I've been looking through this collection of photographs and remembering our brief visit to Whitstable, wondering why it already feels like a distant memory when it was only one week ago? Maybe it was because our visit there was so short (only half a day), that the essence of the place didn't have chance to seep in and take hold.
I've wanted to visit Whitstable for a good many years, inspired in part by the knowledge of Frank and images of this incredible property. Sigh. Did you sigh over those images too? I think maybe they were responsible for the crushing disappointment I felt when we first arrived in Whitstable. We hopped off the bus and despite the rain, made our way straight to the harbour. I felt sure it would be amazingly picturesque, a gorgeous fishing harbour bustling with brightly coloured boats and some wonderful little seafood cafes, shops and dinky little fisherman's cottages. My friends, it was so not that. It just wasn't. It was bleak and industrial and a tad depressing. I stood there in the rain and said "is this it? Surely not????"
But yes, this is indeed Whitstable. Lovely little painted beach huts and a bloomin great big tarmac plant. I just couldn't believe how far it was from the image in my imagination. Where were the cafes and the cute little fishermen's cottages?
Granted, the weather didn't help, it was pretty bleak I have to say. Cold, windy and wet. When we were really starting to get soaked, we took refuge in a wooden bus stop shelter where we just sat and wondered what on earth we were doing. The Little People were very unhappy, and even some emergency jam sandwiches and chocolate didn't cheer them up much. So it was decided that we should leave the miserable beach and harbour behind and head into town to find a cafe.
This is the very bottom end of Harbour Street, and is one of the nicest shopping streets I have ever visited. It just ooozed charm and promised to deliver plenty of happy visual surprises. But first.....we all very much needed a hot drink and some shelter from the cold.
When we arrived on the bus, we had spotted the back of Elliotts Coffee Shop, and we all said what a cute little place it looked to be. In reality, it was bigger than it looked, the front entrance on Harbour Street being a very handsome double fronted affair.
Inside it was gorgeous. Lots of natural wood and light, the delicious aroma of fresh coffee. Scrubbed wooden tables, painted chairs, newspapers, quiet chatter. And a fabulous view of Frank (which sadly I didn't get chance to go in after all that wishing)
And of course Wheelers Oyster Bar which was another place I had heard about, another Whitstable image that I had retained in my memory banks.
The shops were beautiful. Individual, quirky and beautiful. I loved the mix of them, the clothes shops and the gift shops, the children's shops and the big boys shops. High street shops mixed with lovely little one-offs, galleries, cafes, bakeries and butchers.
After we'd had our fill of the shops, we branched off down a little side street to take another look at the sea. Little B spotted this shell and pebble mosaic and spent ages running his little fingers all over the shells.
I spotted this star fish a little bit further along, I do really appreciate little details like this when I visit a place. I began to like Whitstable more and more. The more I saw, the more I softened a little towards it.
As you can see, the weather was still pretty pants. There was a persistent light drizzly rain and the light was very dull indeed. But we made the best of it, pulled up hoods and strode out along the blustery beach.
The beach I found frustrating as it was very hard to walk along due to being segmented at regular intervals by wooden breakwaters. So you had to keep walking up and down as well as along, sort of a zigzaggy thing, and there was never a great view of the beach.
I kept trying to imagine what the beach would feel like in warm, bright, sunshiny weather. Would it be busy? Would it be full of families picnicking, sunbathing and swimming? It had such a deserted feel to it that it was impossible to imagine it any other way.
I quite enjoy out-of-season seaside visits though (remember our trip to Whitby in February, when it snowed?!), and once we got into the beach thing it felt really good. Pootling along, discovering how different the pebbles are to the ones we have in Dorset, searching for treasure.
We found the best type of shell-treasure :: Oyster shells. It's the first time I've ever been on an oyster shell beach and I was thrilled with my finds. They are big (as big as my palm) and beautifully tactile. Love love love them.
As you would expect from a colour junkie like me, I am constantly in tune with colour in the world around me. It really is constant. Everywhere I walk, I instinctively search it out, it's like I can't help myself, can't switch off from seeing things in terms of colour, not ever. I've been like this for as long as I can remember, right back into my childhood I've always felt very affected by colours. Red against blue is one of my favourite combos, it makes my heart flip to see it.
After the beach, we began to wander slowly back along the little streets, marvelling at the cute fisherman's cottages (yes, we found some!), the old sail lofts and the amazingly narrow little alleyways running to and fro between the buildings.
So. We ended up liking Whitstable after an unpromising start. More than anything, it provided me with a much needed sea-fix and gave us some really sound family time together. Because we did a lot of walking that day, there was also a lot of conversation, and it made me realise that aside from mealtimes, it's not that often that we all five of us get to chat together as a family. It felt good.
The bus ride back to Canterbury was also unexpectedly good. We chose to travel the long way back via Herne Bay, sitting on the top deck of the bus and taking in the panoramic views. One Little Boy was very weary after our seaside adventure and nodded his sleepy head against my shoulder as we bumped along the roads. He was thrilled with the £1 windmill I bought him in a little toy shop. Such innocent, simple enjoyment from something that spins in the wind.