Herne Bay Tourist Guide


Discover the many attractions in and around Herne Bay - a wonderful place to have your holiday!

Herne Bay derived its name from the neighbouring village of Herne, a short way inland from the bay. The word herne, meaning a place on a corner of land, derived from the Old English hyrne, meaning corner. The village was first recorded around AD1100 as Hyrnan. The corner may be linked to the sharp turn in the Roman road between Canterbury and Reculver at Herne.

One of the oldest buildings in Herne Bay is the late 18th century inn, The Ship, which served as the main contact point for the small shipping and farming neighbourhood which initially occupied the town. At that time, passenger and freight boats frequently operated between Herne Bay and London, and boats carrying coal came from Newcastle. From Herne there was easy access by road to the city of Canterbury, or to Dover, where passage by boat could then be found across the English Channel to France.

In1801 Herne Bay, including Herne, had a population of 1,200. During the early 1800s, a smugglers' gang was based in the town. The gang was repeatedly involved in fights with the customs services until they were finally overpowered in the 1820s.

The town developed from the pub previously mentioned, The Ship which still exists today, a small row of houses and a post office. The town made a name for itself in the 1830s when visitors from London saw a vacant beach and a paddle steamer with tourists travelling from London to Margate. These visitors erected hotels and houses, built the town's first pier and planned for the steamers to stop off on their way to Margate. After just 30 years the steamer traffic stopped, but the opening of the railways brought a new way to reach the town and the town prospered again.

In 1833, Herne Bay and Herne were established as separate towns. Local landowner Sir Henry Oxenden donated a piece of ground for the site of the town's first church, Christ Church, which was opened in 1834. In 1837, Mrs Ann Thwaytes, a wealthy lady from London, donated around £4,000 to build a 75 foot clock tower on the town's seafront. It is widely believed to be the first freestanding purpose-built clock tower in the world!

During the 1840s, steamboats began running between Herne Bay and London. There was a type of beach boat exclusive to Herne Bay and nearby Thanet, known as the Thanet wherry, a narrow pulling boat about 18 feet long. These boats were mainly used for fishing; however, with the advent of tourism and the decline of fishing, they became mainly used for pleasure trips.

The original wooden pier had to be taken down in 1871 after its owners went into liquidation and sea worms had damaged the wood. A shorter 100 metre-long iron pier with a theatre and shops at the entrance was built in 1873. However, it was too short for steamboats to land at. The pier proved to be unprofitable and a replacement longer iron pier with an electric tram began to be built in 1896. At 3,600 feet, this pier was the second longest in the country, behind only the pier at Southend-on-Sea in Essex.

The town's zenith as a seaside resort was during the late Victorian era. The population nearly doubled from 4,400 to 8,400 between 1881 and 1901. Much of the resultant late Victorian seafront architecture is still in existence today. In 1910, a pavilion was added to the landward end of the pier. In 1912, the first ‘Brides in the Bath’ murder by George Joseph Smith was committed in Herne Bay. By 1931, the town's population had grown to 14,500. At the commencement of World War II, the army cut two gaps between the landward end of the pier and the seaward terminal as a measure to prevent possible invasion. The pier was restored after the war. During World War II, a sea-fort was built off the coast of Herne Bay and Whitstable, which is still in existence. The coastal village of Reculver, to the east of Herne Bay, was the site of the testing of the bouncing bomb used by the ‘Dambusters’ during the war.

The centre section of the pier was torn down by a storm in 1978, leaving the end of the pier isolated out at sea. It has not been rebuilt due to the cost; however, residents and businesses in the town have campaigned for its restoration.

The town’s geography
The landscape of the town has been largely influenced by the Plenty Brook, which flows northward through the centre of the town and into the sea. It is thought to have been a much larger stream in ancient times. The coastline has two distinctive bays, separated by a jut of land created by silt from the outflow of the brook into the sea. The first buildings in the town were built along the east bay just a short distance from where the brook flows out, at the point the road from Canterbury met the sea. The town has since extended across both bays, across the Plenty Brook valley and onto the comparatively high land next to both sides of the valley. The land to the east of the valley is some twenty-five metres above sea level and to the west about ten metres. Cliffs formed where this high land meets the sea.

