In Collaboration With Southeastern
I always tell myself that I’m going to make an effort to see more of the UK, but it usually gets to October and I realise that I’ve only made it as far as one of the London airports. Ooops. I guess my main issue is logistics. I never know the best time to book trains and the iPhone weather app has me in a constant state of confusion.
Fortunately if you’re a bit of a last-minute person, Southeastern have you covered. They’ve got a special Off-Peak Day Return ticket offer for the Summer months, which covers travel from London to 13 different destinations in Kent and East Sussex. It’s handy if you want to plan an impromptu trip the day before and a lot of the places have so much going on, that it doesn’t really matter what the weather’s doing.
I’ve been meaning to go to Whitstable ever since I first spotted the pink facade of Wheelers on Instagram, so it was perfect timing when Southeastern got in touch. I was tasked to find some hidden gems and ended up getting into the kind of random conversations that never happen in London. There’s a real sense of community. A photographer stopped and chatted to Supal and I about lenses and on another occasion, when I mentioned spotting a pretty figaro we were told ‘Ah yes, that’s my manager’s car!’
Since my Instagram Stories had such a great response, I thought I’d share a few recommendations from people who live there and places for foolproof snaps. The train is surprisingly quick from St Pancras International and exploring Whitstable on foot is a great way to get your step count up. We managed 14,189!
Beach Huts & Bright Houses
Like a lot of places in the South East (*cough* Margate I’m looking at you), Whitstable has grown in popularity over the past five years partly due to the improved rail connections. One thing that fascinated me was the layout, as it was built as a working harbour town rather than the seaside resorts I’m more familiar with. Whilst there are no piers, arcades or bandstands, walking along the beach can be nice and peaceful instead of hectic.
If you’re looking for a photogenic walking route, then I’d recommending starting off at Horsebridge Road and making your way down the coastal path. Follow it right down towards the Neptune pub and you’ll spot the first few colourful cottages on Marine Terrace, complete with manicured gardens and quaint names. Soon after you’ll spot Wavecrest and the grand Victorian townhouses that deserve their own Instagram account. One of them can even be yours if you have a cool million to spare and many are also available for holiday rentals if you’re curious to see inside.
We made it as far as the pastel beach huts before turning down Wilks Way, grabbing a coffee from Windy Corner Stores and heading back towards town along Island Wall. Look out for the quirky little alleys, which used to serve as convenient routes for smugglers illegally trading tobacco and spirits. Squeeze Gut Alley apparently gets narrower as you try to pass through it and was home to an art installation a few years ago. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Tankerton Beach, but you’ll be rewarded with even more beach hut colour combinations if you head along the seafront in the opposite direction.
An Independent High Street
Most of my shopping recommendations led me to Harbour Street, which keeps things simple if you’re only visiting for a day. Basically you can’t go wrong if you start off here. We popped into Sundae Sundae, which probably condenses everything you’d find on a pier in one place and Supal picked up a bargain basket bag for £2.50 in a charity shop.
The first thing you’ll notice are all the eclectic shopfronts and that there’s very few chains. Most people I spoke to were passionate about supporting local businesses and there’s a ‘Keep Whitstable Different’ campaign that aims to preserve the charm of the town. Since the businesses are independent, this does mean that some places are closed on odd days midweek, so check opening hours beforehand if there’s a particular place you want to see.
You need to visit Frank if you like beautifully curated gifts and discovering coffee table books that you never knew existed. Illustrator Mary Claire Smith set up the shop 12 years ago to showcase items that have a bit of a story behind them. It’s rather fitting that the shop used to be an old fisherman’s cottage and the quirky space lends itself well to the mix of stationery, homeware and jewellery. Nothing is mass produced and there’s a particular focus on Kent-based makers.
The colourful windows of The Whiting Post also drew me in, since they stock Danish homeware brand Rice, Sun Jellies basket bags and most of the Orla Kiely interiors collection. We ended up chatting to the manager Helen for ages, as she’s full of local knowledge and passion for her hometown (fun fact, her family have been living in the area since the 1500s). Definitely watch out for this multi-hyphenate, she’s also a stylist and in the process of setting up an Instagram-able beach hut. Her tip is to go anywhere that isn’t a chain, so Cafe + Kitchen for lunch and Birdie’s for French food.
Sort Your Seafood Cravings
Trust me to plan a visit for when Wheelers Oyster Bar isn’t open! Fortunately there are plenty of places to sort out any seafood cravings and The Lobster Shack seemed to be the best option for sea views. Whilst I can’t fault the meal, I always forget that you don’t get a lot of lobster for your money and it’s probably better value to stick to fish or scampi. Mary recommended The Forge as a backup if you’re after a quick shellfish fix, as well as Harbour Street Tapas, Samphire and Farm & Harper. If you hadn’t already guessed, oysters are a pretty big deal here. There’s a big festival in July, which includes an all-you-can-eat competition.
Where To Next?
I’m definitely guilty of thinking that London is the centre of the universe. Even though I only spent a few hours in Whitstable, it was so nice to keep running into the same friendly faces and experiencing the creative scene (we also spotted a few Biennale exhibits). The Southeastern offer has definitely motivated me to see more of the South East, I now have Deal, Folkestone and Broadstairs on the list and plenty of Instagram research. Anywhere with a high percentage of pastels is a must in my book.
Find out more about the special Southeastern Off-Peak Day Return offer and let me know any recommendations!