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When you live in a seaside holiday location it’s all too easy to take the views, facilities and ambiance of your own town for granted. I guess it's a minor case of familiarity breeding contempt.

Take my home town of Whitstable for instance; it’s a small, pretty seaside town with a working fishing harbour and a population of 30,000 that nestles into a small, pebbly cove on the Northeast coast of Kent.

Barely five miles north of the historic cathedral city of Canterbury, 20-odd miles from the ports of Dover and Folkestone and a 60-mile commute to London, it is the place I call home.

Our compact former railway workers’ cottage lies just 300 yards from the beach, yet I’ll admit, I’d become a little blasé about the place until a recent readers’ poll in The Times newspaper voted our little town into the top 20 places to live in the United Kingdom.

It stunned me that people all over Britain aspired to live here! So why is it that Londoners buy weekender homes here and holidaymakers flock here, snubbing seemingly more exotic destinations all over the world, to take in the sights of Whitstable?

Allow me, a relative newcomer to the town, to tell you.

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In the early 1800s Joseph Mallord William Turner used to take working vacations in Whitstable and further along this coastline in Margate and Ramsgate, and Turner, I’ll have you know wasn’t too bad a judge when it came to a pretty view.


A British romantic landscape painter and water-colourist, he came here to sketch and paint the sea views and russet-red sunsets that ultimately became a trademark of Turner’s works


Nowadays, holidaymakers take in the sunsets sitting at one of the numerous bars and restaurants that cram the narrow, bustling streets of our historic town.


I like to think that Turner visited in 1832, the year the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Company opened the Crab and Winkle Line – the world’s first narrow-gauge steam-driven passenger railway that linked the harbour with the nearby city of Canterbury.


The line eventually closed in 1952, but the harbour, famed for its Whitstable Native Oysters farmed just off the coast, has flourished ever since. You can buy fresh fish here, sample the oysters, whelks, cockles and muscles, or dine at the Crab and Winkle seafood restaurant that overlooks the harbour itself – the fish could not be any fresher.


The Harbour’s Royal Navy Lifeboat Institute centre that houses the town’s own rescue boat, The Town and Gown, welcomes visitors or you cancharter a trip under sail aboard The Greta, an original Thames sailing barge dating back to 1892, that takes in the Red Sands off-shore WWII sea defence forts and the Kentish Flats wind farm, erected in 2005 to help provide electricity to 61,000 local homes.


A bijou shopping area called the Harbour Village has also sprung up in recent years allowing local artists, jewellers and farmers to sell their wares to locals and tourists alike.


The harbour lies between Harbour Street and Whitstable Castle, originally built in the 1790s as home to the wealthy Pearson Family and now a favourite location for local weddings or a simple picnic on the lawns.


Though it measures up at less than half-a-mile, Harbour Street boasts numerous quaint boutiques and family-run stores, two public houses and no less than 10 independently-operated eateries offering Indian cuisine, Spanish tapas as well as locally sourced foods, wines and cheeses. Within a matter of yards you will also discover multi-national Italian restaurants; Zizzi, Prezzo and Pizza Express.


The longest queues of all, however, will be outside V. C. Jones, Harbour Street’s sole purveyor of traditional fish and chips for these past 50 years.


Only 200 yards away at 8, High Street is the town’s oldest and most famous restaurant, the world renowned Wheelers Oyster Bar. With its eye-catching pink and blue exterior, this tiny fish parlour has won numerous awards for its rustic seafood, yet little has changed within since it opened in 1856. It’s a must for visitors, but you will have to book in advance.


Several of Whitstable’s restaurants and delicatessens offer a hamper service, so, if the weather is good, bring a rug and your favourite bottle of wine and eat your fish right on the beach. With luck, you will share one of the sunsets made famous by Turner and end a day in Whitstable in the best possible way.


Sporting delights

You have shopped until your credit cards hurt, eaten ‘til you’re fit to burst, then maybe rested up for the night in one of Whitstable’s converted fisherman’s huts, which you can rent as a compact holiday base from £75 a night. But what next, what else does Whitstable have to offer?


If you fancy trying your hand at golf, then Whitstable & Seasalter Golf Club, a compact nine-hole ‘links style’ course, welcomes visiting players of all standards. Lower handicap players should head to nearby Chestfield Golf Club for a much sterner test.


If your sea legs are sound, Whitstable Yacht Club offers sailing and windsurfing courses for visitors, or you can hire sea canoes and kayaks for a daily rate.


If our sea is too cold for your liking, you can swim in the town’s indoor heated pool situated just yards from the beach, or spend an afternoon learning to bowl at three different venues; Whitstable Indoor Bowls Club next to the Harbour, Whitstable Bowls Club, whose lovingly tendered outdoor green lies in the shadow of the Castle, or have fun knocking over the skittles at the town’s ten pin ally, 1st Bowl, which is adjacent to the swimming pool.


Now I come to think of it, with all this going on within walking distance of my home, is it any wonder I love living in Whitstable.


June 17, 2023


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