Try the muddy tracks off-road cycling in the borough of Tunbridge Wells

Try the muddy tracks off-road cycling in the borough of Tunbridge Wells

D Hodgkinson

Autumn Breaks in Tunbridge Wells

2019 | When the kids go back to school at the beginning of September, peace reigns in the countryside! Take a moment or two to plan your relaxing break in Kent and get away from it all.

There are so many brilliant events in Tunbridge Wells borough for the autumn season we bet you’re wondering where to start?

So here are 7 themes for things to do in the Tunbridge Wells region. Such is this cultural oasis, we can only present a mere drop in the ocean here!

1. September Food Festival

One of the top things to do in Tunbridge Wells this season is the annual Royal Tunbridge Wells Food & Drink Month in September.  We are well known for our produce and top notch eating and drinking venues so this is the ideal celebration for all things edible.

Aside from a month long list of events, we have the annual Harvest Food Festival in The Pantiles on 14 and 15 September and the very next weekend is the huge Royal Tunbridge Wells Food & Drink Festival in central town park, Calverley Grounds, on 21 and 22 September 2019. 

It's all free, with a dizzying multitude of different foods to try, the best local chefs (and they are Good here) cooking their wares in the open air, vegan bites to sample, kitchen demonstrations, meal ideas, dining out ideas, ales to taste, fizz, spirits, cocktails, and live music too!

Our hop and apple heritage can be enjoyed to the full at the 9th CAMRA Real Ale & Cider Festival and Autumn Diesel Gala at the Spa Valley Railway on 18-20 October.

Taste the beer, ale and cider enjoying the atmosphere of the Diesel Gala at Spa Valley Railway, Royal Tunbridge Wells
Photo: Spa Valley Railway Real Ale and Cider Festival and Autumn Diesel Gala

Can you believe there will be more than 180 Real Ales?! Also on offer are over 30 Green Hop beers, in excess of 30 ciders as well as other refreshments and a BBQ from the local butcher. 

The Pantiles Market will be on during the usual first and third weekends in September. Stalls will be selling delicious food as well as gift and craft items.

The Tunbridge Wells Independent Farmers’ Market is on in Market Square on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Local producers selling their fruit, veg, meat, fish, bread, eggs and deli items will be wishing you Bon Appetit!

In Cranbrook, there is fun and games at harvest time, at the annual Apple Carnival. The main high street is closed to traffic providing for a great carnival atmosphere previously starring the hysterically funny Red Wheelbarrows! This year the theme is Vikings and Hippies!

The Vegan Catering Tasting Event happens in Cranbrook too, organised by the Fat Carrot of the Cranbrook Farmers’ Market. This will be in the Vestry Hall on 28 September as part of the Eco and Vegan Wedding Fair and must be booked in advance. 

Cranbrook Apple Fayre, have fun with the antics at this harvest time event

2. Escape to the Theatre

Cosy up inside out of the fresh autumnal evenings with some mind blowing comedy, spoken word and drama at the three theatres in the region.

Top class comedians Rhod Gilbert, Henning Wehn, Ben Elton Live, Russell Kane to name a few are all appearing at the Assembly Hall Theatre. Kevin Bloody Wilson with his unique brand of musical comedy is coming to town on 4 November.

The play ‘Made in Dagenham’ has a five day run in late November. Based on a true story about what ordinary people can do with a passion for standing together. Presented by Tunbridge Wells Operatic and Dramatic Society.

At Trinity Theatre , there is drama and laughs from Uncle VanyaHouse of Faces comedy, Griff Rhys Jones, Andrew Graham-Dixon’s talk on Johannes Vermeer as well as the Pantaloons version of Othello.

Book quickly for the live broadcast of Margaret Atwood’s interview about her new sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, ‘The Testaments’.

Transmissions of the acclaimed National Theatre’s plays The Lehman Trilogy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and One Man Two Guv'nors will be showing at Trinity in autumn too.

See plays, comedy and entertainment at Trinity Theatre in Roya Tunbridge Wells
Trinity Theatre in Royal Tunbridge Wells

On 21 September, The Local Comedy Club returns with Lee Hurst at the Queen’s Hall Theatre in Cranbrook. This was a great success at the inaugural show in the Spring so don’t miss the boat this time if you didn’t see it before.

You'll be pleased as Punch to know that from 11 - 13 October the incredible biennial Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival returns. Many of the shows are for adults so check out this creative cracker and see some artful characters come to life.

3. If music be the food of life…..look no further!

Spend a spectacular evening listening to talented musicians in the most atmospheric venues here in Tunbridge Wells!

Jazz and Soul on the Pantiles continues in the mellow autumn evenings on Thursdays from 7pm. An award winning event and still free to attend, held in the open air on the famous historic paved and colonnaded walkway overlooked by pretty Georgian architecture.

The Grey Lady Music Lounge, The Cross Keys, The Beau Nash, The Bedford, The Royal Oak, The Sussex Arms (to name but a few) are all more intimate venues which hold live gigs from Indie to Jazz on a regular basis in town.

The Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr has a long-standing tradition as an ideal venue for classical music concerts.

