Don’t be fooled by the grey sea and down-beat shops; this place is full of colour and life. Vegan cafes spill over with tasty guilt-free treats and the architecture harks back to a Victorian heyday of steamers and day trippers who flocked to the resort – thought to be the healthiest in the country due to its refreshing air. The London crowds loved it back when Whitstable was just a twinkle in a DFL’s bi-focaled eye.
Duchamp and Rosetti were fans of the town, angelic looking prog rocker Kevin Ayers was born here and Amy Johnson crashed her jet over the estuary never to be found again with rumours circulating of daring World War II espionage cementing her legend. She is immortalized in a jaunty statue. More tales of Allied history abound in the town with a statue dedicated to Barnes Wallace – inventor of the bouncing bomb which was tested off Reculver. The adorable Seaside Museum holds a prototype of one of these world-changing weapons.
Take me to the sea
Going back even further in history is the mysterious marvel that is the aforementioned Reculver – spooky ruins of a medieval church overlooking the sea. It’s easy to imagine what rituals went on here as you absorb the trappings of a time when Kent was something of a geographical treasure chest thanks to its proximity to France. The mystery of the site was not lost on Kent fan Ian Fleming who often borrowed from his surroundings and made it the home of arch-baddie Goldfinger in the eponymous Bond novel.
Nowadays, it’s just full of goodies like the Clock Tower which is illuminated at night and is thought to be the oldest freestyle clock of its type in the world. Jutting out into sea is Neptune’s Arm which lets you walk on water. Sort of. The pier, once the second longest in the country, will also take you out to sea and is lined with all sorts of tuck options – not just pie and chips but Thai and Chinese. Back in the town, Mia Casa has helped put the town firmly on the culinary map with pizzas oozing Neapolitan flavour. Although Herne Bay has not been included much in the Kentish micro-pub revolution, pubs invite you on every corner. The Ship – one of the oldest buildings in the town – is probably the most atmospheric place to get a drink.
Sating the thirst of many a smuggler of old it’s now welcoming and stuffed with seafood options and a seating area outside. If you’re tall you may have to stoop such is the vintage of this building.
Take the cakewalk
Often unfairly maligned as a retirement-on-sea, a youthful buzz has recently been igniting the resort with kitsch décor stores and impromptu acts of art. But its fondness of the past means that oldie-but-goldie Mascot Bakery is thriving in an era of Greggs with its cream filled frog-shaped cakes. The winds are bracing in the winter but the town’s steely charms takes on a brash turn of its own resisting the commercialization of other Kent resorts and sticking it out against the face of bland gentrification.