Spotlight on Whitstable

Celebrating its annual Oyster Festival this month, Whitstable is the closest seaside town to London and its relaxing, cultural ambience makes it a favourite of actors, artists and writers

Spotlight on Whitstable

Celebrating its annual Oyster Festival this month, Whitstable is the closest seaside town to London and its relaxing, cultural ambience makes it a favourite of actors, artists and writers

Known variously as the Pearl of Kent, or Notting Hill-on-Sea (because of its popularity with Londoners), Whitstable is an extremely lively, friendly town with convivial, 1940s-style shops, practically all of them independents, a flourishing fish market, and rows of colourful beach huts.

Every July there’s the famous Oyster Festival, a week-long extravaganza of festivities, which dates back centuries to a time when Whitstable people depended for their livelihood on the oyster catch. It has an interesting harbour and spectacular sunsets – perhaps one reason why so many artists are attracted to the town – and lovely sandy beaches.

GETTING AROUND

There are plenty of car parks, and the main artery of town, replete with lovely independent 1940s-style shops and art galleries, is a long continuous road through the centre; at one end is Oxford Street, at the other Harbour Street, with the High Street in between.

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The harbour area leads from the High Street: to the right is the Horsebridge Arts and community centre, then the marina and yacht club and Whitstable Fish Market and ‘harbour village’, an arts-and-crafts shopping venue set in black fishermen’s huts. To the left is the beach, where you’ll find the Neptune pub and a long stretch of sands. Also near here is the ‘Old Favourite’ oyster yawl on display, plus beach huts.

WHITSTABLE OYSTER FESTIVAL

23 – 29 July

Annual ceremony of thanksgiving for the oyster catch, dating back to the 11th century. It takes place around the feast day of St James of Compostella (25 July), who allegedly fell into the sea and came out covered in oyster shells. Lots of community events, such as drama productions and workshops, art and craft exhibitions.

23 July

Oyster Landing on West Beach. Once landed they are blessed by a priest, followed by the colourful Oyster parade from the harbour to Oxford Street, where oysters are distributed amid colourful street entertainment. 

23-24 July

EPICentre Food Fair at the harbour.

24 July

Oyster-eating competition.

26 July

Kite-flying competition on Tankerton Slopes.

27 July

Crabbing competition on Horsebridge beach.

28 July

Grotter building on Reeves beach, where local children make small igloo-like constructions from oyster shells, which are afterwards laid out on the beach and lit up at night to make a spectacular display.

TOWN ATTRACTIONS

•           The Harbour for its beautiful boats, Whitstable Fish Market and Whitstable harbour village.

•           Harbour Street has three art galleries and lots of shops.

•           Whitstable Museum and Art Gallery (01227 276998) with displays of the town’s history and seafaring traditions: features on diving , oysters and shipping.

•           Horsebridge Community Centre (01227 281174) two galleries for exhibitions, theatre/concert hall, workshop areas and a caf�.

•           Whitstable playhouse (01227 272700).

•           Fish Slab gallery (01227 272406) exhibitions by local artists.

•           Bay Blast Marine (07800 745 493) coastal tours in a power boat.

•           Alleys –link High Street to the shoreline, 25 of them in all, each interestingly named.

•           Whitstable Castle and Gardens (01227 281726) Built in the 1790s, and an interesting landmark and beautiful building; phone to check opening times, as it is rarely open.

•           The Favourite - an oyster yawl built in 1890 and on view between seawall and Island Wall.

•           For children: Snappy’s Adventure Play (01227 282100), Cain’s family Amusements (01227 272123), and Lazer Rush (01227 272700)  

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

With more than 40 restaurants in and around town it’s hard to pick any out but suggestions are: The Sportsman (Seasalter) (01227 273370) for great views out to sea, an eclectic menu, and it’s Michelin starred. In town, look out for Wheeler’s Oyster Bar (01227 273311), the Crab and Winkle seafood restaurant (01227 779377) overlooking the harbour, and the world-famous The Whitstable Oyster Company (01227 276856), right on the harbour. All get very busy, so book ahead.

Drink at Chestfield Barn (01227 793086), a 14th-century pub and restaurant, or in town try the Old Neptune (01227 272262) right on the beach, The Duke of Cumberland (01227 280617) and The New Inn (01227 264746).

VILLAGE WATCH

 

Yorkletts

Home to the Woodland Trust’s newest site, Victory Wood, planted to replace trees lost during the 20th century. It is the flagship site for the Trafalgar Wood Project of 2005 to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Swalecliffe

Seaside village with paths to the beach (large nudist beach at Long Rock). Two attractive pubs, The Plough and the Wheatsheaf, and a quaint church.

Tankerton

Adjoining Whitstable, Tankerton Slopes (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) plays host to many outdoor Whitstable events. Most notable for the colourful beach huts on the shore, one of which was sold by Tracey Emin to Charles Saatchi for �75,000.

