There is no shortage of beautiful places in Kent to enjoy the magic of Christmas, and with the festive season in full swing, it’s plain to see that the whole county is high in spirits. Whether it’s parties, light switch-ons or festive afternoon teas, no tinsel has been left unturned in Tunbridge Wells this year.
Joining the festive cheer is Bewl Water, the largest body of water in South East England, which already has much to recommend it. Popular for healthy outdoor activities, the 800-acre site is open year-round, offering long walks around the reservoir’s edge as well as fishing and cycle hire.
But in the build-up to Christmas, there’s so much more to enjoy. From missing elves and Santa meet and greets to festive-themed drinks and a Christmas Wish Tree, there’s no shortage of fun things to do. Children can even enter a colouring competition to help create next year’s head elf.
Kicking off the festivities on November 26, Bewl Water opened its Magical Christmas Elf Trail. Free throughout December, parents and their children can collect a map from the Waterfront Café before exploring the trail where they will need to search for hidden clues, unscramble the magical code and find the missing head elf before Christmas Day arrives.
For those who succeed, Bewl Water is giving away a seasonal treat back at the café which is also free for each child participating.
No bookings are required and for families looking to capture those priceless moments, festive selfie frames have been placed around the route.
In addition to the Magical Elf Trail which offers stunning views of the estate, parents and children can also enjoy a stroll through the wildlife-rich woodland by following the new self-guided walking routes.
Whether it’s to breathe in the refreshing winter air or to walk off a Sunday lunch, each trail has been designed to help families navigate their way through the reservoir’s extensive landscape, soaking up the picturesque views at their own pace.
Ranging from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours, each trail has been colour-coded.
Starting from the terrace outside the Waterfront Café, the 30-minute green route suitable for buggies and toddlers follows the path through the ancient woodland.
Keep walking down towards the fishing boat jetty on the water’s edge before turning left (water on your right) and crossing the decking bridge past the wooden gazebo. Here you can head to the adventure playground for some festive playtime fun before returning with a short walk back up to the Waterfront Café.
The blue route takes one hour to complete and is also suitable for buggies and toddlers.
Start at the Waterfront Café before following the footpath across the top of the reservoir dam and passing the two towers – here, you can tell how deep the reservoir is. If it’s full, you’ll only be able to see the tops of the towers!
Along the route, there will be sheep and rabbits in the meadows behind the dam and often kestrels hovering overhead. When you reach the gate into Chingley Woods, you can either return (1 hour walk) or continue the adventure.
The longest trail (still suitable for buggies), takes 2.5 hours and can be found by sticking to the red route. Start by following the 1-hour walk to the chestnut tree-lined Chingley Wood before heading towards where the path opens. Here you’ll be met by a meadow at Hatheralls Bay which makes for a great spot to take a break and enjoy the views across the water.
For those who have worked up quite the appetite after their winter stroll, head back to the Waterfront Café where a selection of winter-warming treats awaits.
New to the menu, visitors can sip on festive-themed hot drinks including gingerbread lattes and hazelnut hot chocolates with alcoholic alternatives available for adults.
“Our winter warming drinks are the perfect treat after a long walk around the reservoir,” said Events Manager Tom Noble.
Open until 4pm on weekends, the Waterfront Café is packed full of Christmas activities this season including a colouring competition. It’s free to enter throughout the month and children will need to show off their best colouring skills in the bid to design next year’s head elf.
The winner will be announced on December 28 via social media (@BewlWater) and all entrants will be displayed on the Café walls.
If you visit on December 17, 18, 23, and 24 Santa himself will also be paying the Café a visit during a special meet and greet.
Breakfast with Santa is a new addition to the reservoir’s festive calendar, where the man in red will make his way around to each child sharing magical stories and making note of any last-minute Christmas wishes.
Tickets, which can be purchased by emailing email@example.com cost £15 for 9.00am or 10.00am sessions that include a buffet-style English breakfast plus tasty alternatives such as granola, winter berries and yoghurt.
Children can also visit the soft play centre afterwards where they will be met by two challenging levels crammed with interactivity.
Perfect for little ones with big imaginations, soft play at Bewl Water features numerous play features including tunnels, hanging snakes, a cargo net and the classic dual slide making this the perfect place to run off the excitement of Christmas.
One soft play session lasts for 60 minutes and is included in the ticket price for Breakfast with Santa.
WOODLAND WALKS AROUND KENT’S JEWEL OF A RESERVOIR
Known as the ‘Garden of England’, walks in Kent are beautiful, peaceful, and rich in heritage. From woodland trails to the stately homes of the High Weald, the county is a walker’s delight offering something for every mood.
But with summer now a distant memory and winter well and truly on its way, it seems the colder months greatly impact our desire to enjoy a leisurely stroll following research that shows only 29% of adults in the UK walk during the season.
The research comes as Bewl Water, the South East’s largest body of freshwater, launched the return of its annual photography competition that encourages people to get outside and embrace their natural surroundings.
Spanning 800 acres, the reservoir has been taking entries throughout autumn via social media (@BewlWater) which sees amateur and professional photographers capture the ‘Best of Bewl’. The winner will be announced at the end of the season and receive an annual parking pass worth over £300.
“The competition is a great way to get more people outside in their natural surroundings,” said Head Ranger Daniel Baker.
“We’ve recently seen an influx of woodland photography since we announced our new walking trails – people seem to be enjoying the routes,” he continued.
In November, Bewl Water introduced three new self-guided walking routes that allow walkers and cyclists to see the reservoir at their own pace.
“Surrounding the waters are 12.5 miles of trails that follow a collection of forest paths and country lanes and our new green, blue and red routes will help visitors navigate their way through,” Daniel Baker explained.
The walks range from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours and highlight the 28-acre woodland that surrounds the reservoir.
Comprised of three woods – Combewell, Pig and Frogwell, Bewl Water’s grounds are carefully managed alongside The Woodland Trust which owns and cares for well over 1,250 sites across the UK.
The Bewl Water Woods are classified as ‘ancient semi-natural’ – a type of woodland that holds evidence of continuous wooded cover since 1600 AD and now covers only 2.5% of the UK.
Ancient semi-natural woodlands like Bewl Water are defined as an irreplaceable habitat and are therefore recognised as a natural asset, important for rare and threatened species of wildlife.
“Our work with The Woodland Trust is based on improving biodiversity and protecting the rare wildflowers and elaborate natural ecosystems that have developed here over centuries,” said Daniel.
Working in conjunction with the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS), the management plan for the Bewl Water Woods highlights both long and short-term measures that will conserve the heritage site as well as connect people with its woodland.
“Protecting and caring for our grounds is an ongoing programme, not only to improve biodiversity but to improve safety,” said Business Director Andrew Daniels.
“The woods offer scenic walking routes for the whole family and visitors are always encouraged, he added.
The 2022-2027 Woodland Trust Management Plan for the Bewl Water Woods is publicly available and can be accessed by visiting: woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/woods/bewl-water-woods