Twenty years ago Whitstable was a faded and forgotten fishing village with more than one foot left in the past. So what happened to bring about the town’s renaissance and what is there to do when you arrive here for your weekend on the water?
Whitstable is located on the north Kent coast, nestled at the mouth of the Medway estuary close to the Victorian resort town of Herne Bay. It was the rejuvenation of its oyster fishery over the past two decades that began to breathe a new lease of life into the town, transforming it from a world of peeling paintwork to the home of a quaint English harbour where colourful fishing boats bob on the water to the sound of laughter, seagulls and ambient house music.
Direct trains from London deliver you to Whitstable station, in the heart of the seaside town, in under an hour and a half and the journey by car is often even quicker. As you step off the train, you find yourself in the heart of a quaint, curving high street full of funky boutiques selling (mostly) tasteful seaside paraphernalia. Colourful ceramics, driftwood furniture and accessories, arty postcards and pastel-hued watercolours light up the pavement, interspersed with cafés and restaurants selling home-cooked food and snacks.
It would be impossible to come to Whitstable and not indulge in some of the town’s delicious locally caught seafood and the harbour is the place to head to. Here you will find a large fish market and several eateries with pavement tables set out for al fresco eating against the pretty backdrop of the working fishing boats and tangled nets. Choose from grilled lobster, French mussels or crab soufflé or simply opt for a dozen fresh oysters and a good old glass of bubbly.
There is plenty of accommodation in Whitstable in the many large, terraced houses that have been tastefully converted into bed and breakfasts. Most offer good value and an excellent cooked breakfast. For sea views try the Hotel Continental, close to the harbour and beachfront bars and clubs, or book a renovated fisherman’s hut right on the water for something a little different. Prices in neighbouring Tankerton are a little lower than in the town itself, providing plenty of options for making your budget stretch a little further. The Marine Hotel on Tankerton Slopes is just ten minute’s walk from the centre of Whitstable and offers some excellent views over the water from its elevated position. It is also a popular local pub, providing the added benefit that you won’t need to travel too far for a drink.
Many visitors who come to Whitstable remain within the confines of the town itself but it is well worth exploring a little further afield. On the edge of town is Whitstable Castle – in fact a glorified manor house – with a great tearoom and children’s play park, and a very knowledgeable volunteer guide who will provide you with an informative guided tour in return for a small donation.
The long seafront stretches from Whitstable all the way to Herne Bay, some three miles away, making for a lovely walk or cycle ride in good weather, past the coastguard, lines of catamarans and several colourful clusters of much-photographed beach huts. Return to enjoy a sundowner on the seafront at one of the lively beach bars and relax to the simple pleasures of the north Kent coast.