Our day out in Whitstable was accompanied by wall-to-wall sunshine and scorching temperatures. If only all our visits to the English seaside were in such glorious weather…
On the north Kent coast and long popular with the bucket and spade brigade, Whitstable’s also become a trendy destination for Londoners seeking fine food. The town’s famous oyster beds were responsible for sparking the London invasion, and that in turn has been the driver behind the opening of a range of quality bars, cafes and restaurants.
The opening of the high-speed rail line out of Stratford International has made Kent much easier for us to explore and it was just an hour’s journey from there, through the Medway towns. A short walk through Whitstable’s comfortable and perfectly manicured suburbs and we were in the town centre.
Whitstable has a thriving high street, something of a rarity among Britain’s crumbling and struggling seaside resorts. Not only that, but it’s a high street of mainly independent stores rather than the chains we see everywhere.
The healthiness of its foodie scene was obvious from the number of butchers and grocery stores standing out proudly from the bland supermarkets. But there were antiques shops, galleries and homewares stores aplenty too and we popped in and out of them, exploring the options.
It’s the seafront that’s Whitstable’s real draw. At its heart is the still-busy harbour, which was full of fishing boats parked up for the weekend, tourists seeking food and a towering gravel works. The latter wasn’t exactly a pretty addition to the landscape but I’d rather have a harbour employing people in real jobs than a tourist-friendly, Disneyfied recreation of what once was.
We had a wander around the market stalls, then stopped at one of the busy seafood restaurants that pepper the harbour, finding shade, fish and chips and the local Whitstable Bay beer.
In the sunshine, we walked east along the Saxon Shore Way towards the more traditional resort of Herne Bay. The calm sea lapped the pebbly beach, which was busy with holidaymakers and day trippers, some firing up barebecues, others looking decidedly red from a dose of sunburn.
I regretted not bringing my swimming trunks for a refreshing dip.
We stopped a couple of miles down the coast, beyond Tankerton, where it was quieter and we could sit on the beach away from the crowds, chill for a while, throw stones into the water and gaze out towards the vast and majestic wind farm offshore, its turbines turning gently in the light winds.
On the walk back, in the sweaty heat, we passed a lively fair – for it happened to be carnival weekend – and then ambled through the pleasant gardens of Whitstable Castle, along to the west beach and the famous Oyster Fishery.
This was the most historic part of town, the district that’s most closely associated with Whitstable’s tradition of fishing and oysters. Small yachts and dinghies filled the beach and giant piles of oyster shells stood as testament to the vast quantities consumed by visitors at the famous Whitstable Oyster Fishery.
Beyond lay quaint fishermen’s huts, alleys that were supposedly handy escape routes back when smuggling was a way of life, and a collection of narrow streets lined with pretty cottages and pubs.
We stopped for plenty of beers at the Pearson’s Arms, but we were so full from lunch that anything substantial to eat was out of the question. Which was just as well really, because wherever we went there were no tables free. We opted for some tasty, light snacks in the pub instead.
But did I try the oysters? Not this time. I have a true love-hate relationship with them – sometimes I can’t resist a half dozen or so but sadly, in Whitstable, the thought of them just turned my stomach.
When we headed outside back to the beach with our beers, the sun was setting over the Isle of Sheppey, bathing the crowds and the beach in a glorious gold. The tide had gone out, revealing long stretches of sand and the heavily loaded oyster beds.
It was magical…