3 June 2021

A Long Weekend in Canterbury and the Kent Coast

Almost six months after my last mini-break, in Bath, I was craving R and R, and the call of the sea was particularly strong. This latter urge was not unique to me and a quick search for lodgings in a host of English seaside towns for the bank holiday weekend yielded very few options. But I was determined to get out of London for a few days, especially given the promising weather forecast, and I managed to book one of the last hotel rooms left in Canterbury, just seven miles from the Kent coast. With Canterbury as my base, I was able to explore the cathedral city and visit three seaside towns. Not bad going for a long weekend.


CANTERBURY

Accommodation

I stayed at ABode Canterbury, a boutique hotel in the heart of the historic city centre, a few minutes' walk from all of the main attractions, both train stations and the bus station. The staff were welcoming and my "Desirable" room was comfortable and well-appointed; I even had a cathedral view when standing on tiptoe. My only quibble was that my room faced onto a bar/club a few doors down where some lively and lengthy Bank Holiday festivities were taking place. The soundproofing kept out most of the noise, but it's worth asking for a quiet room if you're a light sleeper (this probably applies at other city centre hotels too, especially at the weekend).


Food and drink

The Goods Shed. It wasn't just the hotels that were booked up last weekend. Several restaurants on my list were fully booked too, so I was glad to get a table at the Goods Shed. Part farmers' market, part food hall and part restaurant, located in the former goods shed next to Canterbury West station, the Goods Shed is a great spot for a quick bite for breakfast, a cocktail, or for a simple but elegantly presented dinner made with seasonal fare. In fact, I did both: I stopped for a pistachio and chocolate bun from Wild Goose and Coldblow coffee at Gill's one morning. I also had a delicious supper with asparagus, chopped egg and tarragon, followed by Kentish ranger chicken with roasted cauli, chermoula and fried pomme Anna. Oh, and the olive oil bread with wild garlic butter, which I promised myself I wouldn't finish...and yet. The service was excellent too.


The Foundry Brew Pub. I came across this brewery, distillery and bar near the side entrance of my hotel on Stour Street. It was completely full inside, but they made space for me at one of the tables out front, which made for excellent people-watching. I was keen to try one of The Foundry's own gins, but couldn't decide which one, opting the end for a flight with the classic Canterbury gin, the Japanese jin, and the blackcurrant and honey gin. The classic was my favourite, but that may be partly due to my uneven tonic dispensing!

Other eateries that seemed interesting included The Fordwich Arms, in nearby Fordwich, Ambrette and Korean Cowgirl. The friendly folks at The Foundry recommended Cafe des Amis, a Mexican restaurant on Westgate Grove, and it's on my list for next time.

Speciality coffee. Fear not; there's a separate blog post all about that, though, a visit to Lost Sheep's Canterbury pod is a must, and I was also impressed with Fond Coffee, another serendipitous discovery around the back of my hotel.


Things to do

Canterbury Cathedral. First founded in 597 AD — and *slightly* renovated since then, Canterbury's cathedral is one of England's most visited tourist attractions. Its popularity means that advanced booking is strongly advised, especially during peak times. Entrance is £14 and you can book a timed entry slot online. The site says booking is obligatory, but there seemed to be some capacity for walk-ins when I arrived, although you might have to wait a while. The architecture is stunning, inside and out, with a COVID-compliant one-way system in place, which also takes you out through the lovely gardens. Allow an hour or so for the visit.


Taking to the River Stour. The River Stour weaves its way through central Canterbury and after a very wet spring, the towpath was verdant, as well as peaceful. During my short visit, I only had time to walk and to go for a morning run. I started by the Chaucer statue on the High Street, and followed the river northeast (you have to get off and back on the towpath in places, and sometimes need to cross over one of the bridges). You can also book a punting trip or a historic tour by boat.

The Canterbury Roman Museum is another option for a rainy day. The Canterbury Tales attraction closed permanently during the pandemic.

Shopping. Some of the independent shops that caught my eye included: Karma (vintage clothes), Walrus and Oyster (quirky gifts, accessories and homewares), The Chaucer Bookshop (antiquarian and second-hand books), and especially the wonderfully named rare bookshop, The Plantagenet King (opens later this month).


