A ‘rival’ seaside town

Oysters, sweet and juicy

In the latest of our series of articles describing how one couple finds their new life in Rye, they look beyond the town and Camber Sands to places further afield for the sake of comparison with their (still relatively) new home.

This thought may turn into something of a mini-series. In the meantime, we’re taking the train to the Kent coast.

To Whitstable.

It may have a castle and a substantial hill-top church, but with its modest population, encircled by three rivers, surrounded by farms and marshland, Rye often feels more of a large village, rather than a “proper” town.

The shingle beach cannot compare with Camber Sands

Whitstable, which we visited for a couple of days at the end of April, has greater scale. According to Wikipedia, it has a population of over 30,000, and is therefore several times the size of Rye. As we have our transport links to London, so does Whitstable, which means that a fair proportion of the population works in the capital or other towns in Kent, particularly Canterbury.

Staying in a bijou Airbnb apartment in the heart of the old town, we could fondly imagine spending our leisure hours in Whitstable (while working at home or elsewhere). So what’s a leisurely day in Whitstable like?

Sand or shingle?

After size, the next big difference between Rye and Whitstable for us is their proximity to the sea. Rye is very near the seaside; Whitstable is right on it. In fact, the town, the harbour and the beach are a few minutes walk from each other.

However, as we keep being told, few places can compete with Camber for a large, sandy, dune-backed beach. Whitstable is shingle, so there you go.

The Beach Cafe for a ‘full English’

After a wander round the harbour with its little shack-like tourist shops, and a stroll along the beach, it must be time for breakfast. You won’t lack choice but I’ll take the full English at The Beach Cafe, thank you.

Fully fortified, it’s time for us to explore the old town. There isn’t that much. There are some gardens to see at the top of the hill which are billed as a top attraction; but compared to Great Dixter or Sissinghurst, they’re quite disappointing; and the old mansion is closed to the public.

And that seems to be it. It’s a reminder that we should never take Rye’s intimate townscape of medieval buildings and cobbled streets for granted!

Anyone for oysters?

As we’re on the coast, it has to be seafood for lunch. Rye may have become a little bit famous for its scallops and the festival that promotes the local catch; Whitstable has been synonymous with its native oysters for centuries.

So I just had to try them. They definitely did not disappoint; in fact they could possibly be the sweetest, juiciest oysters I’ve ever eaten, at least in England. (The Whitstable oyster festival is held in July, I believe.)

The Old Neptune for music
Kentish gin at the Continental

Despite its modest size, in Rye we are almost spoilt for drinking establishments – gastro pubs, a couple of wine bars, and now, the Waterworks micropub.

Would Whitstable offer a similar selection? From the experience of our brief trip, the answer is a tentative yes. There’s the party pub (The Quayside), the music venue (The Old Neptune on the beach), the wine and cocktail bar (David Brown), and, not least, The Continental Hotel, where we had our first taste of Chapel Down gin.

As in Rye, the hostelries and restaurants put a great emphasis on using local produce, and the service was similarly friendly but faster.

Certainly, for a long weekend, Whitstable has a lot going for it. I haven’t even mentioned the quirky independent shops, the theatre, the comedy venue. But, Rye, we found you first, fell in love, and for now, we’ll be sticking with you.

Photos: Simon Kershaw


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