Registered charity, the Crab and Winkle Line Trust, is leading a project with Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council and Sustrans to build two pedestrian bridges in Whitstable, Kent along the route of the world’s third oldest railway. The six-mile route, built by the Stephensons, is 175 years old. The bridges will cross two roads and a railway and allow pedestrian access to the town centre, harbour, beach, medical centre and six schools.


The Canterbury to Whitstable railway opened in 1830 and was the third railway line ever to be built. It was the first in the world regularly to take passengers. The first ever season tickets were sold in Canterbury to take people to the Whitstable beach for the summer season. The Industrial Revolution took place here – George and Robert Stephenson built the route, Telford built Whitstable harbour and Brunel used the route’s tunnel as his inspiration. The world’s oldest railway bridge was on the route. But this bridge was knocked down in the 1969 and the whole route became abandoned, overgrown and forgotten.

In 1997, the Crab and Winkle Line Trust was formed to bring the route back into public use. 40% of the route is now accessible and part of National Cycle Network Route 1. To bring the route into the centre of Whitstable, we need to re-bridge two roads and the London-to-Ramsgate railway. Two bridges are needed, of 48-metre and 13-metre spans. The bridges will link the existing foot path on the south to the town centre and Whitstable harbour on the north. No easy, step-free pedestrian link currently exists.

Benefits of the project

A re-bridged Crab and Winkle Line at Whitstable will bring material benefits to the people of Whitstable and to the whole district.

• First, Whitstable has severe traffic problems. There is only one major road into the town, and no safe, step-free pedestrian or wheelchair access into the town centre. This increases short-distance car journeys. The bridges would provide a convenient traffic-free route from houses to shops, from houses to schools and from houses to the beach – all journeys of a mile or less. Traffic and parking problems would decrease, and a safe route to six schools would be created.

• Second, there are health benefits, particularly for young people walking to schools, of a re-bridged line. Local doctors have expressed strong support for the scheme which would make the town’s medical centre more accessible by foot.

• Third, the whole community will benefit from less anti-social behaviour and vandalism on the abandoned, overgrown land beside the bridges. Local residents’ associations are in support of the scheme.

• Fourth, the district will benefit from better access for tourists to the centre of Whitstable. The current route from Canterbury finishes in the residential district south of the bridges, leaving visitors unable to find their way into the town – a poor first impression. An innovative bridge, and the history of the route, should become a tourist attraction in its own right.

• Fifth, the bridges will bring this forgotten part of Whitstable’s history back to life, and be an attraction for schools and tourists and a source of local pride.

Partners involved

The project is led by the Crab and Winkle Line Trust, a registered charity (no. 1077110) established in 1997 to bring back the whole of the old Canterbury-to-Whitstable railway into public use. The Trust has already ensured public access to 40% of the original route. The Trust is joined in partnership on the Whitstable bridges project by Canterbury City Council, who own land to either side of the site of the bridges, by Kent County Council, responsible for transport policy in the county, by Sustrans, the civil engineering charity, by Kent Police, and by firms of architects, and civil engineers. The route is part of the Council’s corporate plan, ten-year transport action plan, walking and cycling strategy and climate change strategy.


The Crab and Winkle Trust are consulting local residents and others with an interest in the project. Consultation took place in 2003 and 2004, with support being expressed by local residents in the press and at public meetings hosted by the Whitstable Society. Further consultation will take place in 2005 with local interest groups, including pedestrians, cyclists, disabled users, schools, the Chamber of Commerce and others. Specific issues to be consulted on include: the bridge design, shared access for walkers, cyclists and the disabled, and access around the bridges.

Architectural drawing of possible Crab and Winkle bridges

The Future

The future looks promising. We have the backing of many, including the Council, the police and Sustrans, the national sustainable transport charity, as well as of local people. But the task ahead is daunting. As you’ll see from the reverse of this leaflet, to get a fully open line, we will need to solve many problems — some small (like putting up signposts) and some enormous (like reopening the tunnel). We can only achieve this with sustained support from local people and from those further afield. So help us make a real difference to the quality of life in East Kent.


Short Term – to increase the present 50% of the line already in public access to 70% by bringing more sections into public ownership.

Medium Term – to see if there can be a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Only 4% is collapsed which leaves 96% uncollapsed. Some of the tunnel has been filled but we are assured that it is repairable.


Archtectural drawing courtesy of David Stewart, Architect, Lee Evans Partnership LLP