What a bloom­ing chic! Whit­stable’s boat comes in as the train takes off

The Ken­tish port is rid­ing the crest of a wave, dis­cov­ers Adam Ed­wards

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - PORT SALUTE -

There are two types of beach in Bri­tain — the sandy, bucket-and spade shore and the salty, windswept shin­gle. Pad­stow has the for­mer, Whit­stable owns the lat­ter. This is doubt­less why the Cor­nish fish­ing vil­lage has be­come the play­ground of the rich and the Ken­tish port has not.

Whit­stable’s stony wa­ter­front, sand­wiched be­tween the pro­trud­ing Old Nep­tune pub and a small work­ing har­bour, is not for the Range Rover set or for the chara­banc crowd, for that mat­ter. There is no fancy prom­e­nade or pier for the day trip­per. There is no seashore shop flog­ging Rick Stein olive oil or seafront amuse­ment ar­cade.

The coastal port once known as the “Pearl of Kent’’ is cock­ney-tough with no quar­ter given to the grey sea to its north or the Gar­den of Eng­land to the south. It is a town by the sea rather than a sea­side town that sits squarely be­tween the bright lights of Mar­gate and the light in­dus­trial Med­way towns.

And yet now, im­prob­a­bly, it is emerg­ing as the South­East coast’s an­swer to the South-West’s Pad­stow. It is, like the na­tive oys­ter with which it likes to as­so­ci­ate it­self, mov­ing from whelk stand to well-to-do wa­ter­ing hole.

‘‘It is the jewel in the crown of the north Kent coast,’’ says Andy Smith, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of 1st Prop­erty In­vest­ment, which is cur­rently in­vest­ing heav­ily in the area. ‘‘The town is buck­ing the mar­ket trend. It is go­ing through an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­gen­er­a­tion.’’

Bri­tain’s oys­ter cap­i­tal, where Easten­ders once tucked into cock­les and mus­cles and drank the al­co­holic juice from the hops that they picked, is scut­tling to­wards gen­tri­fi­ca­tion faster than a crab to a rock pool.

It is Pad­stow with at­ti­tude, with more in com­mon with the fash­ion­able West Coun­try re­sort than it might care to ad­mit. Both, for ex­am­ple, are small ports dom­i­nated by the busi­ness of fish (oys­ters and Rick Stein, re­spec­tively); both have re­cently had their for­mer dis­used rail­way lines turned in cy­cle trails (the Crab and Win­kle Line from Can­ter­bury and the Camel trail from Wade­bridge) and both have been tar­geted by the metropoli­tan well­heeled. For just as Pad­stow has be­come a hol­i­day home for Hooray Hen­ries that has earned it the nick­name ‘‘Chelsea-on-Sea’’, so Whit­stable is meta­mor­phos­ing into ‘‘The Is­ling­ton Strand’’.

‘‘The price of prop­erty has risen dra­mat­i­cally, even by com­par­i­son with the rest of the mar­ket,’’ says lo­cal es­tate agent Christo­pher Hodg­son. ‘‘Whit­stable has al­ways ap­pealed to Lon­don­ers, but re­cently its profile has stepped up.’’

What has turned the town into a lo­ca­tion wor­thy of a metropoli­tan mon­icker is next year’s prom­ise of a new train ser­vice from Lon­don’s St Pan­cras sta­tion to east Kent. Test­ing started this spring for the new Ja­panese ‘‘bul­let trains’’ that are to travel on the line and will make the port less than an hour’s com­mute from the cap­i­tal.

‘‘Whit­stable is the fash­ion­able cor­ner of a coast­line that is go­ing to be­come Lon­don’s smart new com­muter belt,’’ says Smith. ‘‘The new high-speed trains will rein­vent the area and prop­erty prices are re­flect­ing that. Next year it will be eas­ier and faster to get to Lon­don from Whit­stable than from Wind­sor.’’

