Leaving Maidstone for Royal Tunbridge Wells, the towns 18 k’s apart. It seemed like 1,800 k’s when trying to arrange transport between the two.
It’s difficult if one wants to travel from point A to point B in the Empire of England. Albeit A and B, in our case the towns of Maidstone and Royal Tunbridge Wells, are a handshake and several stone throws apart. The difficulty compounded by two ageing people, and several heavy suitcases. This heaviness in the little suitcase due to two 700ml bottles of Aberlour 12 year old whisky, a pack of books which were necessary to shut a certain person up. All His. And in the big suitcase, wine bottles, trinkets, chocolates and spakfilla. All Hers.
Trains run from A, Maidstone where we are, to London and then back to B, Royal Tunbridge Wells where we want to be. This takes half a day, and a bit of dragging suitcases along rocky uneven pavements. And of grovelling with taxi drivers who in London, are either Asian or Black and sometimes a combo of both and very very difficult to understand. All train lines seem to radiate out from London with very little regular interconnecting trains between those towns London connects to. ‘Did you understand that Mum?’ No dear. Stop talking in riddles and get your Mum a sherry.
Despite the two towns A and B being 18 k apart, there’s no direct train connect. Bus the same. The bus wobbles about using a circuitous route via the south pole. So, we are leaving Maidstone, in the easiest, quickest but not necessarily the most economical way. Squashed into a private taxi with the larger than life Brian. He caught a virus whilst young, called ‘yakidy yak’. He’s 60ish, large man, large head, ditto stomach, ditto arms, balding head, ruddy face, driving us from point A to point B whilst talking and waving his arms about steering the small Skoda car with his knees, willpower and my prayers. Yes, I remember a few prayers as they were drilled into me from Bubs Class at St Peters Bedford Park to year 10 at Saint Patricks Perth. I arrived at St Pats in my 14th year which unfortunately coincided with Dad being short of the readies for things like decent offal, shoes, underpants and school fees albeit there was money for beer, gorgonzola cheese, Quickeze tablets and Kemdex powder for his falsies. So as I turned 15, we had a serious father/son chat which lasted perhaps 20 seconds and I found that I was going off to the workforce. Your Dad and I did our best sonny boy and you havn’t forgotten my ox tongue roast. ‘No Mum, and that marvellous dripping pot gravy you poured over everything’.
We arrived in the carpark of the Royal Wells Hotel. If one was wearing dark Ray-Ban’s, then its a fine looking four storey edifice dating from the first English Civil War. I looked at Sue, she at me, we both looked at our taxi Brian driver. Was this the hotel we booked with the swish tree fringed driveway, concierge, pool where Brad and Jo-Lo reclined whilst Englebert Humperdinck warbled in the background. Apparently. I must write to Mgumbu and his Uncle Botswana in Ethiopia and congratulate them on the excellent job they do in ‘photo shopping’ websites. Inside it’s a bit better. I check they have a lift. Yes sir. You are in our Superior Room 29. Thank you receptionist Jemma. Up in the slow slow lift. Out. A passageway the width of two bowling balls. Clive Palmer would get jammed in this passage way. Either walking sideways or straight ahead. At the end, 2 steps down. A sharp left hand turn and push open a fire door. A sharp turn right. A short walk and up 5 stairs. Here we pause on a landing pad about 1.0 metres long by a width equal to Clive Palmer less 50 kilo’s. To our right is another staircase disappearing up where the Ghoul lives. We leave the landing pad via 3 steps down to find a tad further on another 3 steps down. A sharp turn right, then a sharp turn left and there’s room 29. Its in the adjacent town. We left Royal Tunbridge Wells an hour ago. Cripes. How do we, sorry, I, pick these hotels. My bride is looking at me with that look that says, Why oh why did I marry him. Perhaps I should look up that personal trainer Mario Aurelio.
On the bright side, the Superior Room is OK apart from no traffic signal so we can pass each other where the bed cramps the space between bed end and wall. We have two windows. Both sealed. With a view of a parapet wall which forms part of a fire escape. Beyond that there’s a peaky glass roof. Beyond that a grumpy sky. And behind that, two ageing partly grumpy people. I need a whisky darling, wine for you?
Royal Tunbridge Wells is the ‘new kid on the block’ in so far as English towns go. It came into being accidentally. In 1606, Dudley, Lord North, a courtier to James 1, was wandering about a friends estate when he came upon a spring set in a shallow valley surrounded by luxurious growth and steep hills. He had a drink of the waters which made him feel marvellous if not spiffing. Taking a bottle and having it analysed, he found it contained compounds that seemed, according to his influential physician, to have the ability to extend life, cure ills and prevent dropsy, gout and brewers droop.
