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SPOTLIGHT ON: Whitstable

PUBLISHED: 19:26 21 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:31 20 February 2013

The nearest seaside town to London, Whitstable is a bright, lively place with a famous Oyster Festival this month that always adds to its considerable appeal

According to Shernaz Dinshaw, artist/jewellery maker and owner of Mosaic (see opposite): Whitstable has a wonderful quality of light, its quite magical as you enter town from the top of the hill the light is like a glistening jewel.
This aspect of the town, plus its sensational sunsets, is probably why artists, actors and writers have always been drawn to it. There are also great (pebble) beaches, stretching all along its coast, a lovely harbour and marina, and quaint, old-fashioned shops.
The nearest seaside town to London, with easy access to the continent, it is unspoilt by brash development. The annual Oyster Festival takes place in July, a week of traditional celebrations, with street entertainment, Morris dancing, live music and food fairs.

At a glance
A lovely harbour, The Fishmarket and marina (with yacht club) are at Whitstables heart, with Harbour Street, Sea Street and Island Wall fronting the sea. Tankerton cliffs and Whitstable Castle are at one end of the towns coastline, at the other is West Beach.
The towns commercial centre is focused around the High Street and its continuations: Harbour Street one way and Oxford Street the other.Linking the High Street to the seashore are a number of historical, individually named alleys.

Horsebridge Community Centre (01227 281174) an amazing building with a roof like an upturned boat. Hosts exhibitions and has a theatre/concert hall, workshop areas and Chives Caf
Harbour area, with a bustling and highly scenic boat-filled marina and The Fishmarket, where you can snap up the catch of the day
South Quay, craft village of black fishermens huts, where you can buy crafts, art, food, gifts and toys
Art galleries: Whitstable museum and Art Gallery (01227 276998) regular exhibitions and displays: People and their sheds, until 27 August, and Is2 Gallery (01227 272358) for designer jewellery and glass artworks and sculpture
Whitstable Castle (01227 281726), with fine gardens, and wildlife, and the Orangery Tea Rooms, serving refreshments Victorian style, plus musical events
The Favourite a restored 1890 oyster yawl on display on the beach

Getting active
Bay Blast Marine (01227 373372) offer coastal tours in a power boat
AMF Bowling (08701 183037)
West Beach Tennis Courts (07709 934233)
Whitstable Sports Centre (01227 274394)
Greta Thames Sailing barge (07711 657919) trips around the Thames estuary in an 1892 barge

Where to shop
Most stores are quaint, 1950s-style independents and there are some fine boutiques, gift shops, several art galleries and excellent antique emporiums. Look out for Samson and Coles (hand-made jewellery/ arts and crafts) and Taking the Plunge (a gift shop
with a retro bent). Michael Page (see also my Town) particularly recommends these family run shops: Woolleys (shoes and clothing), Long Butchers, Staines Greengrocers, Hubbards Bakery, The Cheese Shop and Herbaceous (herbs and wholefoods).

Where to eat and drink
There are more than 40 restaurants in and around town. Food critics recommend the world-famous Whitstable Oyster Fish Restaurant (01227 276856), with views across to their own oyster beds, as well as The Sportsman (01227 273370), a gastro pub serving wonderful locally sourced food.
Theres also the excellent Wheelers Oyster Bar (01227 273311), the Crab and Winkle (01227 779377) and, celebrating 50 years in business, the friendly, family run Fish Restaurant on Harbour Street (01227 272703).
Pubs that also serve food include The Old Neptune (01227 272262), right on the beach, plus Richard Phillips Pearsons Arms (01227 773133), The Royal Naval Reserve (01227 272068) and The New Inn (01227 264746).

Property prices
One- and two-bedroom flats are around 128,000 and 190,000 respectively, a three-bedroom semi costs approximately 263,000 and a four-bedroom detached house would be upwards of 365,000.

Getting there
Whitstable is on the north Kent coast, about five miles west of Herne Bay and the same distance from Canterbury. Follow the A290 from Canterbury, or alternatively this road is linked to the M2 (junction 7) via the A299. Theres a station with links to London Victoria, taking approx 90 minutes. Satnav postcode: CT5 1DB

Whistable Oyster Festival
21-27 July
This is a ceremony of thanksgiving, timed to coincide with the feast day of St James of Compostella who, according to tradition, fell into the sea and came out covered in oyster shells. It starts with Landing of the oysters on the beach, which are then blessed by a clergyman, followed by the oyster parade, where the Lord Mayor distributes oysters to pubs and restaurants in town. Therell be street entertainment, Morris dancing, live music, art and dance performances, workshops, food fairs, a tug of war on the beach, an oyster-eating competition and many other activities for adults and children.

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