This is my second review in a series of bus trips taken by myself and my friend, using our bus passes to have days out in Kent, mostly to coastal towns – all starting from Canterbury bus station. In normal times we have a trip out most Wednesdays from Spring through to Autumn; the one I’ve written about here was in June although I’ve included 2 photos taken in May and September. We’re heading to Herne Bay on the north Kent coast, 4 miles east of more well-known Whitstable and 6 miles north of Canterbury. Although Herne Bay has a shingle and sand beach that is 2 miles long it is neither fashionable nor picturesque but it has its good points. It developed from a small fishing community into a seaside resort in the early 19th century and took its name from Herne, the nearest village inland. From the 19th century the railways and steamships brought passengers from London to Herne Bay and the town grew into an important seaside resort. However, with the growth in foreign holidays in the 1970’s the holiday trade declined and the town suffered but recently the large older houses have become popular with people moving down from London.
We catch a Triangle bus to Herne Bay – from Bay C4 in Canterbury bus station. On weekdays there are 3 buses an hour during peak time and the journey takes 30 minutes. (The no. 6 bus also goes to Herne Bay but it is not a direct route and takes a lot longer.) Our bus heads east along the A28 out of Canterbury so this part of the journey is slow due to the city traffic but after the level crossing at Sturry we turn onto the A291 and travel largely through countryside (at Herne Common we pass the entrance to Wildwood Trust with its collection of British wildlife) eventually reaching Herne and soon after Herne Bay. The bus doesn’t go along the sea front so we get off in the High Street and walk the short distance to the sea. On the way we pass the Seaside Museum in William Street. It’s a lovely little museum that used to be run by Canterbury Council but is now managed and run by volunteers; it has an eclectic mix of artefacts – everything from impressive fossils from the area, the history of the bouncing bomb that was tested in the sea at nearby Reculver Towers, and occasional special exhibitions. Check the website or Facebook page or telephone before making a special journey as sometimes there aren’t enough volunteers available for it to open – http://theseasidemuseumhernebay.org – tel: 01227 367368.
Occasionally we stop for a coffee in Makcari’s where William Street meets the Central Parade on the seafront but more likely we’ll walk down to the Edwardian bandstand and have a coffee or lunch at the Makcari’s there, as we can sit outside but be sheltered from the wind. On the way we pass the Grade 2 listed clock tower; built in 1837 it was the world’s first free-standing clock tower. The amusement arcades that used to be in Central Parade have now closed and have been replaced with new restaurants and apartments but there are still some amusement arcades further along, past the pier. There is some holiday accommodation facing the sea but I can’t think of a single hotel near the seafront – there only seem to be self-catering establishments, bed and breakfasts or guest houses. In the past we’ve had fish and chips in Dean’s Plaice but this time we made up our minds to try somewhere else for a change. Having had our coffee at the bandstand we walked through the sunken gardens planted with unusual things – Australasian plants and aeoniums – things that do well here because there are rarely frosts on the coast. There are also impressive displays of colourful bedding plants and a children’s play area. Not far from the bandstand there is a statue of Amy Johnson whose plane went missing off the coast of Herne Bay during WW2. Continuing along the promenade we soon reach what is left of the pier, once the second longest in the UK, the longest being Southend on the opposite side of the Thames Estuary. From the 1840’s to 1963 steamships ran from London to Herne Bay so a long pier was needed but following storm damage on several occasions it was eventually dismantled in 1980, leaving the landing stage isolated out at sea and the landward end with a sports hall, which has now also gone. We walk to the end of the short pier with its beach hut style retail units, past a cafe and stage for performances, a helter skelter and other children’s amusements. There’s a good view of Herne Bay from the pier but not much else to do so we wander back, my friend desperate to find some nick-nack to buy from a craft stall. My money is saved for lunch and we decide to try Charlie’s Bistro on the corner of Station Street opposite the end of the pier, somewhere we’ve walked past many times. A two course lunch for £12 (from memory) is advertised outside so we go in and are brought a menu which also has a long list of tapas that I like the sound of. I’d have liked to share several tapas but Carol favours the set lunch so I go along with that and end up with a mushroom starter and scampi and chips main, which was perfectly fine, if boring. An elderly couple have come in and occupied the table next to ours and they go for the full Mediterranean experience with olives, tapas, bread, olive oil for dipping and a bottle of red wine so I’m quite jealous. They start chatting to us, mainly because they’ve heard Carol’s accent, strong Middlesbrough even after 40 years in Kent. They’ve come down to Herne Bay on the highspeed train from London for the day. We leave them to their wine and head for the High Street with its vintage shops, independent furniture stores and many charity shops. Since our last visit the bus station has been demolished and replaced with housing. Mortimer Street, between the High Street and the sea, is our final port of call with its good choice of independent and chain shops and cafes and then we head for the bus stop to catch a bus back to Canterbury, either the way we came or the longer route through Whitstable. Where shall we go next?