Living an hour from Royal Tunbridge Wells means that visiting the town and the nearby countryside is a wonderful treat for me and my family.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Gala Performance of Wind in the Willows at Trinity Theatre in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells for the evening on Friday 14 December.

I was very excited to go to the performance as my son (12 years old) and I are huge fans of the Kenneth Grahame classic.

Wind in the Willows Christmas Show at Trinity Theatre, Royal Tunbridge Wells

A Christmas Show

Trinity Theatre is a bijou venue in an old gothic church designed by Decimus Burton, hence it is a striking place to visit, swathed in coloured lights and of course the interior is very comfortable. All of which made my son very happy to be my plus one!

He was also very pleased to be provided with a ‘posh’ glass of orange juice whilst I had a small festive glass of bubbles. I usually take the train to Tunbridge Wells because then I can have a little tipple and not worry. I did have to show him how to hold the glass and drink from the small opening at the top so his nose didn’t get stuck!

There was a jam-packed audience in the auditorium, we had seats in the fourth row near the edge – the edge is the best place in Trinity, you’ll see why in a minute.

Singing at Christmas

The introductory scene was an astounding harmony of singing voices emanating from voles, dormice, weasels, hedgehogs and other cute furry characters.  I was delighted by the little ears that the actors were delicately wearing and very grateful for the lack of masks!

A true musical in the sense that the songs stood on their own by which I mean they are not part of a conversation which is a personal bug bear of mine! But then it is written by the masters Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

Singing dormice, voles, and other cute furries from the Wind in the Willows at Trinity Theatre, Royal Tunbridge Wells

The main characters of Mole, Ratty, Toad and Badger had real depth and comedy. They were a delightful combination and Toad’s staff of rabbits was hilarious.  I don’t want to give the game away either but the Hedgehogs almost stole the show!  Huge praise must go to the costume designers because they were tongue in cheek and had a humour of their own. Testament to this, were also the red squirrels! Their outfits were simple but striking.  I know that local men’s tailors Hardman & Hemming sponsored Toad’s costumes which was very ‘fitting’!  I personally thought Toad was excellent and reminded me of a cross between Christopher Biggins and Elton John (because he can sing) – just you wait till you see it!

The entrance of Badger was enthralling – for a minute I thought we were in the presence of the mighty Brian Blessed!

The ensemble was excellent, tight in their choreography and adding funny little mannerisms here and there. One of the pluses about Trinity is that there is ample opportunity to see the characters up close as the cast nearly always make full use of the aisles in their performances. 

Favourite Christmas Characters

My son said his favourite character was Mole because he was so nice.  He thought the whole play very moving and “touching”, his favourite song was the Friends song.  He also loved the Hedgehogs because they were very funny.

Toad and Mole in the Gyspy Caravan, Wind in the Willows play at Trinity Theatre, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Whilst not an obvious Christmas story choice or ubiquitous panto the music and sentiment were so charming that it hits the right spot for lifting the Christmas spirit particularly via the friendship theme which resonated with my son.  I cannot recommend it highly enough, the music, from a live orchestra, and songs were truly beautiful and my son was agog throughout.

There are too many restaurants nearby to name, that offer superb dining menus. The nearest locally run ones are Thackeray’s and The Barn. The former is a very special dining option and The Barn is a good venue for anyone at anytime.

Trinity Theatre has a café so you can easily eat your afternoon tea before the show.  We managed to fit in an interval snack of very creamy ice cream.

Christmas Market Shopping in Cranbrook

On Saturday, for something a little different, we went to The Cranbrook Farmers Market which is on in all weathers.  They sometimes have stalls outside but they can take cover in the Vestry Hall, an historic building in the corner of the High Street by the church.  Disabled access is available through the church yard and in the side door.

Vestry Hall for the Cranbrook Farmers Market

We took our well behaved hound in and we browsed round the hall admiring the handcrafted door stops (with little doggies on them!), bars of shampoo soap, locally farmed meat (includes the usual but also the unusual such as goat and boar), homemade chutneys, the Vegan café, and a fab find for us were the gluten-, dairy-, egg-free brownies!  And yes they were deeelish!  Especially the rocky road, mmmmm….gooey! We bought lemon & lime marmalade as well as lemon & ginger sauce from The Lemon Grove.

