The virtual one (Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge)
This is a real walk – one that had been planned and mapped out to be completed and shared with you all. Its ever so slightly over 20 miles and was full of things to see and share with you all.
So, whilst I couldn’t physically complete the walk with the restrictions in place – I could share the route and the sights of the walk with people on social media and we could enjoy it together from comfort of our sofas. So from 11.30 am on 29th April I started sharing posts for each part of the walking route on Facebook Instagram and Twitter. Here is that ‘walk’.
We are ‘meeting’ outside Tunbridge Wells railway station at 11.30 am. By the taxi rank opposite Hoopers department store. This walk starts at Tunbridge Wells station and ends at Tonbridge station so connections are easy. We won’t be following the direct A26 main road as I plan to take the scenic route today.
A short walk up Mount Pleasant and we head into Calverley Grounds – part of Decimus Burton’s development of ‘Calverley New Town’ from the 1830’s. Here we are right by the bandstand and cafe. I have fond memories of tobogganing with friends in this park many many winters ago.
The park is in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, and from here you can see the Villas and enclosing wall that formed the New Town development. In addition to the Villas there is this crescent of 17 Regency houses next to the now Hotel du Vin that rise above the park. We can leave the park through here and head back down past the station and the old High Street and on to Tunbridge Wells’ most iconic location.
Lets head back out of the park now and walk down the old High Street towards Tunbridge Wells most iconic spot. The Pantiles.
No walk in Tunbridge Wells is complete without a trip to the iconic Pantiles.
Following the discovery of the Chalybeate Spring in 1606, with its restorative waters, Tunbridge Wells quickly became a tourist attraction. Wooded ‘walks’ were hastily planted where the Pantiles now stand. This was to provide a place for promenading with shelter from the elements. The area evolved over time as tourism grew and developed a reputation for hosting more scandalous pastimes such as gambling. In 1735 this beautiful Georgian colonnade was built and the area again became the height of fashion. This was largely thanks to the influence of Beau Nash, an 18th century fashion icon and famous celebrity of the time who championed this area. The Pantiles has undergone another resurgence in popularity in recent years – full of coffee shops and restaurants and is also host to weekly al-fresco Jazz nights each Thursday throughout the summer.
Leaving the Pantiles now and heading back towards Tunbridge Wells common we have two very contrasting buildings almost opposite each other. Firstly, King Charles the Martyr Church which boasts an ornate plaster ceiling by Sir Christopher Wren’s chief plasterer, Henry Doogood. The interior of this Church is definitely worth a visit and it also often hosts music recitals.
Now looking across towards Tunbridge Wells common from the outside of this church you will see an unusually shaped building called The Forum. The Forum used to house public toilets and a brass rubbing centre but was converted to a brilliant music venue in 1993. Since opening it has hosted many bands at the start of their career ; the list is impressive and includes : Oasis, Coldplay, Muse and Adele – I missed seeing all of them here.🤦🏻♀️
Following the path now up across Tunbridge Wells common, its worth mentioning that when Tunbridge Wells first became a tourist spot there were no hotels or guest houses and so people camped all over the common in elaborate tents.
This area also includes a number of sandstone rocks, dating back to neolithic times (I googled..) including Wellington Rocks – pictured here. These rocks were named after the Wellington Hotel on Mount Ephraim (now a travelodge) – the hotel got its name as it had connections to the Duke of Wellington’s wife who often stayed in the town.
The local history society also tells us that guides from the early 19th century highlighted “small transparent pebbles are found on the paths of the Common, especially after rain. These crystals are called Tunbridge Wells Diamonds, and, cut and polished, form brilliant additions to the jewel-case”. Apparently these small rounded pebbles can still be seen here today embedded in the sandstone – oh and we tobogganed here too narrowly avoiding crashing into the rocks!
The local history society also tells us that early nineteenth century guides report that “small transparent pebbles are found on the paths of the Common, especially after rain. These crystals are called Tunbridge Wells Diamonds, and, cut and polished, form brilliant additions to the jewel-case”. Apparently these small rounded pebbles can still be seen here today embedded in the sandstone – something to look out for.
We are now going to head out along Mount Ephraim and out towards the countryside that borders the town rather than along the A26.
We are walking along Mount Ephraim now. Looking back across the town from here the distinctive building of Thackerays restaurant shines out. Originally built as a lodging house to accommodate the influx of tourists the building was renamed after one of its famous guests.
Turning now away from the town we head out along Royal Chase and back towards the residential areas of Earls Road and Bishops Down Park Road to pick up the footpaths heading through the countryside towards Southborough and Bidborough.
Out on the country footpaths now, we skirt the edge of the Salomons Estate. This is now a multi functional event and conference venue. The Estate was originally built for Sir David Salomons in the 1850s and was designed by the architect Decimus Burton. There is a free museum in the main building showcasing the wide history of the family – from the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London through to the pioneer of the first British Motor Show which was held in Tunbridge Wells in 1895. The buildings include a spectacular Victorian Theatre and an intricately decorated Gold Room. It has the well earned nickname of ‘mansion of marvels’ and was the first house in the country to have electricity.
