Although the name is Wells, with plural form, it refers to only one source of spring water. The water contains iron salt, which is believed can cure any ills. It was first discovered by a nobleman in the seventeenth century who spread it out to his rich friends and family in London. Previously called Tunbridge Wells, the town was then granted the official Royal title around 300 years later due to its popularity as a spa retreat among the royal family. Royal Tunbridge Wells is one of the only 3 towns in England that receive such a title.
Now Royal Tunbridge Wells remains a small touristy town. It is located in Kent, around 50km south of London, and about the same distance north of Brighton. By taking the public bus Regency 29 from Brighton, we can reach the town in around 1.5 hours. The town is also accessible by train. Thus, it would be a nice weekend getaway, or even just for a day.
It was the first Saturday of July 2019, when I realised that was our last free weekend in Brighton to explore new places. The remaining 4 weekends ahead will be full of moving preparation, birthday and farewell parties. My daughter and I would fly back to Indonesia in the first week of August 2019. So we set out to Royal Tunbridge Wells for a short day trip.
At that time, I heard about Royal Tunbridge Wells before, but honestly, I did not know what to visit. An unplanned trip could be fun too, right?! When the 4-year-old kid asked where we were going, I simply said “we’re going to walk around, buy ice cream, and play in the playground.”
And that’s exactly what we did in Royal Tunbridge Wells! Upon arrival, we first walked into Sainsbury to buy ice cream, then headed to Calverley Grounds. Joining the other visitors, we sat on the grass and had our packed lunch, before the kid ran freely around the wide and sloped lawns. Some people also enjoyed the park from the outdoor cafe.
Parks in English always have a children’s playground, so we looked for it in this historic park of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Finally, we found the Calverley Adventure Grounds in the backside of the park. Unlike the usual cute playgrounds, this one has a unique natural theme, with sands, water, and woods.
Although the playspace was full of grass and plants, there was no big tree that could shade us away from that afternoon summer sun heat. Near the playground, a fine garden with colorful flowers is very lovely to view.
The town center area looks pretty with several old buildings, like the churches, Council Town Hall and Opera House. Some of them now serve a commercial purpose, such as a pub in the former Opera House. There was also one nice building across the Opera House with columns that look like an old temple in Greece, but actually inside was a clothing store.
Near the town hall of Royal Tunbridge Wells, there is a museum and library. We spent quite some time there in the kids’ section of the library with a lot of books, some toys, and the coloring kits, just like libraries in Brighton. Every time we visited libraries in Brighton, we took home some borrowed books. This time the kid asked for some books too, but of course, we could not borrow them. We were not even in East Sussex. The museum was apparently closed temporarily at that time.
For the shopping frenzy, there was a mall not far away from the Opera House called Royal Victoria Place. It was not that big compared to malls in Asia, only 2 floors, and not crowded either. That only mall in Royal Tunbridge Wells offered a car-shaped stroller for free (by putting in your ID card), and a free bouncy play area for kids.
This might be the main attraction in Royal Tunbridge Wells. It is home to the famous spring water, also called Chalybeate. People used to come and stay in Pantiles to drink the water, have a party, and go shopping.
Nowadays, visitors are still able to sip healthy water in Chalybeate Spring but only at the specific times in the Summer. It was surrounded by busy pubs and restaurants. A series of antique shops line up in Georgian buildings, such as the clock, book and camera stores.
What a nice day trip to bring my kid to Royal Tunbridge Wells that day. We then went back home to Brighton around 6 pm using Bus 29 again and taking seats on the upper floor too. That 1.5 hours journey one-way was not wasted at all, because we could enjoy the amazing view of East Sussex villages from the second deck of the bus. We passed by the grasslands of South Downs National Park and traditional English cottages.
Royal Tunbridge Wells is not only interesting historically, but also enjoyable for small kids.