Kent bolt­hole

‘A sense of ec­cen­tric­ity’ in a town with a staid rep­u­ta­tion

The Guardian - Travel - - Front Page - Jane Dun­ford

It’s Thurs­day night at the Mount Edgcumbe – a restau­rant and bar, now with rooms – in Tun­bridge Wells, and the place is abuzz. This af­flu­ent com­muter town may have a rather staid rep­u­ta­tion, but here a sense of char­ac­ter and ec­cen­tric­ity strikes as soon as you walk in the door. For starters, there’s a cave just off the bar. Chis­elled into sand­stone in the sixth cen­tury (the house was built over it), it’s now a cosy snug with leather so­fas, tonight busy with young drinkers.

More mod­ern touches in­clude for­est-pat­tern wall­pa­per from Cole & Son, hung with a col­lec­tion of wooden bird boxes. I take it all in sip­ping a lo­cal 1606 gin. Named after the year the min­eral spring that put the Kent spa town on the map was dis­cov­ered, it is ap­par­ently made with the very same water (though it tastes not of sul­phur, but de­li­ciously cit­russy).

The house it­self, a 10-minute walk from the sta­tion, dates from 1738 and was once used as lodg­ings for peo­ple com­ing to take the wa­ters – don­keys and mules would wait out­side to carry them down to the spring. A ho­tel from 1921-2011, it’s sur­rounded by green­ery and over­looks the com­mon and Mount Edgcumbe rocks, a sand­stone out­crop pop­u­lar with clim­bers. Its pretty gar­den has an out­side bar in the sum­mer too.

The cur­rent own­ers, Robert and Sally Hog­ben, re­opened the Mount Edgcumbe as a restau­rant in 2012, keep­ing many of the orig­i­nal Ge­or­gian fea­tures. And last month they opened six rooms on the top floor after a lengthy restora­tion project.

Our room (five) is a spa­cious twin with deep blue walls, shut­tered win­dows, a yel­low vel­vet arm­chair and bronze mir­rors. The bath­room is equally taste­ful, with pretty tiles, rain shower and Bram­ley toi­letries. Fresh milk, home­made bis­cuits and a cof­fee machine are wel­come ex­tras.

Sally ob­vi­ously had lots of fun dec­o­rat­ing the place (with an in­te­rior de­signer friend, Fiona) and Rob, who is also a builder, did much of the work him­self with help from his son. The sec­ond-floor hall has bold harlequin­print wall­pa­per and play­ful touches such as dummy doors float­ing in the wall above the stair­well.

Room one has a ro­man­tic feel, with its bay win­dow and free­stand­ing bath, and num­ber four has yel­low-painted walls, a yel­low bath and a gi­raffe sculp­ture above it. There’s also a suite with sofa bed, and two smaller rooms, still with a mish­mash of an­tiques and eye-catch­ing fea­tures.

The restau­rant is all wood floors,

Break­fast is gen­er­ous, with big por­tions of lovely, chive-laden scram­bled egg and smoked salmon

ex­posed brick, in­ter­est­ing art and mis­matched fur­ni­ture – and it ex­tends to the first floor on busy nights. The menu offers meze-style shar­ing plat­ters and up­mar­ket pub grub. We fol­low starters of prawn and cray­fish cock­tail, and chilli salted squid (both £7.25) with mains of salmon with beet­root slaw (£16.75), and tuna steak with cu­cum­ber salsa (£16.50). Flavours are fresh, the fish per­fectly cooked and por­tions gen­er­ous. We fall into bed sat­is­fied and sleep well in su­per-comfy Hyp­nos beds, de­spite ru­mours that the (friendly) ghost of a lady called Mary roams the build­ing.

Break­fast, in­cluded in the rate, is end­less: fruit salad and yo­ghurt, lo­cal breads and pas­tries, eggs royale, and big plates of lovely, chive-laden scram­bled egg and smoked salmon (there is also a full English op­tion).

We mo­sey across the com­mon to the Pan­tiles – a colon­naded lane of clap­board shops and restau­rants, and site of the chaly­beate (iron salts) spring. It is closed at the mo­ment, be­cause water lev­els are low, but they hope it will re­turn to nor­mal soon. For the sake of that tasty 1606 gin, I do too. • Ac­com­mo­da­tion was pro­vided by Mount Edgcumbe (dou­bles from £120 B&B, 01892 618854, the­mount­edgcumbe.com)

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