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Things to do in Whitstable, Kent

Almost any visitor to Whitstable will be surprised. This sleepy town on the north Kent coast has no seaside promenade and few arcade amusements. There are no faded fairgrounds or rows of deck-chairs. Although the national press makes much of Whitstable as a weekend resort for the chattering classes from London, you are unlikely to see celebrities wandering down the high street. Whitstable belongs to its ‘natives'. A Whitstable native is both the local oyster, farmed in Whitstable Bay or nearby creeks, and also describes local people, born and raised from fishermen, shipyard workers, divers and rail men.

A rich history provides the town with a strong sense of identity which unfolds for the visitor as they wander down scores of local paths like ‘Squeeze Gut Alley' or along the pebble beach around Whitstable Bay. Right on the beach you'll find the Old Neptune pub providing real ale to customers on the beach outside or acting as a warm refuge in winter weather.

From the working harbour you might see shellfish boats landing a catch to supply the fish market and excellent local restaurants or a small freighter unloading timber. The first ever passenger train service ran from here to Canterbury and retracing the tracks along the long-since closed line, you will soon find yourself in the woodland walks of Blean before arriving in Canterbury in time for lunch.

The east side of the harbour is home to the Whitstable Brewery Bar with great seafood and stunning views across the bay. Along the High Street a small museum helps the visitor discover why Whitstable has so much character. Deep sea diving was developed here and together with shipbuilding and seafaring brought a more outgoing approach to the wider world. Students and local artists contribute to the social life of Whitstable with galleries, a thriving and local theatre and an Arts Centre complete with café just by the Horsebridge which is a cobbled ‘street' extending down the beach into the sea and where carts would unload catches from local smack-boats.

With some planning it's easy to find accommodation in Whitstable from wooden fisher men's huts on the beach, to pleasant bay-side hotels or cottages and apartments for rent. Whitstable has plenty for the weekend visitor and for longer stays; there is Canterbury to explore and France much nearer than you might think for a day out.

As you wander in the castle gardens or stand on Borstal Hill near the windmill, you are likely to sea yachts on passage or dinghy sailors racing across the bay. Thames Barges making for the Swale estuary might remind you that the enterprising ‘natives' once made a few guineas ‘liberating' Napoleonic prisoners held in hulks anchored in the Bay. Wandering in the salt marshes you will easily imagine the smuggling trade with brandy for the vicar (who was father to the author Somerset Maugham). Resting on a bench you may discover it was actor and resident Peter Cushing's favourite spot. That's the charm of Whitstable. You may visit for a relaxing break only to be surprised at every turn by a very different seaside town.

Description by Harry Harrison

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Images of Whitstable

Boats at Whitstable © Colin Jackson
The Old Neptune at Whitstable © Colin Jackson
Breakers at Whitstable © Colin Jackson

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