This part of Kent is absolutely lovely, as has already been established just down the coast. Sun-kissed grassy banks leading down to the most hospitable part of the North Sea span between pretty coastal towns with oyster shacks and narrow alleys. Whitstable, Margate, Ramsgate, Deal, Sandwich, Dover, all with their charms, and Herne Bay right in the midst of them, as good as attached (via Tankerton) to Whitstable.
Sadly, Herne Bay lets the side down a little. True, we probably judged it unfairly: arriving on a Bank Holiday weekend Saturday we wound through the busy (and charming) residential streets into the town centre to be faced by several of those nervous tic-inducing circuits around the narrow, crowded streets looking for somewhere to park. We were not successful, so our return visit was later in the afternoon when the crowds had departed, the sun had peaked and the late afternoon heat was less unbearable. Our excursion around the town’s charity shops was less amenable – most had closed, the few that remained open offered up little if anything worth purchasing. So, our opinion tainted, we poked around anyway.
Before the Victorians swooped in with their grandiose villas and the world’s first freestanding purpose-built clock tower, this was a little shipping village, on the goods route between London and Canterbury. Then the builders came in and built up a holiday destination to rival any their peers built. Its trade declining since the advent of package holidays, Herne Bay today is a seaside strip of sea-walls, ice-cream stands, tatty arcades and overweight, tattooed, shirtless men with tinnies.
This is not my idea of a holiday destination, I have to be honest. The more people, the less good a place is a rule that works in almost situation, and there’s plenty of people being all there at Herne Bay, at least at the sea front. As we disappear into the wide Victorian shopping streets the people disperse, but the experience hardly improves. As I mentioned, most places were closed, and the various attempts at redesign and modification has led to a slightly bleak, new-town look. There’s a problem I have when places are half-closed – there’s little to tempt me to come back and visit another time to find out what I’m missing. Which might be a shame: there’s actually a reasonable number of charity shops here: two Demelza shops, Action for Children, Cancer Research, Dogs Trust, an olde-style Oxfam, and a couple of new ones on me: Seaside Charity Shop and Strode Park Foundation. I’ll be honest here: I can’t remember which ones I went into: there was only a maybe three open (I know Oxfam and Cancer Research were available).
Anyway, the whole experience was hardly overwhelming, but at least the sun was shining and we got to sit on the beach with an ice cream. I shouldn’t think I’ll return, but, y’know, any afternoon spent pootling in the charity shops isn’t half bad.