Eating out in Cranbrook

When we left it was still raining so we went along to the Waterloo House Tea Rooms & Antiques where they welcome four legged friends.  They kindly fetched a bowl of fresh water for our boy. We sat in the warm and dry with relief, always a comfort when our greyhound is made to feel at home.

Whilst seated you can gaze at the surrounding curios, antiques and collectables, point out and discuss ideas for presents. Ideal for those that are hard to buy for.

We chose a light lunch. I had a croque madam with a poached egg on top and a pot of jasmine of tea. I was given a side of homemade coleslaw too. It was the ideal choice to warm up on a wet wintry day, soft and melting with cheese.  My partner chose the all day breakfast and soy latte.  My son chose a bacon sandwich and a hot chocolate “with everything”. 

It turns out “everything” is squirty cream, huge marshmallows and a sprinkle of chocolate. The service was attentive and friendly. The ambience is laid back but the food is top notch as it is lovingly prepared and cooked to order from local produce.

Shopping in Cranbrook

After finishing our warming repast, we wandered around and admired the boutiques in the old medieval market town of Cranbrook.  The view of the windmill from the town is an eye-catcher and worth a photo!

The pavements are higgledy piggledy with a continuous stone step down from the pavement on to the road along the High Street. This is reminiscent of the days of the stage coach when one had to step up to get into a vehicle.

Shopping in Cranbrook, Weald of Kent, Tunbridge Wells region

The shops really are out of the ordinary for instance:– an olde worlde toy shop, vintage dress boutique, quaint tea rooms, luxurious men’s clothes shops, a kitchen shop, gift and card shops, art gallery, delicatessen, antiques  and two country inns with rooms.  You can really spend a very pleasant couple of hours losing yourself in these troves of treasure.

Saturday Night in the Weald of Kent

Our Saturday evening was spent at another very special event in the region of Tunbridge Wells.  This was a fabulous treat and whilst it was fairly expensive it was something new for us and it turned out to be rather magical!  Being a family of three, we decided to invite a friend of my son’s along and buy a family ticket for 4 as it was only a couple of pounds extra. 

We had booked this some time ago as we thought it would be very popular and we booked the parking in advance too. This was an excellent decision, because all we had to do was turn up at the allotted time we were given and enjoy!

Saturday was a wet and windy evening and being December, cold! However we wrapped up in warm layers (including the hound) and put on our waterproofs (including the hound) as well as our wellies, hats, gloves and scarves.

St Mary's Church Goudhurst, lit up at night in the Tunbridge Wells region

We drove through the winding lanes of the Weald of Kent through the hilltop village of Goudhurst.  Now I haven’t been out to many villages this Christmas but I would bet that Goudhurst is possibly the prettiest Christmas village in the region!  The looping strings of yellow bulbs on all the buildings and the tree by the pond provided us with our first oooh-ahhh moment of the evening. I wish now I had stopped and taken a photo.  The timbered crooked buildings lend themselves perfectly to a Christmas scene particularly when you see the Church of St Mary’s brightly lit towering above the steep high street!

Our final destination for the night was Christmas at Bedgebury Forest and Pinetum. I don’t think that Bedgebury has had this kind of magic at Christmas before.  Whilst they often hold events throughout the year (including Forest Live – Paul Weller in 2019!), this was something we felt we had to see.

I know my words are not going to do justice to how bewitching this was – even in the squally weather we experienced!

Christmas Lights Spectacular at Bedgebury Pinetum

There are 2 entrances and an allotted time to enter so there is no stampeding; the hound is happy – lots to smell, see and people to cuddle! 

The first wowser moment here was the cathedral corridor. This has to be the most photographed display and I understood why when we arrived. Strings upon strings upon strings of tiny yellow bulbs were packed in tight vertical rows in the shape of an arch creating a sparkling tunnel the length of several sleighs. 

Mouths in O’s, eyes saucer-wide and with eager excitement, we had to stop to take photos too. The silhouettes of the people against the mass of lights puts you in mind of somewhere very grand like a big city in celebration.