The land which rises next to the coast, between the valley and the eastern cliffs, is known as 'The Downs' (not to be confused with the North or South Downs). This area has been named a Site of Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area for Birds. The whole of the north east Kent coast has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Stormy weather can cause the sea level by the coast to rise by up to two metres. In the past, this has caused terrible flooding in the town, the worst in the town's history being in 1953. Coastal defences were subsequently constructed including groynes, sea walls and shingle beach. In the 1990s, these defences were thought to be insufficient and an offshore breakwater, now known as Neptune's Arm, was built to protect the most susceptible areas of the town.

In East Kent, the warmest time of the year is July and August, when maximum temperatures average around 21°C (70°F); the coolest months are January and February, when minimum temperatures average around 1°C (39°F). East Kent's average maximum and minimum temperatures are around ½°C higher than the national average. Herne Bay is sometimes warmer than other parts of Kent as it is backed by the North Downs to the south. Between 1999 and 2005, Herne Bay recorded the highest daily temperature in the United Kingdom nine times. East Kent's average annual rainfall is about 728mm (29 inches), the wettest months being October to January. This was lower than the national average annual rainfall of 838mm (33 inches).

Attractions and landmarks
The seafront has 2 miles of shingle beach, which has been awarded a European Blue Flag and the yellow and blue Seaside Award for its safety and cleanliness. The seafront features a Victorian bandstand and gardens, amusement arcades, and children's play areas. Landmarks by the seafront include the clock tower, the sea defence jetty, the off-shore World War II sea fort and the off-shore wind farm. There are seaside cafés, fresh seafood restaurants, guesthouses, beach huts and numerous watersports facilities. The central part of the seafront is set out in attractive seafront gardens and a central bandstand housing an Interpretation Centre and Tourist Information Centres. The beach is shingle with wooden groynes giving way to sandy mudflats at low tide and is a popular bathing area for families with amusements and amenities nearby. Neptune Harbour which is nearby caters for all types of pleasure craft and boasts one of the best launching facilities in England.

West Beach is situated at the Western End of the town and is made up of shingle with wooden groynes giving way to sandy mudflats at low tide. Because of the grassy slopes that lead from the spa esplanade the beach retains its rural character. There are a number of wooden beach huts situated along the beach which are very fashionable with families. There are rowing and sailing clubs at the western end of the beach and a free off road car park along with free on street car parking along Western Esplanade.

The Memorial Park, situated near the centre of the town, incorporates a children's play area, a large shallow duck pond often used for remote control boats, basketball and tennis courts and a large area of grass for field games. The park has a monument and an 'Avenue of Remembrance' as memorials to the town's residents killed during the two world wars.

Reculver is a small hamlet situated approximately 3 miles east of Herne Bay and is very popular with people visiting the quiet unspoilt area. Reculver Country Park is home to the cliff top Reculver Towers, the remains of the 12th century St Mary's Church and its distinctive twin towers. The park also contains the remains of a Roman fort, the remains of a Saxon church, a migrating-bird watching spot and an information centre on the geology, history and wildlife of this area of the coast. Located on the main road between Herne Bay and Canterbury, Wildwood Trust features over fifty species of native British animals, such as deer, badgers, wild boar and wolves. Wildwood depicts wildlife and early man in a classic Kent wood. On display are also species of beaver, deer, foxes, red squirrels, ravens, otters and many other examples of British wildlife no longer found in the UK. Visitors to Wildwood can also take part in 'meet the animal' sessions. There is also a Treetops playland.

The Reculver coastline is the place where Barnes Wallace tested the Bouncing Bomb used in World War Two. The beach at Reculver is a shingle beach with wooden groynes giving way to sandy mudflats at low tide. There is a free car park and a pub/restaurant. There is an environmental interpretation centre operated by Kent Wildlife Trust in partnership with Canterbury City Council.

