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Kentish charms


Beach hut, Whitstable

The first time we went to Whitstable for a short break, a few years ago, we stayed in nearby Seasalter and made a couple of day trips into the town. We liked what we saw, and it was frustrating not to be able to easily spend our evenings here. So when we were considering ideas for a coastal staycation during the pandemic, renting a house in the centre of this appealing seaside town was a no-brainer!

The photos on this page were taken on both visits, March 2015 and October 2020.


Whitstable is known for its oysters and a short distance west of the harbour you will find the Whitstable Oyster Company. The company claims to be able to trace its origins back to the 1400s. and to be one of the oldest companies in Europe. But the fame of the oysters of Whitstable goes even further back, almost two thousand years, to when the Romans discovered them and shipped them back live to Rome to be enjoyed as a delicacy at the best tables there. At the company’s peak in the 1850s it was sending as many as eighty million oysters a year to Billingsgate fish market. By that time oysters had become so plentiful and cheap that they were regarded as the food of the poor, not the gourmet indulgence of today.

Oyster shells

However in the twentieth century the industry began to decline due to a number of factors: cold winters, a parasite infection, two World Wars, the great flood of 1953 and changing tastes – notably the rise of the prawn cocktail!

In recent decades there has been a resurgence in the oyster industry. The company is now a family-run business, not only farming oysters but also running a highly-regarded restaurant in the old oyster stores. Walking around outside, the discarded oyster shells crunch under your feet – a sure sign you are in Whitstable.

The Whitstable Oyster Company

Sign at the Whitstable Oyster Company

The harbour

The harbour at Whitstable is very much a working one. Fish are landed and processed here, and there is a tarmac production site, with what it must be said is rather an ugly main structure. But I like the fact that it is functional as well as tourist-focused. Fishermen land their catch right next to the informal fish restaurants selling mussels, oysters and fish and chips; old fisherman’s huts are home to small craft shops and art galleries; locals walk their dogs, and tourists stroll, in the shadow of the tarmac factory.


Whitstable Harbour



Harbour scenes

In the summer boat trips run from here, out to see the wind farms and the offshore World War II sea forts which are visible on the horizon. These Maunsell Forts (named for their designer, Guy Maunsell) were built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries during the Second World War. They were used for anti-aircraft defence – during World War II, the three forts in the Thames estuary shot down 22 aircraft and about 30 flying bombs. They were decommissioned by the Ministry of Defence in the late 1950s; some were used in the 60s as bases for pirate radio stations.

Wind turbines and Maunsell Forts

Birds in flight and Maunsell Forts

The Favourite

One boat not to be found in the harbour is the Favourite. This is a traditional Whitstable oyster yawl and was built by the Whitstable Shipbuilding Company based at Island Wall (west of the harbour and oyster company) in 1890. She was used by the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company to dredge oysters from the beds off shore until 1939. She was machine-gunned by an enemy aircraft and began to sink, but was beached and dragged up the shore. When the sea wall was built she was moved and spent some time in a cottage garden before being acquired by a charitable trust who raised money for her restoration. Today she sits on display just behind the wall, very near where she was built. As she would have been built directly on the shingle beach the site around her was restored to look like a beach and now has a good display of shingle flora.

The Favourite

Flowers by the Favourite

Beach walks and beach-huts

Although Whitstable doesn’t have a traditional seaside promenade (and for me that is one of its charms), it is possible to walk the length of its beaches stretching some distance both east and west of the centre – a walk of about three miles in total. To the east you are walking along the foot of Tankerton Slopes. At first these are green lawns, sloping down to the sea. At their foot are colourful beach huts, one of my favourite subjects for photography in Whitstable.






Beach huts, Tankerton Slopes

The footpath passes the Street, a naturally formed spit of land that extends into the sea and can be walked on at low tide.

The Street

A key feature of Whitstable’s beaches are the breakwaters, a favourite perch for visiting gulls.

The beach near Tankerton Slopes


Breakwaters on the beach

Further along, the tamed lawns give way to a nature reserve, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, where the largest population in Britain of hog’s fennel can be found. Not being an expert in botany, and with no winter images on the information board, I am only about 80% certain that I photographed the right plant, but in any case I loved the sculptural shapes of its seed-heads.

Hog's fennel - I think!

Above Tankerton Slopes

Eventually in this direction you reach Swalecliffe Brook, a small stream running into the sea between Whitstable and the next town, Herne Bay.

