WHITSTABLE The sea can be a force to be reckoned with in Whitstable. New sea defences now keep it snug and dry, but in the terrible storm of 1953, waves breached the sea wall and the tide surged miles inland. The oyster industry was severely disrupted then too, though it has been built up again so successfully that the harbour area now contains the largest oyster hatchery in Europe. There is an annual summer oyster festival, and the beginning of the oyster season is marked by the blessing of the sea.
The housing market has slowed recently, though it will continue to have appeal among commuters and second-home hunters. The town centre is full of little Victorian terraces of two-up-two-downs. These now sell for about £165,000. There are also some well-established smart new housing. In the Horsebridge development, a modern, four-bedroom detached house overlooking the sea would cost £250,000 upwards. On the seafront there are some 200-year-old smugglers’ and fishermen’s cottages with added cutesey value, but they very rarely come on to the market and buyers must move quickly to catch them. As a resort Whitstable is fairly restrained, though there are the usual seaside amusements and it is popular for yachting and watersports. The rows of weatherboarded fishermen’s cottages and old boat-sheds along the shingle beach (there is sand to the east and west) are the subject of a Turner sketch.
Tankerton, on the east side of Whitstable old town, is sedate, slightly more expensive and a popular retirement haven. There is a charming promenade, cliff walks and beach huts. Houses on the seafront sell for between £350,000 and £675,000, and overlook the Tankerton Slopes, a wide grassy verge that runs down to the beach. Extending from the beach is a long shingle spit known as The Street. This is where two tides meet, and at low water you can walk right out along it into the sea. Seasalter, to the west, is another retirement area with its own parade of shops and ration of bungalows. In Joy Lane you will find some of the most expensive houses in the area. This is where Somerset Maugham, whose uncle was vicar of Whitstable, learned to ride his bicycle. If you fancy one of the large detached houses he must have wobbled past, you’ll need to spend anything from £320,000 upwards. A three-bedroom ex-local authority house will cost around £135,000.