Back from the Kentish edgelands


When I told people we were going on holiday to Whitstable I could detect a note of sympathy in every “oh, isn’t it meant to be really lovely?” Perhaps that’s because almost all of them were jetting off to Greece, Turkey or America (point of interest: the more environmentally concerned the friend, the more ruthlessly carbon-emitting the holiday).

Anyway, Whitstable is lovely. Lovely both in its differentness (which it plays on) and its almost touchingly old-fashioned ways. You really do you have the feeling sometimes that time stood still in about 1968.

It is true that Whitstable has become a favourite weekend destination for London foodies (give me strength) and you’ll see some painfully ostentatious displays of oyster and Champagne guzzling going on around the harbour on sunny weekends. Sometimes you’ll hear the locals comment on this. I overheard one elderly woman explaining to another elderly woman who (I’m guessing) had come to visit for the day “Oh yes Dorothy, it’s become very popular with people from London”. It wasn’t said in a judgmental way, more a reassuring explanation to Dorothy of why some of the people looked and behaved like they did. The one word — London — seemed to explain everything.

Walk a little way along the beach and the foodies and their hampers quickly thin out. It’s mostly families huddled against the wooden groynes, armed with windbreaks and travel rugs. You’ll see a few brave souls bobbing around in the sea — Thames Estuary, technically. Human shrieks mingling with the squawking of the gulls on brisk northerlies.

I like the place best late in the evening. The shingle beach, tufted with marram grass and red valerian, is virtually empty. To the north you can make out the Essex coast, to the east the turbine blades of the Kentish Flats Wind Farm luminesce in the moonlight. This is the time when Whitstable starts to exert its otherness. As with that other Kentish edgeland, Dungeness, there is the sense here of being just out of reach of everywhere else. The straggling line of beach huts is like a tiny frontier town, but one that marks the end rather than the beginning.

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