Black Dog Cafe, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Romance the Pantiles

In 17th Century England visitors would come to Tunbridge Wells to ‘take the waters’. The famous health giving waters of the Chalybeate Springs gave birth to what is now known as the Pantiles. A couple of weeks ago I discovered a booklet in Halls bookshop titled ‘Romance of the Pantiles’, it documented the history of this well known promenade and reignited my great love for this special place.

For a short time I lived in the Pantiles and had the opportunity to admire and savour its beauty on a regular basis. The Ragged Trousers became my local pub and the bandstand became my sons’ playground. The stunning facades, leafy promenade, al fresco dining and market activity made me feel somewhere, and the Festivals brought the Town to life in the Summer. Of course through the booklet I found the Pantiles was visited by Kings and Queens, Princesses and Dukes, the drawings illustrated its grand design and much has unchanged: for this is a special place indeed.

It is the jewel in the Tunbridge Wells crown but at times in the year it feels deserted. The Town elongated and a lot of the functional activity has moved uphill due largely to the Royal Victoria Shopping Centre. Great efforts are made by local people and businesses to draw crowds through the year and in the Summer there is great success. The Local and Live Music Festival held in the Pantiles (excepting last year) is a magnificent spectacle and showcases the Pantiles in all its glory.

However, particularly in the Winter months it feels a little subdued and this to me is a great shame. For all its history and importance to this Spa Town I wonder if this can again become the centrepiece of Tunbridge Wells all year round? At Xmas there was a Santa Express running from bottom to the top of town, it was very popular, could this be expanded? Next to the Union House building there is a potential great ‘park and ride’ site that would allow people to start and finish at the bottom end of town.  Sometimes in the Cafe’ visitors ask what are the things to see in town? Of course I send them straight down the hill, but why don’t they know this already? What does the Council do to promote this famous and beautiful piece of heritage? The Pantiles, I romance you!

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