Spotlight on Whitstable
Celebrating its Oyster Festival this month, Whitstable is lively, artistic and small enough to explore in a day, yet large enough to have every facility you could want
Famous for its oysters, splendid sunsets, long beaches and a great harbour, Whitstable is an extremely lively town packed with individual charismatic shops. Its air of relaxed culture has always attracted artists, writers and actors.Every July there’s a fantastic Oyster Festival, and the town boasts more than 40 restaurants, many of them nationally known, a thriving fishmarket and four art galleries. It’s the kind of place where it’s just as much fun to stroll around the interesting shops as it is to enjoy wandering beside the sea and along the beach.
Around townThere are plenty of car parks, plus some on-street parking, and nowhere is appreciably hilly. To get an idea of Whitstable’s fascinating seashore,start outside Whitstable Castle, beside Tankerton Slopes, grassy areas with colourful beach huts that lead down to the beach. With the sea on your right, walk back towards the town, taking the beach-side road. Soon you come to the premises of Whitstable Windsurfing on the right, outside of which is a sculpture of two deep-sea divers clinging to a pole – this commemorates Whitstable’s invention of scuba diving. Further along this coastal road you come to Whitstable Harbour Village on the left, a collection of fishermen’s huts on the South Quay where traders sell art, crafts, food, gifts and toys. Next up is the harbour, with a variety of boats and a wide concrete walkway and more of the ubiquitous black fishermen’s huts. At the far end you’ll find The Fishmarket, a long black, shed-like construction, part of which is the prestigious Crab and Winkle Restaurant. At the end of the harbour take the right turn, which leads to the lifeboat station, then to Whitstable Yacht Club – look out for colourful yachts out on the beach. Continue on past the Horsebridge jetty, and further on is ‘Cushing’s view’ – a plaque marks the place where the famous actor Peter Cushing used to like to sit and gaze at the vista.From here you can see the Old Neptune pub, a solitary white wooden-clad building on the beach. Near here the Old Favourite oyster yawl (made in 1890) is on display, and you’ll see more beach huts. Start your tour of the town in Oxford Street with the museum on your right, and go towards the centre. Soon you’ll pass the tall frontage of Whitstable Playhouse on the left, which is almost opposite St Alphege’s church. This marks the beginning of the long High Street, and to your left are some of the town’s famous alleys. Here you’ll find a wide range of eclectic, interesting and colourfully decorated shops, most of the premises more than a century old. Look out for the vivid pink-and-blue frontage of Wheelers Oyster bar (right), near jewllery/homeware shop Taking the Plunge. At the bottom of the High Street, take the left fork beside the Duke of Cumberland pub into Horsebridge Road, where you’ll see Horsebridge Arts and Community centre, which looks like a huge overturned boat.Return to the Duke of Cumberland and follow the building around the corner to the quaint and attractive Harbour Street; here there are boutiques, restaurants, delis and three of the town’s art galleries.
Considering a move?The influx of Londoners buying property and the beautiful surroundings mean that property prices are relatively high. For one- and two-bed flats, expect to pay around �128,000 and �184,000 respectively, with a two-bed house around �198,000, a three bed semi �245,000 and a four-bed house upwards of �360,000.
My TownMair Stratton, festival director, Whitstable Oyster Festival Tell us about this year’s festival A new arts and crafts fair has been introduced to complement the EPI centre (food fair). There’s an additional literary focus on top of the normal programme, with the Canterbury Poet Laureate, the Laureate squad, Tom Hart-Dyke and other authors giving talks and doing readings. It’s about twice the size it was four years ago, in terms of content and events, and very different from other festivals, which tend to have one focus, such as music, food or arts. A great day out that won’t cost you a fortune.
What do you like about Whitstable? It’s a real town with real shops, not a bland ‘me too’ place. I buy practically all my birthday and Christmas presents when I’m working here, as well as fresh fish and veggies. It has some of the best places to eat and is a very diverse community, with traditionalists, artists and fishermen.
Your favourite part of the town? The harbour is great for its authenticity, Harbour Street marvellous for its chic shops. I love discovering new places in Oxford Street. I like the beaches and Tankerton Slopes, because I enjoy being by the sea. Whitstable Theatre is an absolute gem.
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Where would you take guests? The Crab and Winkle, Samphires or Williams and Brown Tapas. I’m allergic to shellfish, so unfortunately some places are off limits for me.
WHITSTABLE OYSTER FESTIVAL 24 – 30 JulyThe traditional Oyster Festival was revived in the 1980s as a result of the resurgence of oyster fishing after it diminished earlier in the century. It is a modern evolution of the older traditional festival, a mixture of arts, family events and food and drink and traditionally set around the feats day of St James of Compostella. Here is a brief selection of events:
Saturday 24 July Landing of the oysters and the Oyster parade. Oysters are landed on the beach and then blessed by the priest, followed by the Oyster parade, a huge, colourful procession through the town, distributing oysters to the tradespeople. This features local schoolchildren in themed costumes, bands, music, and colourful characters, including local giant Captain Sam. EPI venture Food Fair, beach art, concert of early music in St Alphege’s church. Slopes of Sound on Tankerton Slopes.
Sunday 25 July Whitstable world music workshop, storytelling ghost walk, Mud Tug – the traditional tug-of-war on the beach, Food Fair, Artisan craft market, Sea Sunday church service. Oyster eating competition. Shanty night at the Ship Centurion pub.
Monday 26 JulyOy Oyster comedy show at the Playhouse Theatre; an audience with Tom Hart-Dyke; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Tuesday 27 JulyPunch and Judy show
Wednesday 28 JulyShanty night at the Ship Centurion pub.
Thursday 29 JulyTerracotta Are me – kids fun with clay.
Friday 30 JulyMock-Tudor Band concert.
Whitstable Regatta The 217th Anniversary of Whitstable Regatta will be held on 31 July and 1 August on Tankerton Slopes, with a firework display over Tankerton Bay on the Saturday evening.