Beyond Tankerton - Swalecliffe Brook

This is the furthest we have walked in this direction, so let’s turn back now and head west.


Enjoying the sea views

Walking west from the centre you pass the Favourite, mentioned above, and soon after arrive at one of Whitstable’s best-loved pubs, the Old Neptune or ‘Neppy’ as it is affectionately known. It makes the proud claim to be ‘one of only a handful of pubs to be found on the beaches of Britain’. It sits directly on the shingle and while it has a cosy interior, the main attraction for us and for many others is found outside where, even in these times of COVID, there are plenty of wooden tables and benches where you can enjoy a beer and maybe some fish and chips with a sea view. It was just about warm enough during our recent October stay to be able to stop off for drinks here on a couple of occasions.


The Old Neptune


View from our table at the Old Neptune

Beyond the Neppy are more beach huts and some attractive and interesting old houses. One of the latter was once home to the actor Peter Cushing, best known for his roles in the Hammer horror films of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The house is marked with a blue plaque.

Beach huts and boats

Beach hut detail


Colourful houses

Peter Cushing's former home

There are also more breakwaters, whose rhythmically-spaced lines stretch away into the distance on either side, creating interesting photo opportunities.

Looking back towards the town centre




When it’s time to turn back you can return the way you came or take the quiet road running parallel to the beach, Island Wall, to see more of Whitstable’s quaint houses.

House detail

Halloween in Whitstable

Starling outside a Whitstable house

The town centre

I’ll finish in the centre of town which is in its way as appealing as the shore. There are plenty of independent shops selling upmarket clothing, books, jewellery, antiques and of course souvenirs. The latter include craft items and home decorations, perfect if you want to replicate the beach house look at home, although in our London terrace that is best restricted to the bathroom! The restaurants too are mainly independents, although there are a couple of Italian chains, and likewise the cafés, although again there is one chain coffeeshop. Of the pubs we liked best the atmosphere in the Royal Naval Reserve on the High Street, as the Duke of Cumberland (which we’d had a good lunch in on a previous visit) was rather cold and empty, perhaps because COVID restrictions prevented it from staging its popular live music evenings.

Pub and antiques shop

Cheese and gift shop

Look for the details

Finally, take a look at these fun murals, most of them by an artist called Cat Man, which I spotted around the town.




Whitstable murals

Posted by ToonSarah 04:57 Archived in England Tagged beaches buildings boats harbour england coast history pubs seaside details street_art

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As a family we can recommend the Whitstable Pearl series of crime novels, by Julie Wassmer, based in and around Whitstable. There are seven already published and our daughter, (who put us into them) assures us that the eighth is due in May.

by Keith Miles

Colourful pictures. Somehow i've missed visiting Whitstable. Looks good. Stay Safe. Alec.

by alectrevor

Thanks for the suggestion Keith. I watch quite a lot of crime TV but rarely read crime novels; however I'll certainly check those out :)

And Alec, thanks for your visit and comment. I highly recommend Whitstable for a short break! You stay safe too :)

by ToonSarah

Lovely photos. I can almost smell the sea just looking at them.

by irenevt

Thanks Irene :) We were lucky to fit this trip in when we did - it seems we're about to go into (almost) full lockdown again :(

by ToonSarah

Bob loves oysters - this sounds like the kind of place I could get him to go to. If only it was here in our country :(

by greatgrandmaR

There is always one uncooperative sea gull (Breakwaters photo). I see you have March Madness too. Does yours involve basketball? I didn't realize it had gotten to the UK so hopefully it's about something else in March.

Lovely photos and it looks like a fun place to visit. I love the colorful beach huts.

by Beausoleil

Great post, Sarah! In many ways, Whitstable reminds me of my own hometown and growing up by the Chesapeake Bay. This sounds, and looks like the perfect place for a little get away. Love your photos!

by starship VT

Thank you all for visiting Whitstable with me :)

Rosalie, I reckon both yo and Bob would like it here, but I know he doesn't travel abroad these days :( Maybe you could persuade a grandchild to visit with you?!

