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Modern Britain

Railway Walks: Whitstable to Canterbury West

by Peter Kessler, 28 July 2012. Updated 18 June 2021


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This was the first of Britain's railways to regularly carry ordinary passengers in trains hauled by steam power, albeit not along the full length of the line. Even so, the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway opened on 3 May 1830, six months before its better-known rival in the north, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (which holds the honour of being the very first double-track mainline railway).

The C&W was mostly single track, and it followed a difficult route of about 9.9km across the high inclines of the North Downs in East Kent. Known colloquially as the Crab & Winkle, its pioneering status was partly its undoing, as the cost of upgrading it would have been high. It was closed to passengers in 1931, being relegated to a goods-only line. Final closure came in 1952, with a brief respite in 1953 following severe flooding of the east coast of Britain.

Today its surviving remnants are fairly obscure in places, but they can be found. Thanks primarily to the Friends of the Crab & Winkle who have been working in tandem with a sympathetic local council, long stretches of the rest of the line are fully accessible as a cycle and walking path. Currently this terminates at the approach to Whitstable station but, in time, it will be extended all the way to Whitstable Harbour.




Main Sources

Conolly, W Philip - British Railways Pre-Grouping Atlas and Gazetteer, Fourth Edition, Ian Allen, London, 1965

Hart, Brian - The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway, Wild Swan Publications Ltd, Didcot, 1991

Kentish Gazette

Ratcliffe, R L - The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway, 1830-1980 Pictorial Survey, The Locomotive Club of Great Britain, London, 1980

Online Sources

The Crab & Winkle Line Trust

Kent History Forum: The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway

Rail Album: Stephenson's Invicta

The Simply Whitstable website: Teynham Road Subway & Bridge



Images and text copyright © P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.