Visit Faversham, Whitstable and Herne Bay for independent shopping and seaside pursuits in spades, says Emily Brooks

Visit Faversham, Whitstable and Herne Bay for independent shopping and seaside pursuits in spades, says Emily Brooks

In high summer, north Kent is a hot spot that regularly notches up some of the highest temperatures in the country. Perfect bucket-and-spade weather is just one reason for its enduring popularity with weekenders; traditional seaside fun, pretty villages, smart towns with great independent shops and delicious local food are a handful  of the others.

Despite being just over an hour from London, Faversham has neatly sidestepped stockbrocker-belt homogeny. For a small market town, it packs a punch architecturally, with nearly 500 listed buildings to its name, every bulging façade and crooked beam showing evidence of the town’s history. Abbey Street is considered one of the best-preserved medieval streets in the country, and a smattering of its houses were once associated with the now-destroyed 12th-century abbey.

As befits a town with such tangible history, antiques shopping is particularly good here. Atmospheric Squires (3 Jacob Yard, 01795 531503) is the largest and most genteel of the lot. Ann Squires presides over a well-ordered mixture of fine furniture, lighting, ceramics, paintings and kitchenalia. Nearby, Andrew Ross-Hunt runs Housepoints (18a Preston Street, 01795 530900), specialising in ‘good everyday furniture – chests of drawers, wardrobes, all the basics,’ restored and repainted to a high standard, as well as charming children’s Victorian sleigh beds.

Faversham Interiors (7 Court Street, 01795 591471), based in a 450-year-old building, entices visitors in with chandeliers, classical statuary, mirrors, glassware and furniture, both new and reproduction. There’s an even more unusual combination of new and old at Court Interiors (111 West Street, 01795 536383), which mixes ecclesiastical antiques – statues, vestments and even a church noticeboard complete with original notices  – with kilims, furniture from Afghanistan and garden paraphernalia. 

At the end of Abbey Street, Standard Quay is a working boatyard – you can see stately historic sailing barges being restored here – and also a small but chic shopping area. An early 18th-century granary building houses Mary-Jean’s Curiosities (Unit 3, Monk’s Granary, 07735 367117), an antiques and collectables shop with  a focus on mid-century trinkets such as glassware, toys and jewellery. Next door, Sally Lambert runs Jolie Rose (Unit 4, Monk’s Granary, 07594 995244), selling painted furniture as well as bags, aprons and cushions made from pretty vintage fabrics: ‘It is such a wonderful building to run a shop from as it has so much character,’ she smiles. 

For an instant understanding of what makes Whitstable tick, visitors’ first port of call should be its scenic harbour. This place manages to be quaint and traditional while maintaining its status as a working port, and it’s the hub of the fishing industry that made the town famous. Fast food, Whitstable-style, means spearing cockles from a polystyrene cup bought from one of the harbour-front fishmongers, or slurping down a native oyster, which have been admired since Roman times for their superior taste.

The town is a major foodie destination thanks to the availability of fresh produce from both sea and field, helped along by an influx of émigrés from London who have made Whitstable the chic destination it is today. Gentrification has not meant any loss of charm: Whitstable’s streets of weatherboarded houses, linked by narrow alleyways that once served as a convenient escape route for smugglers, remain unchanged. Further along the shingled coastline, Tankerton Slopes’ popular (and now pricey) beach huts are still the place for a day at the seaside.

Shops and restaurants here fiercely guard their independence and, happily, the usual high street names are vastly outnumbered by locally-owned enterprises. Many artists and artisans are based here and several shops and galleries (such as Caxton Contemporary, 37 High Street, 01227 272444) sell their work; the town is also a hub for design and interiors shops.

Frank (65 Harbour Street, 01227 262500) is run by illustrator Mary Claire Smith and photographer Rob Weiss. The pair have brought top-notch British design to Whitstable, including jewellery, cards, books and ceramics, all with a quirky, illustrative touch. Sundae Sundae (62 Harbour Street, 07778 379945) offers the unusual combination of being both an enticing ice cream shop and a vintage interiors stop-off – head out the back for a nostalgic hit of 1950s kitchen cabinets (perfect for the beach hut), toys and games, old enamel buckets and ‘anything beachy’, as owner Steve Graham describes it.

At Polly Pleasence (61 Harbour Street, 01227This page, clockwise from top left Whitstable is equal parts working port and tourist resort; ceramicist Polly Pleasence behind the till in her eponymous Whitstable shop; wooden fish hanging in the courtyard of Sundae Sundae; Frank is a contemporary arts and  crafts Mecca261631), Polly herself sells a mixture of her own creamy ceramics, made and fired at the back of her shop; delicious artisan perfumes from the continent; clothing and home accessories.

Heading away from the harbour, the high street turns into Oxford Street, home of Warehams (68 Oxford Street, 01227 278626) – the handsome shop-front is hard to miss, since it’s guarded by an enormous statue of a wild boar. Here, owner Wareham Pasco has assembled a great mix of stripped and painted French and gustavian furniture such as armoires, benches and beautiful antique garden ornaments. 

While Whitstable was – and still is – a working harbour, neighbouring Herne Bay’s fortunes took a quite different turn. It became consumed by tourism as far back as the 1830s, when visitors began to throng here from the capital by both train and steamboat.
Today, the town has the distinctive air of faded grandeur that characterises so many British seaside resorts. But it has not fallen as hard as some and, with its imposing stuccoed terraces, restored Edwardian bandstand and colourful beach huts, it presents a nice change if you find Whitstable a little too upwardly mobile.
The Herne Bay Museum and Gallery (12 William Street, 01227 367368) documents the long history of the town and its surrounds, displaying archaeological finds including fossils and Roman artefacts from the second-century fort at nearby Reculver, as well as chronicling its boom years as a bucket-and-spade resort.

For a shopping fix, W Briggs’s (75 High Street, 01227 370621) is one of the largest antiques emporia in the area. Located in an old picture house, it contains case after case of collectables including glass, ceramics and jewellery; at the rear there’s furniture from the Victorian era onwards, stacked up high.

Eat and stay
* Wheelers Oyster Bar (8 High Street, Whitstable, 01227 273311) makes up for  a lack of space with its atmosphere and innovative seafood. Booking is essential for both the tiny parlour at the back and the counter-space at the front of the shop.

 * A converted sail loft, The Captain’s House bed and breakfast (56 Harbour Street, Whitstable, 01227 275156) is rented by the night but feels  more like your very own seaside bolt-hole.

 * The White Horse Inn (The Street, Boughton, 01227 751343) is an ancient coaching inn and one of the jewels  in Faversham-based brewer Shepherd Neame’s crown: it even gets a mention in The Canterbury Tales. 

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