Sally, great spot on the gull The March Madness sign has nothing to do with basketball, which isn't extensively played or followed here. It's just the cheese shop with some special deals for that month (the photo is an old one taken on our previous visit, although the shop is still there). Glad you enjoyed the beach hut photos :)

And Sylvia, I've never been to Chesapeake Bay but I've seen photos, and I've visited other East Coast seaside/boating towns. I reckon there would be some similarities, but at the same time Whitstable seems to me quintessentially English. It would be interesting if you could visit one day and see which things are similar and which not And thanks for the compliment about the photos!

by ToonSarah

I can't remember precisely when, but within the last five years or so: a survey showed that Whitstable had the least typical High Street in the country, i.e., fewer national chains and more small independent traders than anywhere else

by Keith Miles

I can believe that Keith - it's refreshing to see so many independents and most apparently doing OK even in these challenging times

by ToonSarah

I see that I should have been more specific in my answer. Of course, Whitstable is very English and the coastal geography is quite different, but I believe there are certain commonalities in communities where a good number of people making their living from the sea as well as the byproducts that come from it. One of my strongest memories is seeing the mountains of clam & oyster shells near fisheries after processing. These shells were later used for fertilizer, but mostly I remember them being crushed and used for many home driveways and even sometimes parking lots. It is the small, shared similarities between Whitstable and my hometown which came to me.

by starship VT

Ah yes, I see what you're getting at now Sylvia :) Yes, there is something about a fishing community that feels common to them all. As the sign says, the shells here are used out on the oyster beds, but many end up being crushed under the feet of passers-by, and more than a few going home with visitors as souvenirs, no doubt!

by ToonSarah

In Louisiana back in the 60s, they used the oyster shells on unpaved roads. We had several flat tires as a result - they were very sharp. The oyster beds are a much better more eco- use.

I also found similarities between the edges of the Chesapeake and Whitstable. The first one was the picture of the crab on the gable in the top photo. But I'm guessing that you don't do hard crabs there like we do here.

by greatgrandmaR

Hi again Rosalie. Yes, I can imagine the hard edges of the shells aren't great to drive on! I'm not sure what you mean about 'doing hard crabs'? The one on the beach hut in my top photo is a silly pun - 'seas the day'

by ToonSarah

When we eat crabs here, it is usually one of two ways - crab cakes (where you remove the crab meat from the shell and make it into patties and fry or broil them. OR as hard crabs. The crabs are steamed still in the shell (like they do lobsters in Maine) and the person eating them has to get the meat out of the shell. I haven't found that way of eating crabs in many other places besides the Chesapeake. When Bob and I lived in Louisiana, crabs were really cheap, but there, they boiled them. I had to get my mother-in-law to send me the seasoning so I could steam them.

by greatgrandmaR

Ah, I see what you mean - you're talking about how they are served and eaten :) Well. we certainly do serve crabs to be picked out of the shell like that but I believe they are more often boiled rather than steamed. We also have crab cakes, or serve the crab already picked and dressed, either piled back into the shell or on a plate with salad. And on Holy Island in Northumberland (as well as elsewhere) dressed crab sandwiches are popular. Locals make them and put them out by the gate for visitors, with an honesty box for payment!

by ToonSarah

Your photos are again fun to look at! My favorite was the one with the birds flying over water! :)

You have so many places to visit nearby, we are still trying to decide where to go/what to do this winter..

The Old Neptune is huge! Is all of the building in the pubs usage? :)

In my spouses dismay, I would love to live in that pink house!

by hennaonthetrek

Thank you Henna, I appreciate the nice comments :) Yes, we have plenty of places to visit but at the moment we are back in lockdown so I don't know how much we'll get out and about this winter.

I think only the ground floor of the Old Neptune is used as the pub (we've only ever drunk outside). Possibly the upper floor is accommodation for the owner?

And I agree about the pink house or any in that terrace. Great looking houses and with a sea view - what's not to like?! Although it is very pink

by ToonSarah

Well, yes, it is very pink, lol.

Oh, you have another lockdown..lets hope that this one will be the last before things starts to normalize!

by hennaonthetrek

That would be good Henna, but I suspect we will have more in the New Year, until the vaccination programme (hopefully) starts to make an impact

by ToonSarah

Although I have no feeling for oysters, seeing I am allergic to seafood (except fish that is), but nevertheless it was a nice read! Your coastal towns look so much more touristy than ours ... I am not all that into visiting our coast except for a day of shopping, maybe I should see it with other eyes, but still ... looking at your pictures makes me wanna visit your coastal area so eagerly!

by Ils1976

Many of our coastal towns are indeed touristy Ils. Some are a bit old-fashioned and have suffered over the years as tourists have preferred to go to Spain or similar for guaranteed hot weather. But places with more character, like Whitstable, are always popular.

I can't eat oysters either and I avoid other bivalves like mussels and clams, but I eat shellfish and love scallops!

by ToonSarah

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