England is at its eccentric best on May Day, all the quirky ancient traditions such as ‘Pat-a-Lamb’ and the Cuckoo Fairs, Heritage Re-enactments and Morris Dance Parades emerge in colourful, frolicsome joy to prance gleefully about and remind us of our connection to the land, the woods, the trees, the fields. So it was perhaps no surprise that on a fleeting visit to @escapetocreate ‘s pad in Whitstable on May Day this year that we should succumb to her inherent creative promoter’s charm and take a walk along Whitstable Beach to the busy, bustling harbour. There we stumbled upon a procession of Morris Dancers parading along to Dead Mans Corner and delighting young and old with their sunny ‘merry olde England’ goodwill amidst the jingle of bells and the fiddling of fiddles. A large ivy clad tree ambled alongside fair maidens and a big brown bear dispensed hugs and photo opportunities.
Arriving by the decking stage at Dead Mans Corner I examined some of the beautiful clay pebbles made as part of a community project and housed in a barrier of Gabion cages – ‘Here Now’ read one. I certainly am, I thought.
Whitstable retains its old coastal town charm and character, clap-board cottages and the curvy Horsebridge Arts Centre mingle comfortably with Oyster bars, the Sailing Club, Cafe’s and the working fishing fleets to-ing and fro-ing in the Harbour. The Coffee stall exudes a siren song to passers-by, the heady mix of coffee and salty air, exhorting you to stop and buy ‘coffee with your ice-cream Sir? Madam?’. Queues for the Crab and Winkle meandered down the South Quay and the West Whelks Oyster stall was doing a roaring trade by the old smoke huts. Whitstable Harbour, remains relatively unscathed by the surge of concrete monstrosities that sprung up in all the wrong places throughout the sixties and seventies, which is another good reason to go there. We carried on up to the Castle where everyone was in party mode and then back along the beach and through the town, past all those little lanes and nooks and crannys that make the seafront so endearing. It was a wrench to go home!
We were treated to a mini tour by Catriona, creative tourism specialist2 starting from the edge of Seasalter along the coastal footpath, past the golf course, over the railway bridge and along the beach where we came upon the ‘Cultural Baton’7 a small shiny airstream caravan, parked on the beach where we were invited to make a boat and given a beautifully made map of Kent showing the journey made by the artists around Kent. Then we walked past Peter Cushings House (according to the blue plaque) and past various stalls selling seafood delights and freshly ground coffee toward the harbour and the ‘Crab and Winkle’4 which I had to be winkled out of, after enjoying a plate of oysters and one of my favourite dishes; savoy cabbage and bacon with crème fraiche. I didn’t think the day could improve after such a satisfying lunch but we finally tore ourselves away with the youngest clutching a large crab claw by way of a souvenir (and yes, it will be some time before we forget our visit as the car will carry the smell of that crab claw for weeks to come!).
Catriona then took us along the Island Wall street, so we could ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at some of the architectural treasures along its way, such as the Horsebridge Arts Centre5 and the lovely Kentish Clapboarded cottages, we were all delighted to make it safely through ‘Squeeze Gut Alley’ and then to come across ‘Starboard Light Alley’ where the hulk of an old oyster yawl ‘The Favourite’ built in 1890 and retired in 1944 has come to rest, finally coming upon Windy Corner Stores6 in Nelson Road before returning to our journeys start, for chocolate cake and tea surrounded by Kentish Apple trees. If only every Sunday could be like this! As it was, we know we have to come back, we’ve yet to see the Castle, the museum and to fully explore Marine Parade, Tankerton and then there’s Faversham creek along the coast…. But huge thanks to Catriona for sharing her insider knowledge and exciting both our palate and our imaginations with a brief walking tour of Whitstable.