GREAT ESCAPES: HIDDEN GEMS IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS
As Londoners, we're spoilt for choice with places to go and things to see in the city that we never really end up leaving the bubble. And yet, there's so much more of the UK easily accessible to us thanks to an extensive rail network with trains going pretty much all across the country. Whilst yes, London is fantastic, there are so many other cities, towns and villages that are just begging to be explored and discovered, which is why I'm wholeheartedly up for the challenge. As you know by now, I love a good adventure and ticking off places within the UK is very much my cup of tea.
So when Southeastern Railway got in touch asking me to be a part of their winter hidden gems campaign, I jumped at the chance. I was given a few destinations within Kent - a county I have never stepped so much as a toe in - to choose from and picked out the picturesque spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells for my day trip adventure.
A couple of weeks later, Rebecca and I met shortly after 10am one Friday morning at London Bridge station with train tickets in our hands and a plethora of recommendations ready and waiting to be unearthed.
FIRST STOP, SHOP
Having slowly meandered down the high street - stopping every few steps to browse the offerings of Mint Velvet, Whistles, Joules and The White Company - we had our sights set on visiting The Pantiles, recommended to us by just about everyone!
En route, we strolled down Chapel Place to only go and get further sidetracked.
Filled with independent shops and boutiques, it's a potterer's paradise.
For those that love filling their home with goods and trinkets, I think Tunbridge Wells might just be your heaven. We couldn't resist looking inside the intriguing - and very charming - home and garden shop, Le Jardin.
Drawn like moths to a flame to the wicker baskets that lined the store entrance, we were attracted inside to see what treats could tempt us. From candles to blankets to everything a home could need, we spent a good amount of time ensuring every shelf got our full attention. As someone that has a mild obsession with luxury matchstick boxes, I couldn't help but pick myself up a box to fit nicely within my 'candle corner' at home.
A VISIT TO THE PANTILES
No trip to Tunbridge Wells would be complete without visiting The Pantiles which I can confirm, is as charming as they say. A beautiful vista lined with 18th and 19th century Tudor buildings - it was once the place for London's gentry and royalty to visit, and well, it's still got charm in bucketloads.
We missed the fortnightly farmers' market by a day sadly, but there was still plenty to explore in such a small space. Those who are a fan of quaint cafes needn't walk too far to be spoilt for choice and those in need of a speciality store have plenty to pick from.
Fresh produce is rife at the Chegworth Farm Shop - a glorious greengrocer that even leaves a few samples out for passersby to nibble on. Their conference pear so good, I even walked by twice!
A favourite find of mine was The Pantiles Cafe - a gorgeous pitstop for a spot of brunch. It's perfectly distressed look ensured it was up there with the best of London's cafe interiors and the avocado toast was exactly what the stomach was needing. So good, I wolfed it down without giving any thought to a photograph!
A final must see in the Pantiles was the mesmerising Mottram Trevor - a real treasure trove for any kitchen lover. Everything and anything you need for the kitchen, this store has got it. Not to leave empty handed, I picked myself up a honey dripper that Winnie The Pooh would be proud of.
After a good amount of strolling, ticking off every nook and cranny in Tunbridge Wells, we made one final pitstop at The CakeShed in The Pantiles for a naughty but nice slice of chocolate brownie before it was time to call it a day. The light was fading fast and the temperate dropping even quicker, so we wandered back past all the shops to the train station, boarding at a leisurely pace and slowly drifting away back into London.
You can reach Tunbridge Wells in under an hour from London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross stations with one of Southeasten Railway's trains. If you fancy discovering your own hidden gems in either Kent or East Sussex, check out Southeastern Railway's Off-Peak fares here.
The question now is... where next to go?