Saturday 15th October 2022
Tunbridge Wells is situated on the south western fringes of Kent just over the border from East Sussex. The town has a population of around 56,000 which is roughly half the number living in the wider Tunbridge Wells Borough Council area including Paddock Wood, Goudhurst, Cranbrook and Benenden.
Like Leamington Spa, I visited in June, it’s one of the few towns with the rather meaningless Royal prefix to its name, in this case bestowed in 1909, but you don’t see it used much these days. You can find it on maps but not on any road signs or bus and train timetables.
It’s nearest neighbour, Tonbridge (in the Borough of Tonbridge and Malling), lies five miles to the north with other major towns nearby being Sevenoaks nine miles further north and Maidstone 17 miles north east with Ashford 30 miles east, Hastings, 30 miles south east, Eastbourne 31 miles south, Brighton 31 miles south west and East Grinstead 15 miles west and Crawley nine miles further west than that.
There was a time when Kent County Council was in the vanguard of excellent information provision for the county’s bus network with both a printed and online network bus map and excellent information at bus stops with route numbers on flags and full timetables in cases below. This meant although the bus network serving Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area was in the hands of many different bus operators passengers could easily find what they needed.
Sadly this all stopped some years ago to save costs and like so many towns it’s now impossible to find a map showing where the bus routes go within the town or further afield, made all the more difficult by the town still having eight different bus operators on its patch. No wonder Kent County Council seem to be perennially proposing bus cuts – yet the politicians and officers just don’t seem to make the link between a dearth of information provision and a lack of passengers.
However I was pleased to see a poster displayed at some town centre bus shelters showing ‘where to board your bus’ at the main stops ….
….. which are denoted by a letter which is prominently displayed on the flags…
… and seems to have replaced the previous practice of showing bus route numbers, which latterly weren’t being kept up to date.
For example, route 77, operated by Nu-Venture from West Malling now only runs as far as Tonbridge, meaning that operator can no longer be found in Tunbridge Wells.
Despite the plethora of bus operators and the lack of co-ordinated information provision from the county council, bus stop timetable case displays are all very readable, if to different formats.
My visit to Tunbridge Wells last Saturday coincided with a rail strike so I was unable to sample Southeastern’s half hourly service between Hastings, Tunbridge Wells and London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross supplemented by an hourly starter from Tunbridge Wells up to Charing Cross. Journey time to London is around 55-58 minutes.
One train an hour is an all stations stopper between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings taking 48 minutes with the other stopping at just St Leonard’s, Battle and Wadhurst saving 11 minutes.
However, just down the road at Tunbridge Wells West station the lovely heritage Spa Valley Railway far from being impacted by strike action was in the middle of a three day Real Ale and Cider event ….
…. in association with West Kent CAMRA with no end of barrels of alcohol for visitors to try as well as two train formations running 11 return journeys between Tunbridge Wells West, Groombridge and Eridge where trains terminate alongside Southern trains passing through on Network Rail tracks at the Southern run station.
The former Tunbridge Wells West station building is a very grand affair (above) now used as a restaurant and the large site also has a large Sainsbury’s (and Homebase and Lidl) on former railway land together with a bus turnaround for some of the town’s bus routes with others calling by.
One of those calling by is the 15 minute frequency town route 281 operated by Arriva between the nearby residential area of Rusthall via the town centre and High Brooms in the north of the town. I took a ride on this route during my visit and it was certainly very busy with a full load on board albeit the bus was running almost 15 minutes late so was picking up a double load.
Arriva also run half hourly town route 277 between the West Station, town centre and the big Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury via the Sherwood and Knights Wood residential areas of the town. I had a ride on this and although not as busy as the 281 was being well used.
Go Coach Hire runs a couple of cross town routes albeit they’re much less frequent than the 277/281. Routes 280 and 283 both run approximately every 90 minutes/two hourly from the West station to the residential areas of Molyneux Park (280) …
… and Ravenswood Avenue (283) and as you can see are inter-worked by the same bus.
Hams Travel also operate a town service – the 285 which cross town roughly hourly between Speldhurst and Hawkenbury.
There’s a good range of inter urban routes connecting Tunbridge Wells to surrounding towns.
Brighton & Hove’s route 29 has continued its reduced hourly frequency introduced during Covid (from half hourly) to Crowborough, Uckfield, Lewes and Brighton. This route was famously once part of a very long route jointly operated by Southdown and Maidstone & District between Gravesend and Brighton.
Crowborough traditionally had its own route serving more of the town including Jarvis Brook. This is now in the hands of Compass Bus operated routes 228/229 but now to a much reduced frequency (every 90 minutes/two hourly) operated with one bus.
Crowborough has seen quite a reduction in the number of buses to Tunbridge Wells over the last few years.
Moving round eastwards we have Stagecoach operated routes 251 and 252 half hourly to Rotherfield, Mayfield and Heathfield and from there changing number to become a 51 to Eastbourne.…
… as well as route 254 hourly to Wadhurst, Ticehurst and Hawkhurst and from there as a 304/305 to Battle and Hastings.
Also in this neck of the woods is Autocar operated routes 255 and 256. The former a WFS one return journey from Benenden via Fimwell and Lamberhurst and the latter four return journeys on Mondays to Fridays to Wadhurst via Lamberhurst.
Arriva operate three inter urban routes north east and northwards – the hourly 6 (via Paddock Wood) …
…. and half hourly 7 (via Tonbridge) to Maidstone ….
… and half hourly 402 via Tonbridge to Sevenoaks which at one time continued to Bromley and is all that’s left of the famous Green Line route 704 to London and Windsor. All three routes had some good loads on board as they arrived into the town.
Metrobus operates hourly route 291 westwards to East Grinstead and Crawley ….
… as well as a couple of rural routes 231 and 233 (four journeys each) to Edenbridge.
Hams Travel operate route 297 every 90 minutes/two hourly to Tenterden via Goudhurst, Cranbrook, Benenden and Rolvenden…..
… with Autocar running a Thursday only route 293 shoppers journey also to Tenterden but via Lamberhurst and Hawkurst which is under threat of withdrawal as part of KCC’s proposed cut backs to save funding. Similarly under threat is Autocar operated route 296 on MThS providing two shoppers journeys from Paddock Wood via Horsmonden, Brenchley and Hebwood Green.
Finally as well as various school bus routes there’s a Monday to Friday only route: Go Coach Hire’s 289 which runs cross town between Southborough and Ramslye with a few journeys during the off peak (five northbound and three southbound)…
As you can see from the photographs, there’s a lot of bus operator variety to be found in Tunbridge Wells, and also the Council have been busy enhancing the ‘public realm’ in the town centre with fancy paving which gives a nice feel to the area, especially in the section of bus only road in front of the War Memorial and Opera House (now a Wetherspoons) but it’s nice to see a historic piece of paving has been retained and incorporated into the updated paving…
…. although nowadays you’d never get 10 omnibuses standing in front of the Town Hall.
Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham, Harrogate, Inverness, Jarrow, King’s Lynn, Leamington Spa, Maidenhead, Neath, Oswestry, Potters Bar, Queensferry, Runcorn, Salisbury.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS with occasional Su specials, but not tomorrow.