Christmas at Bedebury, arch walkway under the pea lights.We followed a signed pathway throughout; the other routes were fenced off. The next delight was an opportunity to sing the 12 Days of Christmas and most people did! Can you guess the most sung and loudest section??* Panels displaying the lyrics lit up at the right moments to encourage us all to air our lungs.

Walking under the redwood trees illuminated in purple lighting from underneath, rather an appropriate regal colour, paid tribute to their majesty.

The next scene was one of my favourites accompanied by carol singing (intriguing our greyhound enough to try to investigate somewhere in the undergrowth). Bars of light laid horizontally perpendicular alongside the path rather like piano keys came alight in time with the music and we were encircled by swirls of light spiralling up and down the trunks of the birch trees starting with red at the bottom through yellow, green and violet à la rainbow to a point at the top.

Rainbow swirls of light at Christmas at Bedgebury, Tunbridge Wells regionIt was at this point the battery on my phone died and I could not take any more photos! For the rest of the evening I badgered my partner and son to take photos! So don’t forget your camera and the batteries need to be fully charged!

The Bedgebury Café

We came across the café, thank goodness, mulled wine was in order right there and then. We had hot drinks and hot snacks – sausage rolls and chips – to keep us going.  This stop gave us a chance to stand out of the rain (dogs not being allowed in the café) and watch the fountains dancing in time to The Nutcracker in bright neon colours across the lake. 

It was great timing to patronise the café at this moment since it was half way and gratefully received for a few minutes.

The view of the lake and the dancing fountains, Christmas at Bedgebury, Tunbridge Wells region

Replete, we carried on up the slope and went over the hill to hop over the snowflakes on the footpaths, the disco lights and the riddles on the fir tree panels. The boys darted quickly under the “mistletoe” in case a girl jumped out at them demanding a kiss!

Our furry companion most enjoyed the disco balls! He was on tenterhooks and alert, snapping his head left and right, not knowing which way to go to chase the diamond spots reflected on the ground.  It was rather funny to see him start forward and then quickly jerk in another direction, front paw lifted, ears fully standing to attention, and ready to pounce on goodness knows what.

Bronzy and the dancing snowflakes, Christmas at Bedgebury, Tunbridge Wells regionUnder a second corridor of yellow bulbs strung tightly together to make a bright fairy like tunnel, we came across chestnuts roasting on an enclosed fire. We bought a little bag for £3.50 which warmed my hands again. 

Lakeside Treats at Christmas at Bedgebury

Walking over the lake, the magnificent variety of clever light installations surrounded us and travelled across the water as rings of fire. It was mesmerising. AND out of all this magic we heard the hooting of an owl! It seemed impossible at such an event but there it is. We were all witness to the happy festive owl joining in!

Yet again with perfect timing, a stop off was made at the portaloos which were more than acceptably clean and tidy.

There was a selection of lakeside stalls selling more delicious goodies alongside an enclosed fire where you could toast your flavoured marshmallows. I had never seen flavoured marshmallows before let alone a long list of different flavours like ginger, vanilla, pomegranate and so on as your imagination runs.

It was at this point I realised how well organised it had been.  The ingeniously spaced snack and toilet stops, the prebooked parking and timed entry via two entrances meant there was only a slight bunch up near the start of our tour but as for the rest of it, there was no queuing, no crowds and no rushing through.  There were staff (lit up) at various points all round the spectacle to help you and ready for a friendly chat.

Of course it had to end. The boys wanted to go round again but after 2 hours, it was time to call it a night.

Hats off to the Bedgebury team for organising a spellbinding, fairy-tale night out.

Walking the dog near Cranbrook

On Sunday morning, thankfully, it was a bright fresh sunny day with the crisp winter temperatures that make you feel everything is shiny in the world.

We took the houndie for a walk in the woods.  On the outskirts of Cranbrook is Angley Woods.  This is a privately owned ‘working’ forest where the owners allow visitors to walk and cycle.  If you like a place to enjoy some off-road cycling with slopes, ditches, jumps and mud then make your way here.

Equally there are some pleasurable walks to be had, but don’t get lost, we’ve been here a few times and almost lost our way back! There are a number of fantastical little routes (unmarked) that ignite the imagination.