Herne Mill is a late-18th century Kentish smock mill overlooking the village of Herne on Beacon Hill and can be seen on the approach from London on the A299. It is usually open to visitors on Sunday afternoons between April and September.

Every August Herne Bay Memorial Park has a festival that includes concerts, a carnival through the town centre, a travelling funfair at the Memorial Park and a Punch and Judy weekend that recalls the town's Victorian inheritance. Each summer, the council runs a gardening competition, ‘Herne Bay in Bloom’, which encourages residents and businesses to keep the town looking well presented.

There are several community drama groups, such as Theatrecraft, which produces three shows a year, including an annual pantomime at the Kings Hall theatre. Other groups regularly hold productions at the Little Theatre, and the open-air Theatre In The Park on the grounds of Strode Park House in Herne. The town's only cinema, the Kavanagh, is part of a Greco-inspired building that incorporates the Heron's swimming pool and the council offices.

The Waltrop Gardens are named after Herne Bay’s German twin town and are home to a sundial donated by the people of Waltrop. The gardens are colourful all year round. A Victorian Water Fountain forms a centrepiece moved from its old location as part of the sea front regeneration.

Herne Bay Museum & Gallery at 12 William Street is a bright and modern museum highlighting the history of the Victorian seaside resort of Herne Bay and its surrounding area. Themes include seaside holidays and attractions, the town's piers and the development of the resort.

The little black towers out at sea on the horizon off the coast of Herne Bay often bring about questions of what they are. They are in fact what remains of the World War II Thames Estuary Sea Defences.

Transport links
Herne Bay railway station is on the Chatham Main Line, which runs between Ramsgate in East Kent and London Victoria. Other stations on this line include Broadstairs, Margate, Whitstable, Faversham, Gillingham, Rochester and Bromley South. Herne Bay is around 1 hour and 30 minutes from London by fast-service train. A National Express coach service also runs between London Victoria and Ramsgate, around every two to three hours during daytime. A selection of trains run to London's Cannon Street station, primarily for business commuting.

There is a Stagecoach bus service running every twenty minutes to neighbouring Whitstable and Canterbury, where many Herne Bay residents go to work and shop. An hourly bus service runs to the seaside resort of Margate, 13 miles to the east of Herne Bay. The A299 road, also known as the Thanet Way, runs between Ramsgate and Faversham via Herne Bay and Whitstable. The road joins with the M2 motorway at Faversham.

Bridge Cars, A/6 Hanover Street Tel: 01227 369955
Herne Cars, 6a Hanover Street Tel: 01227 369999
Herne Bay Taxis, A/6 Hanover Street Tel: 01227 373333
Packer W & Son, 188 Mortimer Street Tel: 01227 374037
Abacus Cars, Railway Station/The Circus Tel: 01227 283666
Central Cars, 34A Sea Street Tel: 01227 364444

Abbey National plc 135 Mortimer Street Tel: 0845 7654321
Halifax plc 149-151 Mortimer Street Tel: 0845 6074810
HSBC Bank plc 129 High Street Tel: 0845 7404404
Lloyds TSB Bank plc 162-164 High Street Tel: 0845 3030109
Lloyds TSB Bank plc, 144 High Street Tel: 0845-300 0000
Barclays Bank PLC, East Kent Group/130 Mortimer Street Tel: 0845-755 5555

Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, King Edward Avenue, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 6EB Tel: 01227 594700

Melbourne House Dental Surgery, 67 Canterbury Road Tel: 01227 374454
Warwick Lodge, 44 Canterbury Road Tel: 01227 375592
Keating G D, 120 High Street Tel: 01227 366984
Jolliffe R A, 27 Sea Street Tel: 01227 373088

Many of the details above can be checked at the Tourist Information Centre, Herne Bay Bandstand, Central Parade, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5JN

Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015