Sunday, 20 December 2020

An afternoon at the Wells

I booked  last Thursday afternoon off from work and I’m extremely glad I did, not just because I had the foresight to treat myself to a long overdue haircut – a wise move seeing that hairdressers in Kent, London and whatever the authorities mean by "Eastern England" have been forced to close again by midnight on Saturday, but because the weather was bright, the temperatures relatively mild and I accomplished what I’d set out to do.

I’d pre-booked my haircut, after which my plan was to take the train over to Tunbridge Wells, purchase sufficient stamps to post off our not inconsiderable pile of Christmas cards, and then belatedly search for and buy a few Christmas presents.

The lady who cuts my hair was chatty and glad to have reopened following the end of Lockdown 2. Whilst she feared the possibility of a third shutdown in the New Year, I don’t think that she, or even me for that matter, could have contemplated the speed at which our beloved leader has imposed the new Tier 4 lockdown on London and the south-east.

The number of people on the platform, waiting for the train to Tunbridge Wells, was more than I’d seen since March, but I still managed to find a seat where I wasn’t facing or siting adjacent to any of my fellow passengers. The town looked suitably festive as I walked up the hill towards the main Post Office and the Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre (RVP).

The centre has had something of a makeover recently, but the painted hoardings can’t hide the number of empty retail outlets. RVP had been hemorrhaging outlets since before the pandemic, and the current restrictions on trading certainly won’t have helped. One shop that was closing -  “All stock must go,” was Trespass Outdoor Clothing. I didn’t even know they had an outlet in Tunbridge Wells, so I popped in. 

My current pair of walking boots – the ones that have fallen apart after 10 years’ regular use, are Trespass brand, so forgiving them for literally coming apart at the seams after a decade, I thought I might be able to pick up a bargain. Unfortunately, there was precious little in the way of footwear; a situation I noticed as well when I called into Cotswold Outdoors. For completeness, I also visited North Face, only to find that, like Trespass, they only stock their own branded items.

I digress, sourcing a new pair of walking boots was not my number one priority that afternoon, but it doesn’t hurt to carry out a spot of prior research. Cosmetics for Mrs PBT’s Christmas stocking, was one of the main objectives of my expedition, but for once, department store Fenwick’s, didn’t come up trumps.

I like buying cosmetics or perfumes from such places, as the helpful ladies on the concession stands will normally wrap your purchase, making it look like it was you who put the additional time and effort into the presentation of the gift. No worries, Boot’s had the item I was after, and the nice lady on the stand not only wrapped my purchase, but added a glitzy silver bow, to set the whole thing off.

Before leaving the RVP, I grabbed a takeaway flat white from the food court, and then headed along to the town’s Calverley Gardens to find a convenient bench to sit on and enjoy my coffee. The pop-up ice rink, that makes an annual appearance in the town was, somewhat surprisingly, there at the bottom of the hill, and seemed well-patronised, when I walked past. I was heading for the High Street, and a particular beer shop that I first discovered a couple of weeks ago.

Crossing the road, opposite the station, I noticed that the Bedford pub on the corner, had a window open, serving beer and food to takeaway; the latter including hamburgers, pizza and mince pies. This seemed very enterprising and quite popular as well, so it was good to see other places  along the High Street doing the same. 

I made my way past some of the high-end shops and restaurants to Chapel Place, the pedestrianised walkway that leads down to the Pantiles. My destination, nO7 off license, formerly trading as Gin & Harvey’s, offers a wide selection of local wines and beers, including offerings from, include Harvey's, Hepworth’s, Long Man, Tonbridge and Westerham. Harvey’s draught cask ales, to take away by the jug, are also available, drawn up by hand-pump from the cellar below. 

On my previous visit, I picked up four-pints of XXXX Old Ale. Old was available this time around, along with Sussex Best, but it was bottles I was after on this occasion and strong ones at that! So, Bonfire Boy, Star of Eastbourne and Old Ale, all from Harvey’s was my selection, packaged in an attractive canvas bag, carrying the Harvey’s logo.

All in all, I enjoyed my trip over to the Wells. Being able to hop on a train and just wander around, really lifted my spirits, at a time of what seemed like gathering gloom. Perhaps my optimism was misplaced, certainly in the aftermath of Saturday’s announcement, but whatever the consequences of moving into Tier 4, it was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. As an additional bonus, I also clocked up over 14,000 steps!


retiredmartin said...

You're brave going shopping the week before Christmas Paul!

Paul Bailey said...

It's all a matter of timing, Martin. The shops were fairly quiet last Thursday afternoon, perhaps in recognition of what was to come. Also, I didn't have much shopping to get, so my little expedition was more of a trip out, than anything else.

Trust you had a an enjoyable birthday yesterday, despite the pubs being closed.