Having formerly hosted Dame Felicity Lott, Sam Stadlen, Matchbox Opera and their own King Charles Singers, come and feel truly uplifted by some exquisite performances this season.

Beautiful pieces are again planned this year: Eboracum Baroque, Joseph Wolfe & Anthony Zerpa-Falcon, and the Pentagon String Ensemble.

And since this is not any old church but one with grand historical merit, you can be sure it is worth a visit.

Classical music and choral concerts at The Church of King Charles the Martyr in Royal Tunbridge Wells
Church of King Charles the Marytr, David Hodgkinson

The Finchcocks Charity has a rare collection of antique harpsichords and for the first time this year has four exclusive concerts planned in an intimate venue in Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

Further afield in the country pubs, you can frequently find live bands performing at The George Hotel in Cranbrook, The Great House in Hawkhurst, The Knoxbridge Inn and The Bell & Jorrocks both at Frittenden.

The Lamberhurst Music Festival hosts Greg Dott, on piano, in October, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason in November this year in another of our lovely villages as part of their acclaimed live classical music season.

Both concerts will be held at St Mary’s Church in Lamberhurst, a Norman building originally from the late 12th century, situated on a ridge above the Teise valley.

Larger concert venues

The Assembly Hall Theatre has a classic programme of popular music over the cooler months. A mere sprinkling of the shows include tributes to Barry White, Motown (Get Ready) and Michael Jackson. Book in advance before they're all sold out!

Nicola Benedetti, superb violin soloist, is debuting with The English Symphony Orchestra on her return to the Assembly Hall Theatre at the beginning of September.

Also, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra will start their season with a concert from pianist Howard Shelley who will be performing Slavic Dances to liven you all up!

Music in the smaller Trinity Theatre for autumn includes the famous Westlife, Tenors Un Limited, (“Tenors with attitude!” -The Stage), tributes to The Boss, The Who and Led Zeppelin to namedrop a few!

Furthermore, one of the world’s greatest clarinettists will be there. Michael Collins, and star international pianist, Michael McHale, will perform a selection from the notable Wigmore Hall concerts in celebration of 30 years of twinning between Tunbridge Wells and Wiesbaden.

Finchcocks in Goudhurst is back on the music scene with a performance on 28 September featuring Jong-Gyung Park and Anthony Zerpa-Falcon playing ‘An Evening with Gershwin & The Planets’ in the vaulted concert room. This special event has been organised to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first public performance of The Planets.

Classical Concerts at Finchcocks Musical Manor, Goudhurst, Tunbridge Wells
Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Tunbridge Wells

During September and October, Hawkhurst Kino Cinema is transmitting live opera from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden – Don Giovanni and Don Pasquale

This cinema is a boutique venue in a quaint part of the Weald where you take your wine or cuppa in with you and popcorn is banned!

The Queen’s Hall Theatre in Cranbrook is hosting the toe-tapping, tuneful Ultimate Commitments & Blues Brothers Experience on 9 November. 

Finally our last top music recommendation is the most famous and iconic contemporary music venue in the borough, The Forum. Discovering many new bands, it is an integral part of the independent music scene here in Tunbridge Wells.

Pulled Apart By Horses, Hayseed Dixie, Boogie Nights and Worry Dolls are nights that will sell out very quickly.  Have a taster of up and coming musicians Childcare, The Pale White, and Ferris & Sylvester (who have appeared on BBC Music Introducing).

See also Live Music and Festivals for more on the distinguished RTW International Music Festival as well as other renowned classical performances.

4. History & Heritage Open Days

Discover the insider’s fascinating stories of well known sites in the region through a further delight at this time of year in the Heritage Open Days (13-22  September 2019).

Take this unique opportunity to explore historical properties sharing behind the scenes peeks free of charge - 26 events are listed to date. This includes a music venue that used to be a public convenience, two town theatres – one which used to be a church and the pub that used to be a glamorous opera house.

The Assembly Hall Theatre is welcoming visitors for tours on 20 – 22 September and the Trinity Theatre will be open on 15 September for tours.

The history of famous local biscuit maker to royalty, Alfred Romary, will be shared at The Camden Centre. This is a hands-on drop-in free event for all!

A self led walking tour can open up this glorious world to you even more. Download The Heritage Walking Trail to explore our historical sights and attractions!

For instance, Winnie the Pooh used to go to church in Royal Tunbridge Wells! 

The Corn Exchange used to host famous Shakespearean actors.

And in the 1600s, one of the smallest villages in the borough used to be one of the most important internationally thanks to guns!

Search out more curiosities like the ‘Cold Bath’, medieval woodlands and ‘pan tiles’!

A more personal way to find out the region’s secrets is to book a group guided tour of the town with one of our excellent storytelling Blue Badge Guides. They can tell you how the town became a Royal Spa town and the scandals of the spa!

Exhibitions at Cranbrook Museum also elaborate on the extraordinary heritage of this region – its free entry too!

5.Call Of The Wild – Autumn Walks

Now that the summer sun is giving way to a softer glow, saunter out and enjoy the refreshing coolness that is in the air.

