This month SO chats to Justine Rutland about all the places she loves to support locally. Here the councillor at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Cabinet Member for Tunbridge Wells Town and Local Areas, whose portfolio includes economic development and tourism, tells us all about her favourite spots to stroll, shop and socialise…
Where do you live?
I live in the Culverden area of Tunbridge Wells, near St John’s Road and Mount Ephraim. It is a great privilege to represent Culverden ward at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
How long have you lived there and what made you decide to move?
We have lived here 10 years. Before that we were at Mount Sion, up from the High Street. When we viewed our house, I was bewitched by the garden, which at the time was full of crocuses and had a pond teeming with tadpoles. I love this area and actually grew up on the next street, so it really feels like home. I had such a happy, safe and secure childhood here and I wanted the same for my own children.
What’s your favourite shop locally?
The International Shop on Grosvenor Road is fab. It’s a grocer’s and being in there, even for a few minutes, is like being transported to places all over the world. I’m not much of a cook but trying new ingredients definitely makes it more fun. I also love the Green Duck for presents, Camden Butchers for its friendly service and advice, Locality for fresh food and bread, the Oxfam Bookshop for books and cards, and Jeremy’s Home Store for eleventy billion other things! I avoid shopping online and buy everything I can in the town. Camden Road has a brilliant mix of independent shops and services, and so do Rusthall and Southborough high streets.
Where’s the best place to go for a Sunday stroll?
I take my dog, Hamish (aka Hammy), up to Ashdown Forest. It’s so peaceful and I love the
The best place to get a cup of coffee?
Even Flow on St John’s Road. It has lovely coffee and is very welcoming. It’s also dog-friendly and great for informal meetings – it’s a change of scene from working from home. In town, I like to support Culverden businesses, so Bill’s or Basil, which are both located on Lime Hill Road are favourites. A bit further afield, the Daily Bread café in Rusthall has wonderful fresh bread and cakes.
Where do you take people when they come to visit?
I enjoy taking them to places such as The Amelia Scott, the High Street, Chapel Place, King Charles the Martyr church, The Pantiles and a country pub and walk – usually around Penshurst or Chiddingstone. Little people enjoy visiting Wellington Rocks and the Spa Valley Railway.
What’s the night life like where you live?
We are so lucky as we live near the town centre so there are lots of restaurants and pubs nearby. St John’s Yard is probably where we go the most but I do like to try new places too. Recently I’ve tried The Hidden Well on St John’s Road and Cantuccio’s on Camden Road which I hadn’t even heard of before I got there, but it was totally packed out! Tunbridge Wells has a fantastic festival and live music scene, most notably The Forum, so that’s a venue that’s definitely worth checking out. On my current go-to list is The Glasshouse bar on Mount Ephraim: apparently the cocktails are out of this world.
Where’s your favourite place to eat locally?
I like the Bicycle Bakery for breakfast, The Plant Base for lunch, Juliet’s for tea, Soprano’s for a fun dinner out and Kitsu for eat-in or takeaway. That said, a lot of Firezza pizza and Uptown Kebabs seem to end up in our kitchen!
Are there any nice views nearby?
So many – but then that’s the benefit of living in a hilly town! Happy Valley is beautiful and a lovely walk through Nevill Park and Rusthall Common. Mount Ephraim near the Royal Wells gives you a wonderful view over the town, including a lot of the historic conservation area. Looking the other way, you can see to the North Downs, and there are often spectacular sunsets. I am really looking forward to seeing the view from the Trinity Theatre clock tower when it opens.
Where’s the best place to meet friends and socialise?
In summer it’s anywhere outside! The gardens at the Townhouse or the Mount Edgcumbe or any of the cafes on The Pantiles are great. In winter, I like to huddle up in a pub like the Beau Nash, Fuggles or The Compasses. I have a lot of evening meetings but try to get to as many events as I can. I’m out quite often with my book group so that might be to Trinity Theatre. Most recently we were there for poet Henry Normal and to see Prima Facie (National Theatre Live). This is also the year that I’m going to be super organised and book Bavarian curling at the ice rink before it sells out!
What do you do when you spend a weekend or day off in the local area?
I go for a walk in the beautiful countryside, especially around Groombridge, Hartfield and Withyham. Or we go to the coast. I love Rye, especially all the little antique shops and cafes. There’s also the Kino cinema there, the castle, and the gorgeous views out to sea from the citadel. If I ever leave Tunbridge Wells – which is doubtful – I might move there! We also visit Winchelsea Beach. There isn’t much there and it never gets very crowded, but that is why we like it.
“Maybe because it’s where I grew up here, and was very happy, I feel emotionally connected to the town”
Why do you love where you live?
Maybe because it’s where I grew up, and was very happy, I feel emotionally connected to the town. I want it to thrive and to evolve in a way that conserves and celebrates the best of the past while introducing the best of the present and future. Tunbridge Wells is historic and beautiful, with so many attractions, green spaces and parks, lots of culture, and interesting and unique businesses. My family and many of my friends are here. In the end, though, it’s the community. I am lucky enough to meet so many amazing people – endlessly interesting, generous with their time and expertise, and committed to making the town a better place for everyone. If I’m away from home, and happen to meet a Tunbridge Wells person, I always have a good feeling that we are going to get on!