Christmas shopping in Tunbridge Wells - it's not too early to begin...
While the rest of the UK appears to be already welcoming Christmas with open arms, it seems as if 99.9% of Tunbridge Wellians have far less enthusiasm for the festive season. Or for it starting so flipping early this year to be a bit more precise.
In early September, Tesco and M&S were already unveiling shelves packed with seasonal offerings, and two months on (and we're not even into November) most stores are starting to join them.
Despite the only real local Christmas spirit I've seen this year being the hotly-contested competition to win Mrs Anke's sloe gin, here's a whistle-stop tour of what's available and where - should the urge to get started on your Christmas gift-finding creep up on you unexpectedly that is.
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My fave place to go shopping at this time of year is always the bottom end of Tunbridge Wells - far, far away from gridlocked North Farm or the Royal Victoria Shopping Centre. Why? Simply for the bracing open air, beautiful window displays, prettily lit streets and the chance to find something a little bit different.
Head downhill from Hoopers and the Christmas ice rink at Calverley Park which will open late November, and you'll be met with a host of interesting independent shops, and great boltholes to refresh tired feet and minds as you work your way through your shopping list.
This is the oldest part of Tunbridge Wells – the High Street, Chapel Place and, of course, The Pantiles. In contrast to many parts of the country, this end of Tunbridge Wells has very few (if any) empty stores.
Here the Queen's jeweller G Collins & Sons sits alongside hi-fi specialists, furniture stores and some gorgeous fashion boutiques. The further downhill you go, into Chapel Place and across to The Pantiles, the more interesting and specialist many of the shops are.
On The Pantiles you'll find Jack Wills, Coco and Sue Hill - between them delivering fashions for all ages. Gardener and Cook offers gifts for chefs and horticulturists. Trevor Mottram - at the heart of The Pantiles - remains one of the UK's premier kitchenware stores, attracting visitors from far and wide. Add to this, galleries, a camera shop, a coffee specialist, Chinese antiquities, galleries and new vintage shop, Stuff & Good Sense.
Many of the shops open on Sundays and will offer late night shopping on Thursdays in the run up to Christmas. A last-minute late night shopping event - with a few surprises in store - is also planned for Thursday 22 December.
Aside from the shops, traditional pubs and restaurants, two weekends of Christmas Markets are in the offing. Set to take place on the 3rd/4th and 17th/18th December from 10am - 6pm on Saturdays and 10am - 4pm on Sundays, fresh local produce will be on sale, alongside some local craft and gift ideas.
But let us know where you like to Christmas shop in Tunbridge Wells - and why! Are there any quirky, off-the-beaten-tracks stores you'd recommend to others? Anywhere to avoid this year?