Saturday 26th July – Friday 1st August 2014
I’m counting down the days to the start of the Whitstable Oyster Festival, an annual week-long event that originated as a holy day back in Norman times. Regrettably, I’ve only been once before (in 2012 – that’s when these photos were taken), but have always had plans of returning. I’m super excited about getting my fill of oysters and beer (ah, the simple things in life) again this year.
Unfortunately the festival is in the off-season for native oysters (among other reasons it’s not during a month with an “r”, so they’re spawning and not at their best), but you’ll still be able to get some delicious (and half the price) rock oysters. Despite the name, it’s not all about oysters (however, they do take centre stage). There is plenty of other seafood, beer and sights to enjoy.You can try your hand at shucking your own oysters, but I’d rather leave it to the pros (check out the guys from West Whelks, above) and just enjoy the eating.
The concurrent “beer festival” was a fun find. It was located in a makeshift beer tent at the base of the rather industrial looking building in the background (at least I think that was the right place for the festival…my memory is a little fuzzy on that night).
There really wasn’t much need to stray far from the harbour in town, as this area seemed to be the main focal point for most of the culinary festivities. The popularity of the festival is such that this stretch of the Kent coastline is inundated with visitors from all over. Hence booking a hotel or camp-site at the earliest opportunity is advisable. My visit was done on a whim and involved a long trawl on the internet for an affordable and decent place to stay.
The closest accommodation I could find was in nearby Canterbury (about 7 miles away). Serendipitously, this afforded me the opportunity to hire a tandem bicycle and take the Crab and Winkle Way (an off-road route away from traffic – mostly) to Whitstable town centre.A few metres from Neals Place Farm camp-site’s main gate, was this picturesque view of Canterbury. How could I complain about not being able to find accommodation closer to Whitstable? The only real issue was getting back to the camp-site after giving the bike back, and at night (the bus took forever to appear!).When one has cycle routes that look as good as shown above, is taking the car really an option? You might look like a complete dick-head on a tandem bike, but it was a great way for two to travel. Try to find this shack on the beach-front (sorry, I can’t remember what it was called – it could be “The Forge” or something), they had some pretty damn fine doughnuts. Of course the weather really affects the mood. You won’t see scenes like this if it’s chucking down; so hopefully, this year is going to be kind to us like it was in 2012.If you’ve had your fill of oysters (mine was five dozen in a sitting. Nobody told me that you’d get black shits from eating that many…be warned!), the numerous cycle paths continue on to other towns. This info from an “about.com” article by Ferne Arfin gives a good starting point for where to go (I’ve been to all of them apart from The Sportsman, and concur with the recommendations):
Whitstable in Kent is another of England’s ancient oyster fisheries. Oyster shells found in the Coliseum in Rome have been identified as being from Whitstable. Today, the name “Whitstable native oysters” is protected by an EU geographical designation. Close to Canterbury and within easily reached on a day trip from London, Whitstable has a salty charm and some 17th and 18th century streets worth exploring. The town has an oyster festival, but don’t expect to eat any natives then – they hold it in July when the oyster season is over and the fishermen have time to celebrate. Eat oysters at:
The Royal Naval Oyster Stores, owned by the Whitstable Oyster Company who revived the town’s fishery after World War II.
The Sportsman, a Michelin-starred gastropub in Seasalter, about a mile from Whitstable. But don’t expect any oyster here until late October or early November. The chef won’t serve any until the natives are truly in their prime.
Wheelers Oyster Bar, a tiny, pink fronted restaurant that harks back to the town’s Victorian heyday. Everything is right off the boat. Cash only and BYOB.
The Crab and Winkle, a restaurant and fishmarket overlooking the working fishing harbor.