Tonbridge Walks – Leigh, Hildenborough and Castle round walk

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I first wrote about this walk during the Coronavirus lockdown, when it it had been very evident that as the relaxation of the rules happen, more people were out and about walking, running and cycling. It’s great to see more people exercising, and I have been looking at new places to walk too.

One of my new walks that Nicky found was a walk from Tonbridge through to the outskirts of Leigh, over the fields to Hildenborough, and then back to Tonbridge. It’s a 3.6 mile round trip that highlights countryside, water and history.

I walked this many times over the years since, but thought I should update it with new photos and information. Interestingy, I chose the day after King Charles III coronation.

I thought you may be interested in the journey, so you can follow in our footsteps.

Tonbridge to Leigh

Setting off from the car park in the middle of town in Bradford Street, it takes just a few seconds to walk through the War Memorial gardens and over the footbridge opposite into the Racecourse Sportsgound.

Turn left immediately after and follow the river round past the tennis courts and Riverside Bowls Club, crossing over the main path and walking up past the playground. At the hedge take the path to the left which follows the River Medway.

Follow this path but take time to enjoy the scenery on both sides – to your right the vast expanse of the Sportsground, and to the left on the other side of the river some beautiful new houses with decking that looks over the river.

As you continue you’ll come across the Tonbridge Boatyard, and especially at this time, several narrow boats moored up. Back in 2012 I spent a few days on a narrow boat travelling and ever since have loved these. It’s something I would like to do again at some point in the future.

Keep on the path round the corner, you’ll see the noticeboard giving you information on Tinkers Island to your left. Keep on the path until you come to the bridge over the Medway, and walk over this to another field.

Follow the path ahead, turning left at the T-junction to head towards and under the railway bridge (if you are over 6′ 2″ you may well have to duck slightly!)

Walking ahead, with the cycle path to the left behind some bushes, you head over a small footbridge. Keep walking ahead until you come to another T-junction. Most people will head left to the beautiful Barden Lake at Hayesden, but we are taking the right path marked towards The Plough at Leigh.

River Medway just after railway bridge
River Medway just after railway bridge

The path crosses over a stream and then heads left. As you walk straight ahead you’ll have a lake to your right adored by anglers (if you travel to London by train you’ll see this). To your left is rough ground with long grass and bushes, attracting butterflies, dragon flies and many more insects.

Walking ahead you come across a farm on your right. If you are lucky you will see some lovely sheep under the shade of the trees next to the black wooden farmhouse. When I walked today their dogs had squeezed under the gates to join me on the path. But when one realised I was filming and had turned towards the house he ran back past me into his garden and barked lots, protecting his property!

Farm near Leigh, Tonbridge
Farm near Leigh

Leigh to Hildenborough

As you come to the road turn right and walk down Powder Mills towards the Oast House at the end. Here I came acroos a lovely flower box which was attached to the Leigh village noticeboard – I don;t know if this is new, but it was the first time I’d noticed it. You’ll pass a new road called Burton Avenue, with the bus stop opposite.

With the Oast House on the corner of the road, we are turning right, avoiding the temptation of The Plough just a few yards up the road in the opposite direction.

There’s no pavement on this road but you don’t go far so should be safe enough. Pass the private road to Grove Farm and a few yards along is a footpath behind a gate on the right, next to a beautiful little cottage.

This joins a long walk along the private road with lovely fields on your right and trees all down the left. As you approach Grove Farm you’ll see the railway bridge ahead, with it’s yellow steps up to the tracks for the rail workers behind locked gates.

Under the bridge and through a metal kissing gate, and you’ll be faced with a vast field of corn. The track clearly follows ahead, curving towards the right. As you walk along half-way there’s a track off to the right through the middle of the field, followed shortly by a path that turns left towards Hildenborough’s housing estates, but we are keeping on the central track.

As you get to the end you’ll pass through another kissing gate located outside a beautiful farmhouse, turn left here to follow the road ahead. This private road takes you into Hildenborough, coming out at the junction of Stacey Road to the right and Hilden Park Road to the left.

It was here that I saw the second thing that I hadn’t noticed before – a garden wall made from some really pretty coloured bricks. You can always spot something new even on a route that you have done many times!

You can turn right but we are walking forward through an alleyway onto the main B245 London Road, just so we can turn right and pass the Hilden Manor Beefeater (with adjoining Premier Inn hotel) and the adorable Oast Theatre. If you want to avoid the busy road for as long as possible, turn right onto Stacey Road, with it’s identical houses and their cute balconies.

Passing Tonbridge School

Many of the properties along London Road as you enter Tonbridge, and the adjoining roads around this area, belong to the private school – Tonbridge School.

There is a footpath just after you reach the hill, which takes you up past an orchard towards the fantastic School Sports Centre – you can join as a member and get access to the gym and swimming pool. It’s also home to Tonbridge Athletic Club and the facilities are so good the Australian athletics team prepared there before the 2012 Olympics. The footpath then continues through with views over some of the remaining school grounds, coming out in the lovely Slade area of Tonbridge.

When I did this walk during Covid the Sports Centre was closed off, as it was acting as a medical centre for the Covid-19 virus. Since it re-opened this is the route I continue to use, however that first time I continued up the main road. This area is so beautiful with it’s vast houses that you can put up with the traffic somewhat.

Once you’ve gone up the hill the road sweeps to the right, and comes across the main frontage to the school, which is simply stunning, as you can see. Built in 1553 it has been school for some famous people, including Kent and England cricketer Colin Cowdrey, novelist Jane Austen’s father George, and the members of pop group Keane, to name just a few. They also have great shows at their E. M. Forster Theatre, at which I’ve seen a few.

Tonbridge Castle and the River Medway

Dragging yourself away from Tonbridge School, you pass the newly refurbished Ivy House on the opposite side of the road, before taking Bank Street on the right. This leads you past the Corn Exchange building to the old Fire Station, and then onto Tonbridge Castle.

As you walk through the entrance you see the lawn with cannon in the centre surrounded by bedding plants. And then the castle stands before you, standing proud. Walk through the arch and you can start to sense what life was like centuries ago.

If you have time pop up the zigzag path to the motte, with it’s views over the Sportsground that you started at. Walk round the lawn too, with views over the stone walls to the River Medway below. Or maybe take the winding path that goes round the castle to it’s right.

Head down the path at the bottom of the motte and at the bottom turn left. Walk past the war memorial and up to the Big Bridge, turning right to cross it before right again to walk down the other side of the river. This is a beautiful place to sit and watch ducks, swans and boats. In September this stretch of the river hosts the Dragon Boats racing, a fun day watched by hundreds of locals, cheering on their favourite teams.

As you continue along the pedestrianised walk you’ll soon see the car park ahead, located after passing the Waterside Reach development.

Tonbridge Dragon Boat Racing
Tonbridge Dragon Boat Racing

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