Walks' where they most surely belong! The blaggards!!
Worth looking out for are the annual Sedan Chair races which take place along the Pantiles on Bank Holiday Monday at the end of August. Do doublecheck wth the Tourist Information Centre beforehand! Also you'll find a number of delightful shops including an excellent traditional toy shop with a great selection of board games and one of the best cookware shops you'll find anywhere in the UK.
Back in the 19th century this was a theatre built by Sarah Baker - a famous dancer of the era, later it became the Corn Exchange, and now it is a gallery/cafe with a few small shops.
A statue of the Goddess of the Harvest can be seen at the top of the building.
Just inside the entrance of the Pantiles, the famous colonnaded shopping area in Royal Tunbridge Wells, is the mineral spring to which the town owes its existence - the Chalybeate Spring.
The spring was discovered in 1606 by a young nobleman, Dudley Lord North. He had the water analysed and then claimed it had miraculously cured him from a 'lingering consumptive disorder'. Chalybeate means it contains iron. Rainwater fell on ground containing iron deposits, soaked through them then rose in a spring.
If you feel you need to find indoor activitys then head for Knights Park. Situated on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, just off the A21, it is home to The Odeon multiscreen cinema, Bowlplex ten pin bowling alley and Esporta Fitness Centre. There is also a pub/restaurant called The Hop Pocket which does the usual chain pub grub which is usually quite good and very good value for money. On nice days we walk our dog here and have a lunch outside. Also there is Frankie & Bennys, I would not reccomend this place, the food is below average and the service is nothing short of terrible. I have tried to eat here four times, the first I enjoyed, the second I walked out before my order was taken, The third I complained and had my bill reduced and the fourth I walked out again. I will not give them another chance.
About nine miles from Tunbridge Wells town centre, Scotney Castle is the remains of a fourteenth century, moated castle set in some wonderful landscaped gardens. The garden has spectacular displays of rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmia in May and June, wisteria and roses rambling over the ruins in summer, and trees and ferns providing rich colour in autumn. There are some lovley walks around the estate, from the car park, take the circular route via Kilndown and you will get the oppotunity to have a beer and a wonderful lunch in the Globe and Rainbow. Go through the surrounding woodland in May and you will find carpets of Bluebells as far as the eye can see.
This tip has been updated on my Kent page.
Calverley Grounds is a picture perfect park nestling wihin the centre of Tunbridge Wells, just behind the shops on Mount Pleasant Road. Originally it formed part of the grounds of Mount Pleasant House at which time it became a favourite girlhood haunt for Queen Victoria. Curious to think of her playing in what is now a rather splendid public park - well, perhaps not in the area where the bandstand is, as that used to be where the lake was!
After the house was rebuilt in 1837 and transformed into the Calverley Hotel, the grounds were purchased in 1840 for the good of the local community and the park started it's new life. Much of the landscaping work done between 1920 and 1926 shaping the grounds into the beautiful green space we see today. facilities include tennis courts, bowling greens, a croquet lawn, basketball court (!) and one of the best traditional 'greasy spoon' cafés (colloquial British term!) you're likely to come across...and believe me, I do mean that as a compliment! Just check out my restaurant tips...
For those 'caught short' there are public toilets right by the Mount Pleasant Road entrance and also, rather curiously, a very quaint looking Dental Surgery! Worth noting that the nearest children's playground is situated just a few minutes walk away in another park called 'The Grove' and also that the Calverley Grounds closes at dusk.
The Tunbridge Wells Mela is a multicultural annual event in Calverley Gardens celebrating ethnic diversity within the borough in the form dance, music and food! Bring a picnic and a bottle of wine to share with friends (or buy it there!) and enjoy the afternoon! It's free!
We met local (to Tunbridge Wells) VTer ChrisnJan (and their adorable greyhound George who was impeccably behaved for the entire afternoon!) and spent a really relaxed and fun few hours here together.
I think this event will get bigger each year - it was estimated that there were around 10,000 in attendance but I don't think there were quite that many - even so, it looked as though everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves - it's a real family event and the gorgeous weather made it a lovely day out!
Once a fine theatre, home to the performing arts in Tunbridge Wells, Ellen Terry being one of the most notable names associated with the place, now it is the home of the cheap pint and microwaved food courtesy of J D Wetherspoon.
Opened in 1902 as a grand theatre, by 1931 it had turned into a cinema. In the 70s it became a bingo hall and now it's a pub.
Fortunately despite all of its transitions the interior survived quite well and when wetherspoons took over they actually carried out a refurbishment that was sympathetic to the original style of the theatre. The upper circle and the balconies all appear quite original although these areas are out of bounds to the public so don't expect to be able to examine the original bits too closely.
Wetherspoons a have actually held a few operatic concerts here which must have been successful as they have just announced they will be putting on more this year (2008)
If you are in the area it is worth popping in for a look even if you don't stay for a drink as it is still quit grand inside!
Dunorlan Park was once a private landscaped garden, today though, it is a public park. Thanks to a £2.1 million grant from The Heritage Lottery Fund the park has just undergone a massive restoration project. It really is a very nice place to go on a fine day, take a stroll along well maintained paths, picnic on the grass or take a boat out on the lake. Boats are available for hire during the summer and fishing is allowed during the fishing season. There is also a cafe where you can sit and watch the parklife around you. Occaisionally some quite large events are held here.
The Pantiles grew up around the spa waters of the Chalybeate Spring. It all started with a few wooden buildings thrown up around the Dipping House. By the early eighteenth century it had turned into a colonnaded walkway. In Georgian times, "The Walks" as they were known then, were the place to be seen, with only the gentry allowed on the upper walks while everyone else were restricted to the lower walks. The daily events and protocol were overseen by The Master of Ceremonies, Richard Beau Nash, a well known dandy who had made a name for himself in the other popular spa town of Bath.
Today The Pantiles has a mix of shops, art galleries and restaurants with outdoor seating. The tourist information office can also be found here, in The Old Fish market. Once you have chosen your leaflets take them next door to The Duke of York and peruse them over a pint of ale.
You can still taste the waters today; costumed dippers serve tastings from the dipping house during the summer months.
But a word of caution; It doesn’t taste very nice!
There is a bandstand where you can sometimes catch a performance by local theatrical groups or live music.
Parts of the Tommy Steele film "Half a Sixpence" were filmed here and the shop used as the sweetshop setting is still here today.