Angley Woods, Cranbrook, Tunbridge Wells Region

Duck through the trees, improve on the ready-made dens, bases and hide-outs before passing on and playing hide and seek.  Whilst summer is very pretty, I feel autumn is the time to visit as the leaves on the ground are so colourful and fun to tramp through and chuck about.  There are low branches to climb, a rope swing somewhere, ferns to dive into and there is a bomb crater that you can explore, hunker down in, play games and is home to what could be a pixie cave under an enormous spreading tree.  

On this particular day we didn’t see another soul, however, it is a well known area for dog walks. Our boy gets let off the lead here because he knows his way round and crucially back again, now. He has a whale of time sniffing out squirrels and trying to jump up, down and round and round after them!

Christmas shopping in Royal Tunbridge Wells

You can take your time shopping in the town. From St Johns to Camden Road, through Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, down Mount Pleasant Road, the High Street and finishing off in The Pantiles there are a multitude of fantastic local shops offering unique gifts, festive clothes for parties and scrumptious food.

At this time of year, Sunday means many shops are open.  We had a relaxing shopping trip finding everything we needed during a dark Sunday afternoon in Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Christmas shopping in Royal Tunbridge Wells High Street

What a blessing the decorations in the shops and the Christmas lights in the trees and streets are! During the fast fading light of a mid-winter afternoon, they certainly cheer the soul and contribute to a cosy Christmassy feeling.

I discovered Polarn O. Pyret UK & Ireland which I adore. This is my new favourite children’s clothes shop on the High street - it's Swedish selling gorgeous, soft cottons. I have told almost all my friends about it. I was surprised at how reasonably priced it is given the quality of unique styles, patterns and embroidery.  Joules do boys clothes as well and so do Fat Face – 2 more new discoveries for me.

We had to buy some special birthday cards so we popped into Zebra Cards. The best card shop in town maybe? A whole shop full of greetings cards and notelets. They have sweet cards, arty cards, funny cards, straight cards, age cards (including 100), blank cards and obscure humour cards….a fun 20 minutes of giggling was had.

Zebra Card shop in Royal Tunbridge Wells High Street

We had a little refreshment break in Esquire's Coffee on Mount Pleasant Road (Juliet’s on the High Street was packed out so we had to keep walking). Lovely gentle coffee for me (I’m no hard core coffee drinker which Royal Tunbridge Wells caters extremely well for) and a homemade mince pie/parcel. My partner also found they sell dairy free cake – winners all round as the hound too was allowed in.

We visited the two toy shops at the top of the hill, Whirligig (just won some awards) and Kids Stuff in Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre.  Whirligig is the king of wooden toys; I can imagine many adults having a grand time with these quirky puzzles, building kits and simple playthings.  Kids Stuff has everything else you need for the bambinos up to about age 11.

Interior of Whirligig Toy Shop, Mount Pleasant Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells

It’s almost too difficult to choose as there is so much good product on offer. We nipped to Jeremy’s Home Store in the pretty Georgian galleried street of Monson Road. Take a look up a little and admire the gorgeous architecture. 

This shop is the place to go to for stocking fillers. Sweets to bring back memories like Sherbet Dib Dab, Love Hearts, and Vimto chews, old-fashioned games, boxes of magic tricks, invisible writing sets, and kitsch things like piñatas and stretchy stick men!

After another 20 minutes of “look at this”, “no, look at this” “and look at this” then finalising some purchases we realised we’d left our earlier shopping in Esquire’s Café.  I raced back down the hill and of course the lovely staff had it tucked away safely for us. Phew!

Jeremy's Home Store, Monson Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells

And then… I was pleased to see that the greengrocers Locality on Camden Road was open at gone 4pm for our week's fruit & veg. We got some very tasty bargains! We saw honeycomb on the counter and just had to make an impulsive buy. I can tell you now; the apples were absolutely fresh, crisp and full of flavour.

So that was the end of our festive Tunbridge Wells weekend. But then to top it off, we saw three stunning wild buff-coloured deer adorned with antlers on the way home – it felt like the icing on the cake to an enchanting sparkly fairy-tale weekend. We hope to see you again soon. Poop poop!

by Emma O'Halloran


Things to do next time:

Ice skating in Calverley Grounds

Carols at King Charles the Martyr

A Christmas visit to Penshurst Place and Penshurst village market

Santa Specials on the Spa Valley Railway

*Five gold rings!!

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