And yet the small port with a pop­u­la­tion of only 30,000 ap­pears at first glance to be stuck in a dif­fer­ent era from the rest of the coun­try. It likes to boast of its old-fash­ioned high street with a baker, butcher and green­gro­cer and also, most un­usu­ally, a bi­cy­cle re­pairer and an in­de­pen­dent record shop. It claims a hard­ware store and a tra­di­tional shoe shop with few of the usual stores — no WHSmith or

Marks&Spencer. And it takes pride in a host of an­cient fish restau­rants and oys­ter bars and sev­eral nau­ti­cally named, not-very-gas­tro-pubs (un­less you count a ham and cheese toastie as a gourmet del­i­cacy).

But be­neath this 20th-cen­tury quaint­ness are the stir­rings of a 21stcen­tury metropoli­tan in­va­sion. Nowa­days the town also pos­sesses a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant, a new, ar­chi­tec­turally ad­mired arts cen­tre and 10 art gal­leries. It is fre­quently com­man­deered as a movie lo­ca­tion ( Tip­ping the Vel­vet and Venus star­ring Peter O’Toole were both shot there) and con­tains a smat­ter­ing of celebrity res­i­dents (Janet Street-Porter and Harry Hill among them).

Whit­stable has also boosted its im­age with the in­tro­duc­tion 15 years ago of an Oys­ter Fes­ti­val. The nine­day cel­e­bra­tion, which is in­evitably at­tended by pearly kings and queens and a swarm of Mor­ris Dancers, is held in July — de­spite the fact that one should not eat a na­tive oys­ter in a month with­out an “r” in its name. And the jol­lity makes up for the per­haps in­evitable de­cline in Whit­stable’s oys­ter in­dus­try (and shell­fish in gen­eral). Nev­er­the­less, the fes­ti­val has put the town squarely on the gourmet tourist’s map.

Mean­while plans to re­gen­er­ate the old quay­side with a su­per­mar­ket, theme pub and a four-storey glass and steel ho­tel have been thrown out af­ter more than half the pop­u­la­tion of the town signed a pe­ti­tion con­demn­ing the pro­pos­als.

‘‘The essence of Whit­stable is that it is a non-con­form­ist place,’’ says in­de­pen­dent coun­cil­lor Ge­off Bush. ‘‘Let’s demon­strate that by hav­ing more imag­i­na­tive build­ings.’’

Com­pa­nies want­ing to de­velop Whit­stable’s quay­side have now been is­sued with new de­sign guide­lines to en­sure any new build­ings sit com­fort­ably in the his­toric set­ting.

‘‘If there is so much as a piece of chew­ing gum on the pave­ment, a pe­ti­tion will be got up about it,’’ says John Nur­den, ed­i­tor of the Whit­stable Times.

‘There is a strong civic pride in the town. There are two sep­a­rate com­mu­ni­ties here. There are the peo­ple who are born here, known as “na­tives” af­ter the na­tive Whit­stable oys­ter, and the “DFLs” — down from Lon­don — who are a cos­mopoli­tan hotch­potch. And both are in­tensely loyal to the town that is, thank heav­ens, not yet a com­muter dor­mi­tory.’’

This feel­ing of pride in a place that only 20 years ago was less fash­ion­able than a prawn cock­tail was high­lighted by a re­port last year by English Her­itage called The Re­gen­er­a­tion in His­toric Coastal Towns. It claimed that Whit­stable, which was in steep de­cline in the early 1990s with 10 per cent un­em­ploy­ment, has seen an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­vival.

‘‘More than 350 build­ings have been re­stored,’’ said the re­port. ‘‘A new gen­er­a­tion of vis­i­tors are now in­ter­ested as much in the gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence as the tra­di­tional sea­side hol­i­day. The town of­fers arts and cul­ture, re­tail, ac­tiv­i­ties and high-qual­ity food and ac­com­mo­da­tion, all in an at­trac­tive, his­toric set­ting.’’

Ear­lier this year, it was an­nounced that a cam­paign to save the shore­line at Seasalter beach, to the im­me­di­ate west of the town, had been suc­cess­ful. The land and is now a wildlife sanc­tu­ary.

That beach may be shin­gle rather than sand and the town may con­sume more jel­lied eels than it does fruits de mer but at least it no longer need feel that it is a poor re­la­tion to Pad­stow. It just needs a celebrity chef with his own olive oil to con­firm that fact.

Sea change: there­gen­er­a­tion of Whit­stable is gath­er­ing pace

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.