WHITSTABLE & HERNE BAY

Whitstable is seven miles from Canterbury, a short ride on the frequent Triangle Bus. As I wasn't able to book accommodation, a day trip was the next best thing. Whitstable has a lot more to offer than just its beach, of course: it's an arty town, with plenty of independent shops and eateries to explore.


Food and drink

The Lobster Shack. As I couldn't travel to Maine, lobster and chips on a pier overlooking Whitstable Bay was a good substitute. It was a reasonably sunny Sunday and The Lobster Shack, on Whistable Harbour, don't take bookings, so I arrived just before noon, securing a table on the pier. The oysters were wonderfully fresh, and the grilled lobster with garlic and herbs was all that I'd hoped for. The view was great and fish and chips always tastes better right next to the sea. By the time I left, around 12:45, the queue had reached a long way back along the harbour, so do go early if you're hungry.

Samphire. This neighbourhood bistro on the High Street was already on my list, and when I walked past, it looked great, as did the menu.

Speciality coffee. As with Canterbury, I've written a separate speciality coffee post, but a particular highlight was Blueprint, a fab, family-run speciality coffee shop and bookshop.



Things to do

Boat trip. I had hoped to go on a seal-spotting boat trip from the harbour, but I'd (literally) missed the boat for the tide-dependent trip. Instead, I took a 30-minute 'around the bay' trip on a vintage lifeboat. By coincidence, the vintage lifeboat in question spent over three decades in Barmouth, where I have enjoyed many family holidays. There were some good views of the bay, and I learned a lot about the boat and the Barmouth connection.

Whitstable Castle. Also known as Tankertown Towers, Whitstable Castle sits on a hill overlooking the bay, a short walk east of the harbour. There was a craft and farmers' market while I was there, and there's a great view from the top down over the vibrant-hued beach huts.

Shopping. As well as Blueprint, Whitstable has a great independent bookshop in the form of Harbour Books. There are many other lovely shops and galleries too, including: Frank (homewares), Scandinavian Touch (homewares), Ruskin (fashion) and Duma (bespoke lighting and neon).

Side trip to Herne Bay. I took the Triangle Bus on to Herne Bay, but unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse, so I just went for a stroll along the seafront, taking in the pier and impressive collection of colourful beach huts. If you've got more time, or your own transport, you could visit the Roman fort at Reculver.


RAMSGATE

Although I enjoyed my day on the coast in Whitstable and Herne Bay, I still harboured the hope of some proper beach time. The weather was nicer on Monday so I decided to spend a few hours in Ramsgate. It's normally a 20-minute train ride from Canterbury, or a 45-minute rail-replacement-bus journey if you're there on a bank holiday weekend. From the station, it's a 20-minute stroll downhill to the town centre and the harbour.


Food and drink

Archive. I had brunch at Archive, a cafe and homeware store right next to the marina. I sat outside at a table in the sun, enjoying avocado toast with bacon and my cortado. The staff were incredibly lovely, and there was a great collection of gifts and accessories in the shop inside.

Three other eateries on my list were: Ravensgate Arms by the Sea (pizza and drinks next to the model boating lake and overlooking the sea from the Westcliffe Promenade), Little Ships (the huge queue said it all!) and Albion House. If you're into superlatives, the Royal Victoria Pavilion, next to Main Sands, is the largest Wetherspoon in the known Universe (or some such). I thought I'd identified a speciality coffee shop, but it was in Ramsgate, New South Wales. Alas.


Things to do

I spent most of my time in Ramsgate sitting on the sandy beach, Main Sands, dipping my feet in the sea and climbing the steps to the clifftop promenade, walking from the King George VI Memorial Park in the east to the park by the Ramsgate Boating Pool in the west. 



There are great views and interesting architecture along the way. I spotted the entrance Ramsgate Tunnels, an underground tour through a network of civilian war tunnels, carved into the cliff, but it was such a nice day, I wanted to be outside as much as possible.


GETTING THERE AND AROUND

Canterbury, Ramsgate and Whitstable all have good and regular train connections to London St Pancras and Victoria, although anyone who's ever tried to travel within the UK on a bank holiday weekend will know that "good" and "regular" are relative terms. The aforementioned Triangle Bus is the best way to get between Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay, although you could also rent a bike from Kent Cycle Hire, who let you pick up and drop off in different locations. If you're looking for another town to visit in the area, Margate, which I visited in 2018, is lovely. Its hotels too were fully booked last weekend.


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