Seasalter

Seaside town facing the Isle of Sheppey, and where Whitstable Oyster Fishery uses oyster beds in the mud, a mile offshore (revealed at low tide). Notable for the Sportsman Pub, on a site that has hosted an inn since 1642. Illustrious residents include Harry Hill, Janet Street Porter and the late Peter Cushing.

Chestfield

A mile inland from the sea, it’s best known for its 14th-century pub/restaurant, Chestfield Barn, once part of Chestfield Manor in the 14th century, and owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror.

TRADERS TAKING

 

Shelly Keeys

Shelly Keeys runs Taking the Plunge (01227 264678) with her business partner Nicola French-Doyle. “We’re a gift shop with a retro-vintage bent,” says Shelly. “The model of the diving lady over our front door was inspired by the cover of a 1966 Girl annual. This is our fourth year here, and I love the community feel of Whitstable. Our customers are fantastic, they come from all over the UK as well as Holland and Scandinavia. I very much hope our shops will stay small independents, we don’t want the large chains coming here.” 

Andy and Suzy Thomas

Andy Thomas and his wife Suzy run Kites and Things (01227 264722), which stocks Kent’s largest selection of kites, plus skateboards, juggling equipment, boomerangs, Frisbees, surf jewellery and more. They have been trading for 19 years and have another shop in the harbour village. “Whitstable has always been an unspoilt working harbour town, with lots of individual shops,” says Andy. “We have lots of very good local customers, as well as plenty of tourists, particularly in the harbour village shop, where we also sell a variety of sea shells, and I make made-to-measure tooled leather belts. My main concern is that the harbour remains a proper working harbour for the benefit of the people, not sold for redevelopment, which in my opinion would be disastrous.”

Rob Morris

Is2 gallery (01227 272 358) is an exciting new gallery selling designer jewellery, glass artworks and sculpture. Jewellery designer/maker Rob Morris and his wife Michaela run the place and believe in encouraging other local designer/makers, such as Catherine Hills (who made jewellery for the Harry Potter films, and Rochester-based Olivia Schlevogt. “We were living in France, having travelled extensively across Europe, when I visited a friend who lived in Whitstable,” says Rob. “I loved the place so much we decided to relocate and work here. There’s a tremendous music and artistic scene here in Whitstable, and very friendly people around, it’s a very vibrant place to live with a very positive feel about it. I’ve lived in London, Cornwall and all over Europe, but this is where I want to stay.”

CONSIDERING A MOVE?

Conveniently located for travelling to London or the continent, and only five miles north of Canterbury, where there are excellent schools. Property prices are on a par with the capital but, unlike London, prices have slightly increased during the past year. One- and two-bedroom flats sell for in the region of �127, 500 and �179,000 respectively, a two-bedroom house is around �203,000, a three-bedroom semi about �263,000, while a four-bedroom detached residence would be upwards of �369,000.

GETTING THERE

Whitstable is accessible via the A290 (at the other end of which is Canterbury, five miles away), a mile or so from the A299, which is reached from junction 7 of the M2; this is linked to the M20 by the A249 from junction 5, thence to the M25. Good rail links to London, taking approx. 90 minutes.

Satnav postcode: CT5 1DB

MY TOWN

Liz Daone, centre director and manager, the Horsebridge Centre

Tell us about your job

Canterbury City Council owns our building, so I work very much as part of a team, managing development and our resources and liaising with the council, as well as with the local community and other organisations. It’s my dream job. I work with a great team of staff and volunteers and have the freedom to develop ideas and projects from start to finish. It helps that my journey to work is just a five-minute walk, along the beach – a great pleasure even when it’s blowing a gale!

Describe the Horsebridge Centre

A focal point for arts and community activity in the town. People can come here and see diverse range of exhibitions, take part in an activity or just have coffee. This year we hope to become a hub for artists and craftspeople to sell their work to thousands of visitors.

Any major events this month?

The A1 Open exhibition, during the Oyster Festival, is a collection of more than 100 A1-sized pieces of artwork, representing all style, mediums and techniques. It’s the largest annual exhibition in Whitstable, a response to a brief given to more than 100 local and national artists. During the festival we’re also hosting creative festival activities every day and evening, including a folk jam, jazz jam and poetry jam. And we’re housing the official Oyster Festival Office.

Your favourite place locally?

The stretch of beach in Seasalter by the Sportsman pub. It’s full of shells and wild shore flowers.

Your favourite restaurant?

The Tudor Tea Rooms (01227 273167). They do fantastically fresh fish-and-chips and there’s an easygoing and relaxed atmosphere, ideal for my two small children.

What do you like about Whitstable?

Despite the growing tourist trade, it has remained a friendly, welcoming place to live.

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