And with the September Walking Festival organised by the High Weald Partnership, you can join in by going on a guided walk or explore for yourself. There are an incredible number of walks on the programme and we highly recommend this month long event! What a great way to walk off the Food Festival!

Year round, we also recommend the 27.5 mile Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk in the rolling rural landscape as one of the best around. It can be done in one but we suggest enjoying a total digital detox and completing it in stages.

For an easy access walk of 1.5km, visit Birchden Wood near Groombridge.

What will you discover on the 16km of the Forest Way? This disused railway line is an important habitat for wildlife as a ‘green corridor’.

It’s great for wildlife spotting, some is easy to see and some not so easy!

Ashdown Forest offers the visitor wide open spaces and far-reaching views. There are thirteen walking leaflets ranging from 1km to around 6km in the Forest.

The countryside is waiting to be discovered so don your boots and raincoat and get out there!

Create your own adventure in Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest where there are miles of trails for walkers of all abilities.

The traffic free cycle tracks provide a carefree way to enjoy the beauty of the woods in their spectacular autumn colours.

Cycling is also welcomed at Bewl Water Country Park round the 20 kilometre shore line of the reservoir.

Another more soothing outdoor activity at this time of year is fishing.  See our Fishing page for where to go for the best bites!

Photo: Bedgebury Pinetum by David Hodgkinson
Bedgebury Pinetum by David Hodgkinson

6. Autumn Gardens

Be dazzled by the riot of colour for walks through the breath-taking stately homes at this time of year. The trees are turning from green to glorious yellow, fiery red and burnished gold.

Penshurst Place is a quintessentially stunning English manor home which is as popular with Hollywood film producers as with visitors to the area. Oozing Tudor charm it has been the location for The Other Bolyen Girl, The Princess Bride, Merlin, Wolf Hall and JK Rowling’s The Silkworm.

The foliage in the arboretum is ablaze of colour at Penshurst Place and it is a particularly beautiful time of year for a stroll with or without the family, the dog or friends.

With two free-to-access estate walks, which are open all year round, providing the opportunity to appreciate the natural local Wealden countryside you can catch exciting glimpses of Penshurst Place from all angles.

The Parkland Walk and the Riverside Walk are marked with numbered and colour-coded signs to follow and both can be completed in a day, starting and finishing in the visitor car park.

Alternatively, trail maps can be purchased from the Gift Shop.

The Autumn Amble is 13 October including a two course roast lunch and a guided walk through the Estate.

Admire Hole Park Gardens in Autumn, Tunbridge Wells region
Hole Park Gardens, Autumn

A ‘must-visit’ is the bright burst of sparky blooms throughout September until they close for the autumn on 28 September at Pashley Manor. Dahlia Days is a delightful and blousy farewell to summer taking place from 4 – 14 September.

Hole Park Gardens is a cherished gem of an estate garden in a rural location at the edge of the borough near Rolvenden.  Really very beautiful, and after the bluebell season, autumn is a shining beacon in their botanical calendar. 

The cafe is often staffed by the owner, Edward Barham who provides the archetypal English afternoon tea with homemade scones, jam and cream and that blissfully reviving cup of tea. Open on Wednesdays and  Thursdays until 31 October and Sundays throughout October.

Scotney Castle, as a National Trust property, is yet another one of the ultimate places to admire the best of Mother Nature in autumn in the region of Tunbridge Wells. Don’t forget your camera, a truly Instagrammable inspiration!

7. Villages Of Character

Discover more by staying longer. Explore our numerous charming Wealden villages scattered among a rustic undulating countryside.

The pretty villages of Brenchley, Horsmonden, Goudhurst, and Matfield are just a few of the many endearing places to visit.

Why not stop and sample some Kentish hospitality in one of the friendly country pubs which serve a varied menu made from fresh locally sourced ingredients?

Top tip: try a ‘Ploughman’s’ lunch! A simple meal of bread and cheese made elegant with the addition of tasty local chutneys and salad.

Follow the scenic country car tour to visit our villages, maybe take elevenses in one, lunch in another and tea in a different spot and choose your favourite.

Photo: Tudeley Church by David Hodgkinson
Photo: Tudeley Church by David Hodgkinson

The Union Mill windmill in Cranbrook is open over the Heritage Open Day weekend as well as on 1, 7, 21 & 28 September. It is free to enter this Grade 1 Listed Industrial Building. Be warned it has steep, narrow stairs to the six floors of machinery and displays. You can buy the stoneground flour milled on site.

There is more information on our Towns and Villages page and you can also download the brochure Visit Cranbrook and Beyond to take with you.

Our churches are absolutely fascinating and a great excuse to look around and then get a drop of afternoon tea.

On the Wealden Church Trail leaflet, there is a tour and information about the history of the village churches.

If you want to stay longer and explore further our accommodation pages have a range of luxurious and cheap accommodation to choose from. Some of the best deals to be had are midweek.

Bookmark What’s On for all the details and more events which are added to continuously.

The hardest part of planning your time will be deciding what to do first!

Hear live music at Grey Lady Music Lounge on The Pantiles, Royal Tunbridge Wells by David Hodgkinson
Photo: Grey Lady Music Lounge on The Pantiles by David Hodgkinson

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