The footpath now will take us to Modest Corner and Southborough Common, leading us through the paths of Whortleberry Woods and countryside that has links back to Saxon times. (Thanks again google!!) This area is historically linked to Tonbridge Castle and was formally owned by the ‘Lord of the Manor of South’ – hence the name Southborough. The Lord of this Manor included Anne Boleyn’s brother, who was granted the title by Henry VIII. His fortunes changed with the demise of his sister and he was found to be too closely linked to Anne and therefore also executed.
Heading onto the common now at Southborough and towards the Decimus Burton Church ( He was a very busy man in this area Decimus Burton! ) . This creates the perfect backdrop to the quintessential English cricket ground. In fact Southborough’s links to cricket were so strong that it became renowned for the manufacture of cricket balls.
Heading back out on the paths behind the Church, we continue through to the village of Bidborough. Here the views across the North Downs are stunning. The ridge rises above the River Medway Valley and stretches out in front of you. That’s where we head to now – the River Medway.
Walking down into the Valley before we cross underneath the A21, the countryside views continue. We eventually arrive at the Leigh Flood Barrier. This barrier creates a storage area for flood water to control the volume of water flowing in the river and protect the town of Tonbridge from flooding. It was built in 1982, but in recent years has struggled in keeping the town flood free.
The footpaths here connect us into Haysden Country Park, and are dotted with kissing gates. Quick question – Am I the only one that believes it’s bad luck not to blow a kiss to your walking partner when going through one of these? Apparently it’s a myth 🤷🏻♀️ From here we cross Lucifer Bridge and walk around Barden lake which is always filled with keen anglers. Walking here with dogs can be a challenge as the smell of all that bait drives them mad!
The path will eventually bring us into Tonbridge. Follow the signs here for Tonbridge swimming pool where, if we are lucky, the miniature steam train may be running – this always evokes childhood memories..
We take the path next to the Swimming Pool up until we reach Tonbridge Castle – a classic Motte and Bailey Castle. The original castle was built to guard the crossing of the River Medway but was burnt to the ground – along with the town of Tonbridge, in 1088 following a rebellion against King William II. The castle was then rebuilt around 1100 with the stone wall added for extra security almost 200 years later.
Moving on now we take a slight detour and head North on Tonbridge High Street, to Tonbridge School. This public boys school was founded in 1553 and continues to thrive today. It’s buildings are beautiful and really stand out in this part of town. It has a fascinating list of alumni of sportsmen, journalists, authors and scientists.
We are going to head back along the High Street to the river again. We still have some miles to go to get us to that 20 mile mark so we will walk out of Tonbridge for a while now. We pass through the new developments alongside the river and reach the Industrial Estate. Cross the road here and take the footpath to make our way towards Tudeley.
I’m not heading out this way solely to clock the miles up. There is a purpose to heading to this area just outside of Tonbridge before we head back to Tonbridge station and the end of our walk. Set just off the road in Tudeley is All Saints Church, whose stained glass windows were created by modernist artist Marc Chagall. The second photo is of the East window, a memorial tribute to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye. Sarah was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid; after their daughter’s death in 1963 they commissioned Chagall to create the memorial window. He then offered to create designs for the full 12 windows. The first was completed and installed in 1967 and the last in 1985 when Chagall was 97 years old. They create a wonderful atmosphere in this church.
Leaving the Church now, we head cross country towards the River again. On the horizon you should see the Grade 1 listed Hadlow Tower, the remaining part of Hadlow Castle. The Tower has had a varied history having been built in 1838. It is now in private ownership but has been used as a Watchtower during the war and then holiday accomodation. It was badly damaged in the Great Storm of 1987 and was bought by the local council for restoration with Heritage Lottery. It dominates the skyline and local myth has it that it was built to impress the parents of a number of eligible ladies in the surrounding areas. I love seeing this tower on the horizon when I walk, it’s great for navigation. My mum lives in its shadow with a spectacular view of it from her garden – when I see the tower I get a sense of connection to my mum – especially at the moment when we are all self isolating.
We now arrive at Hartlake Road and Hartlake Bridge. There is a memorial plaque here, to commemorate 30 Hop-Pickers who drowned in a tragic accident. A horse pulling the wagon that was taking the hop-pickers back to their camp, shied on the bridge. The wagon crashed through the poorly maintained wooden bridge tipping the 40 occupants into the swollen river. The victims were aged between 59 and 2 years old. It is said that their screams could be heard in Hadlow village, several miles away. They were buried together in St Marys churchyard with a further memorial there.
We walk back along the river now towards Tonbridge. Hadlow Tower still on the skyline, but a peaceful walk before we arrive back in the Industrial Estate in Tonbridge.
We are almost finished now. Its only a short time before we are back in the bustke of Tonbridge and walk back into the Town Centre and along the High Street to Tonbridge Station.
It was lovely to have you with me on this ‘virtual’ walk and once restrictions are lifted I will walk this route fully and post my own photos of these landmarks rather than the ones I have shared today.
This Walk has actually taken many hours to pull together – almost as long as completing the Walk in real time. Planning the route and then researching the Landmarks that have hopefully kept you interested throughout this journey.
Thank you again for your support and please share my posts and spread the word about this challenge for the Macular Society.
All these challenges are part of my 2020 Challenge to raise funds for their work and research. All donations, however small have an impact at this time, and will help fund research that are focussed on developing treatments for sight threatening Macular conditions.
You can make a donation here :