Here’s To Your Health!
If you visit Tunbridge Wells between Easter and October, it still costs just 40 pence to “take the waters” – a cup of iron-rich water hand-drawn by the town’s costumed Dipper. Celebrated for its allegedly health-enhancing qualities, the bubbling Chalybeate Spring, discovered in 1606, literally put Tunbridge Wells on themap. So popular did this spa town become with aristocrats – especially Princess Victoria (later Queen) that in 1909 King Edward VII made a decree granting the town its “Royal” prefix.
A Royal Welcome at The Royal Wells Hotel
More than four hundred years later, the spring and its environs are still the centre for culture and tourism in the town’s famous Upper and Lower Walks. Situated in a small triangular enclosure outside the Bath House built to house warm vapour and shower baths, the spring was originally accessed by small square clay paving stones called Pantiles, now preserved in the town museum.
Today the Walks (referred to as The Pantiles) are the setting for the town’s café society. Year round you can browse the wares offered in French and Italian markets, specialty shops in the Corn Exchange and the Musick Gallery, where strolling musicians once played. In the centre of the Pantiles is Fishmarket Square, now the Tourist information Centre with Pink Alley’s antique shops behind. In summer, the Pantiles are the setting for outdoor jazz bands, farmer’s markets, walking tours, street entertainment, and open-air Shakespeare.
Overlooking the Tunbridge Wells Common is The Royal Wells Hotel. Less than a mile from town, we found it a perfect base for parading along the Pantiles. According to its present owner, Peter Ratcliffe, it frequently housed Queen Victoria during her youth, thus explaining the hotel’s “royal” name and the granting of use of her Coat of Arms displayed prominently atop the hotel’s façade. We liked its size – with just 25 ensuite bedrooms, guests aren’t lost in the shuffle. Decorated to a high standard by the proprietor, an interior decorator, the Royal Wells also has tworestaurants. We dined at the Wells Brasserie, where the friendliness of the wait staff made us feel exceptionally at home. The more elaborate Conservatory Restaurant is reserved for parties of 10 and more.
After dinning, it’s fun to feel the vibes at The Grey Lady, a popular jazz and blues club on the Pantiles. For a more quirky experience, check out Gracelands Palace, a Chinese restaurant featuring an oriental Elvis impersonator and “hot steamy noodles.”
Less than an hour by train from London, Royal Tunbridge Wells is famed for giving shoppers the royal treatment. Don’t go home without at least browsing at Collins & Son’s, jewelry advisors to the late Queen Mother, or trying on the rags at Caroline Charles or the Little London Boutique.
If You Go
Click on www.royalwells.co.uk to learn more about The Royal Wells Hotel and its restaurants.
Learn the history and attractions on offer at Royal Tunbridge Wells at www.vistunbridgewells.com
all photos are by Richard N. Every
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