Involved in all this, was Beau Nash a ‘celebrated’ Dandy and leader of fashion. At the time. Just like Tony Abbot, Barnaby Joyce and Clive Palmer. Dudley’s and Beau’s waffling on about the now named ‘Chalybeate Spring’, Chalybeate meaning ‘ferruginous’ meaning iron, further enhanced the image of a healthy spring waters that would promote happiness and cure all manner of ills. The Gentry sucked all this up and came in their hundreds like a pack of dills. Which seems to be what the gentry were back then. Dudley’s physician actively promoted the health giving properties of the waters. Cynical Des thinks he had shares in developments there as he claimed the waters cured/fixed, ta dum –
The colic, the melancholy and the vapours; it made the lean fat and the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly; loosened the clammy humours of the body, and dried the over-moist brain.
Dudley convinced his rich friends to come ‘drink the waters’. And they did such that two houses were built. One Ladies. One gents. Then as it became more and more popular, Lord Muskerry, the Lord of the Manor nearby, built a hall so the rich gentry could dance, sing and drink the waters. In 1684, those dipping their bodies in the spring, drinking its waters and misbehaving in the bushes, decided they needed a church to cleanse their minds as their bodies were cleansed in the spring. So the ‘church’ called ‘King Charles the Martyr’ was built. Just there near the spring which by now was very very popular for a day trip from London. Charles the First, or King Charles the Martyr, King of England, Scotland and Ireland for a time, was executed on 30 January 1649. England’s Protestant’s looked upon him as a ‘martyr’ whereas Irelands Catholics blew their tin whistles, had a Tatty cook-up, and thought it was a marvellous execution. As did the Scots who had a Haggis BBQ and wiggled their Sporrans. However, the Prottos were thick on the ground about the ‘Springs’. Perhaps they were also the rich and famous of the time. So they named the church after Charlie as he was, they considered, a Protestant martyr.
Princess Victoria came with her mum and later as Queen with Prince Albert. Albert died aged 42 so the ‘healing waters’ did not do much for him. He married his first cousin Victoria, had 9 children with her and therein lies the reason why some of the earlier royal family looked like polo ponies. Mid 20th century infusion of new blood has certainly helped todays generation. A town developed quickly about the spring spreading outwards and upwards about the four ‘hills’, Mounts Ephraim, Pleasant, Sion and Wells, that surrounded the spring. Grand Georgian Houses were built up and on top of the hills. The area about the spring was fashionably landscaped, sensitively built on with shops that carried goods much loved by the gentry. This area became known as ‘The Pantiles’ due to the first paving ’tiles’ being created from clay in a ‘pan’. Have a look at the website for ‘The Pantiles’. The photographer has done a marvellous job of disguising what it is actually like today. A bit scrappy, vacant shops and those occupied are mainly cafes, restaurants, bric-a-brac, card shops, a fish monger blah blah. The spring apparently still bubbles but its sealed off possibly awaiting more royals to come and spring new life into the area.
Eventually the name of Tunbridge Wells was settled on as the name of the new village growing speedily around the spring. Just down the road 11 k’s was the older village of ‘Tonbridge’ with Tunbridge a corruption of that. Tunbridge was hand-balled the right to use the word ‘Royal’ and so it became ‘Royal Tunbridge Wells’ one of only three towns in the UK able to so describe their village. Today Royal Tunbridge Wells has a population of 56,500, thirty percent of whom earn their income from tourism. And if you are not into ‘multiculturalism’, this is the place for you. The white population here is 97.5% versus England as a whole 90.9%.
Its a reasonably nice town with two great parks, Calverley and Grove and an extremely large ‘Common’ where most of the trees, bushes and grasses grow wild. Squirrels, hares, hedgehogs and other of England’s marsupials rush around doing marsupial things avoiding cars, feral cats, dogs and people. Its not a place to be at night. Our hotel the Royal Wells Tunbridge, is set high on Mount Ephraim, its a hill really. Walking out of the hotel, we head down a steepish slope to the towns commercial centre where there’s a plateau and every shop and cafe one could wish for. Its crowded. Then another steepish slope down to another mini plateau, more shops, then a final steepish slope down to the church of Charlie the Martyr and The Pantiles.
Sue’s l-o-n-g time friends from Victoria, Nigel and Fiona, English born, have come back here to a small village nearby to work out their lives. Although I consider Nigel is wavering and having lustful thoughts about Australia’s sunshine, cost of living, relatively traffic free roads and ability to play on golf courses year round. Plus, he likes that we have a new Prime Minister every six months. We had lunch together at Mark Cross Inn set in the small hamlet of Mark Cross. Bloody marvellous. Buy a bolt hole close to Mark Cross and shares in the Inn. We rate the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells 7/10 and the hamlet of Mark Cross 8.5/10. Only because of the marvellous Inn.
Ooroo from Sue 😘 and Des 😇