A few months back we took a trip out of London to Whitstable, a very old town that was mentioned in the 11th Century Doomsday Book. The name means 'meeting place by the white post' which Basil fully approves of!
Of course, despite there being a wonderful seafront we headed straight for the bric-a-brac and vintage fair - I never can resist!
After a very enjoyable browse through the vintage wares it was time to get down to the harbour for an oyster or two. Now I must confess, I had never eaten an oyster, but I decided that today was the day. For me and Basil it was their famous Pacific oysters - perfect with local beer instead of champagne. Whitstable is famous for it's oysters and in fact the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway Company built in the 1830's was nick named the Crab And Winkle Railway due to the plenitude of sea food to be had. There is a nine day oyster festival in July each year which starts with an opening parade on the nearest Saturday to St James' Day (25th July).
The quay is a great place to hang out, since I was last here, many new food sellers have sprung up and at the end of the South Quay is a collection of wooden studios populated by artisans and small businesses. Jon Hogbin has a studio at the Harbour Market and his work is fantastic, it is so evocative of the seaside.
To get down to the sea front the town is criss-crossed by numerous small alleys, once used by fishermen to reach the beach. Many of these are now registered as public rights of way; I have to say that going down Squeeze Gut Alley was a bit of a sideways experience (for me, not Basil). Island Wall, the closest street to the seafront, has numerous buildings dating from the mid-19th century including the Neptune and Wall Tavern pubs, and the Dollar Row cottages, which were built from the proceeds of a salvage operation on a ship carrying silver dollars.
Basil had great fun running around on the shingly beach, though initially perplexed by the waves. Further away you can sometimes see the now-redundant Shivering Sands and Red Sands offshore World War II sea forts which look like mini oil platforms.
In the 1960's, aside from a Pirate Radio Station, an eccentric Major called Paddy Roy Bates, declared that his fort was an independent country called 'Sealand'! By the time he died in 2012 the Major had created Sealand's own currency, passport, National Anthem and flag and declared that his son Michael should be the next King! Though Sealand is not recognised as a real country it didn't stop mountaineer Kenton Cool placing a Sealand flag at the summit of Mount Everest in 2013!
You can't go to the seaside and not buy an ice cream and good job we did, because the ice cream sellers tipped us off about the imminent arrival of The Waverley paddle steamer to Whitstable. The Waverley is the last seagoing passenger carrying paddle steamer in the world! Built in 1946, it used to sail between islands in North Scotland until 1973; it now sails to many different places around Britain and you can book via Waverley Excursions. Whilst the steamer was coming in to harbour, there was also a lifeboat being launched. It was quite dramatic.
What an amazing sight and the feeling in the crowd was that of wonder of a bygone age. Basil and I wandered back to the town feeling incredibly lucky to have been in the right place to have seen this magnificent boat. Whitstable town is full of lovely shops and cafes and you are spoilt for choice.
One final drink before heading back to London and then this salty dog fell fast asleep all the way!