An overview

The thing I always liked about Whitstable was the fact that it was never pretentious. It was always just a quiet little town with a harbour. The pace of life is a refreshing contrast to life in the capital, just 60 miles to the west.

However, the influence of the London set becomes more evident each year. As more people discover the way of life available so close to London, so more seem to come. Accordingly, the little fishing town of my childhood is now sadly long gone. As time has passed, the town has grown exponentially. As a child, I remember seeing the Sherwood estate at the top of Wraik Hill from the Thanet Way and I knew I was nearly home. Today, however, the houses go all the way down the hill to Seasalter Lane. That seems to be the price of “progress”.

Whitstable was recently “discovered” by the English Press as an “Olde Worlde” or “Bohemian” (oh, please) haven, with a far more relaxed lifestyle compared to London. Dubbed “Islington-on-Sea” by the Daily Mail among others, it’s popularity with the capital’s better-off population has been growing steadily.

So, what makes the place so popular? It would be a bit churlish of me, a DFL myself by definition, to complain about “outsiders”. If the place didn’t have it’s charm, perhaps I would not be so keen to sing it’s praises myself.

There are a number of eclectic/interesting buildings, particularly along the sea front. Wavecrest is a case in point. With it’s row of whitewashed terraced houses, each sporting unusual painted maritime designs on the front walls, the Wavecrest houses create a lovely postcard picture.

A web of alleyways connect the main streets, with names such as the aptly-named “Squeeze Gut Alley” (walk along it and you’ll see why), many of which refer to Whitstable’s maritime or smuggling past. One such place is “Starvation Point”, opposite the harbour gates, where poverty stricken seamen would wait in search of work. There is now a memorial on the site, dedicated to those lost at sea.

Just along from Wavecrest is The Old Neptune pub, sitting right on the beach, literally. “The Neppie” has been the subject of many painters and photographers. Continuing east along the sea wall, you will come to Pearsons Crab & Oyster Bar, also on the beach, next to the Royal Oyster Fishery building.

Whitstable doesn’t have a promenade like Herne Bay. Not at least, until you reach Tankerton. The slopes here were dug out by navvies in Victorian times and form part of the Saxon Shore Way, which runs along the east coast of Kent.

You’ll not find sand on Whitstable beach either; only shingle. The nearest sand beaches are at Thanet, about 12 miles further up the coast. At low tide, the Street Stones, a spit of land about ¼ mile long, is exposed, stretching out into the Thames Estuary. At low tide, you can walk along the exposed shingle and get another perspective of the town. Be advised, however, that currents are very strong here and the Street has claimed many unwitting victims, caught out by the tide coming in and the very strong cross currents.

One of Europes oldest commercial ventures, the Whitstable Oyster Fisheries can be found in Whitstable. There is a permanent exhibition on the harbour’s East Quay showing the history of the town’s oyster industry, which has been here since before the Roman invasion. The town still enjoys world-wide renown for oysters but this is only part of the town’s maritime links. Whitstable has a long-standing recognition of the sea for it’s income, both legitimate and otherwise. The harbour is still in full use, both for fishing and as a base for Bretts, the local quarrying company. Fishermens’ black-tarred stores and sail lofts line the sides of the harbour.

Talking of old things, of which there are plenty in town, Whitstable is also home to the world’s first Sea Cadet unit. TS Vigilant, Unit 363, can be found in in Bonners Alley. In 2004, the units celebrates it’s 150th anniversary.

During the summer, Whitstable hosts the annual International Waterskiing Championship. Other sea-related events include the summer Regatta, the Oyster Festival and the Whitstable Barge Race. In recognition of the importance of the sea to the area, there is also the annual Blessing of the Waters ceremony.

Whitstable has long provided inspiration for many artists. It is believed that JM Turner used the spectacular local sunsets in many of his seascapes. You can find many examples of local artistic talent in the craft shops all round town, especially in Harbour Street and in the Horsebridge centre.

A little way out of Whitstable is Chestfield, a folly village constructed in the 1920’s by a builder who wanted to create large properties with suitably matched grounds. Many of the houses of the original village are built in mock Tudor style, although not like todays “executive” homes. More modern (1960’s onwards) housing now surround the village green. Chestfield has a very good (albeit rather exclusive) golf course and, next door, the Chestfield Barn restaurant specialises in local seafood. Chestfield also provides the home for Whitstable Rugby Club.