Royal Tunbridge Wells is surrounded by wonderful walks through the beautiful Wealden landscape but it is not necessary to leave the town to enjoy a country walk.
Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons extend from the middle of the town and offer visitors and residents two hundred and fifty acres of open countryside, with an extensive network of woodland paths, open glades and dramatic rock outcrops like the famous Toad Rock to explore and enjoy.
The Commons have always been at the heart of the town’s life.
The first brick built house in the town is on the edge of the Common and housed King Charles 1 and Queen Henrietta Maria, our first Royal visitors, whilst the rest of the Royal Court camped around the nearby Wellington Rocks.
In Georgian times, the Commons were the place to meet and walk when taking the waters at the Wells and were famed for the views across the town, the springiness of the turf and the notorious Pleasure Gardens at Happy Valley.
The Victorians of course turned the Pleasure Gardens into Tea Gardens but the Commons were still the place to promenade and be seen. In fact, the Town Guide of the time state, “what the sea is to Brighton, so the Common is to Tunbridge Wells”.
After grazing stopped in the early 20th Century the Commons started to become overgrown and some of their splendour was lost but since the Great Storm of 1987, a programme to restore the Commons has been underway.
Today the Commons offer visitors to Tunbridge Wells a chance to get away from the bustle of the town, discover reminders of the towns history like the old Racecourse, explore the dramatic sandstone outcrops at Happy Valley and Bulls Hollow, or simply stroll the network of paths and enjoy the diverse wildlife of the Commons.
Foxes, roe deer, squirrels and rabbits can been seen during the day. In the evening badgers come out to forage and the small Pipistrelle bat can been seen flying about as it feed on insects. There are approximately forty resident species of bird including blue tits, robins, blackbirds and chaffinches. Don’t forget your binoculars!
To add another dimension of enjoyment, there are a number of excellent pubs and restaurants around the Commons, including one in the middle of the Common itself and another reputed to be Queen Victoria’s favourite pub.
For more ambitious walkers, the Commons are also an excellent starting point for a number of longer walks, such as the Tunbridge Wells Circular and the High Weald Landscape Trail to areas like Eridge Park, and Broadwater Forest.
The Tourist Information Centre on the Pantiles, has a series of four circular walks that start and finish in the town, for sale at £2.00. The walks are of varying lengths from 8.5 miles to 15 miles, and pass through the undulating countryside of the High Weald, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Friends of the Commons have recently funded the production of excellent new maps showing the full path network and main sites of interest, these are available also at the Tourist Information Centre.
Much more information about the Commons can be found at www.twcommons.org.
Written by Steve Budden – Warden, Tunbridge Wells Commons Conservators
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