Spotlight on: Whitstable
PUBLISHED: 07:50 05 July 2014 | UPDATED: 07:50 05 July 2014
A wonderfully welcoming town with a creative spirit that attracts artists and writers, Whitstable celebrates its famous Oyster Festival this month
Whitstable is a compact, friendly town with lots of intriguing independent shops, a fine harbour area and fishmarket, good beaches – and old traditions galore. This ‘Pearl of Kent’ used to be a world centre for oyster fishing and because the town’s prosperity historically depended on the oyster catch, there’s an annual Oyster Festival every July, which this year promises to be bigger than ever.
Beginning life as a stretch of marsh and saltflats backed by dense forest, Whitstable grew to be a village whose key industry was the oyster trade. After the railway line to Canterbury was built in 1830 it became a valuable port and its harbour was built in 1832, mainly for shipping Kentish coal.
Now it’s a lively town, beloved of artists and writers. A note of warning: the parking is challenging, especially at holiday and festival periods. Gorrell Tank, the main car park opposite the harbour, is currently closed and visitors are advised to use the extra park and rides that have been laid on for bust weekends and bank holidays.
Clearly signposted, find them at Estuary View, Whitstable Football Club plus there’s charity parking in Oxford Street.
Whitstable town sits on the coast between the Bays of Tankerton and Whitstable, and the main road that runs alongside the sea is Harbour Street; that turns into Sea Street, then becomes Island Wall.
Whitstable Harbour and the Fishmarket lead off Harbour Street, to the right is South Quay and Whitstable Castle, while in the other direction, you’ll find the Yacht Club and Marina, and the beach.
Along here is ‘Cushing’s View’, where Peter Cushing, the famous actor and resident, used to enjoy the sunsets.
Harbour Street leads to the High Street and from these two roads to the seashore there’s a network of alleys with names like ‘Squeeze Gut’ snaking down to the coast road, established as a shortcut to the sea or perhaps as an escape route for lawbreakers.
The High Street is the centre of town and continues until it changes into Oxford Street; the rest of the town’s network of roads sits behind here.
Whitstable Museum and Art Gallery (01227 276998, CT5 1DB) has displays on community and seafaring traditions and the excellent Horsebridge Community Centre (01227 281174, CT5 1AF) holds exhibitions in two galleries, has a theatre and concert hall, workshop area and a café.
Shows coming up this summer at the Whitstable Playhouse Theatre (01227 272042, CT5 1AZ) include: Grand-Guinal, Theatre of Fear (29 July-2 August) and Jazz on a Summer’s Night (3 August).
For boat lovers, friendly Bay Blast Marine (07800 745493) offer tours in a power boat and you can also enjoy daily sailing trips around the Thames Estuary on board Greta, the historic sailing barge (call Steve Norris on 07711 675919). The Favourite, a fishing yawl built in 1890, is on view between Sea Wall and Island Wall.
Whitstable Harbour, specifically the South Quay area (owned by Canterbury City Council) has been earmarked for major development, the idea being to develop the harbour into a thriving niche port while maintaining its character.
There is strong local opposition to the plans, not least from the 33 traders at Whitstable Harbour Village. In October 2013 these plans were opened up in the hope of attracting potential investors, but a month later it was announced that the harbour wall needed vital repairs, costing £450,000, not forthcoming from the Environment Agency until 2015 at the earliest; any future harbour development will be blighted until this is resolved.
Shop then dine
Virtually all the shops are independents, many 1950’s style, including boutiques, gift shops, art galleries and antique shops. For foodies there are butchers, bakers, greengrocers and delis. Whitstable Harbour Village (‘UP-market’), open every weekend and bank holiday) is a collection of 33 traders who operate from black fishermen’s huts in the South Quay area of the harbour. On sale you’ll find local art, food, gifts, crafts and toys. Harbour Street has lots of shops and cafés and three art galleries.
Seafood is Whitstable’s speciality and three of its best-known restaurants are the Crab and Winkle Seafood Restaurant (01227 779377, CT5 1AB), the Royal Native Oyster Stores (01227 276856, CT5 1BU) and Wheelers Oyster Bar (01227 273311, CT5 1BQ).
Locals swear by traditional fish and chips served at V.C. Jones of Whitstable, trading since 1962 (01227 272703, CT5 1AH) and if you can, try and get a booking at Michelin- starred The Sportsman (01227 273370, CT5 4BP) at Seasalter. Good pubs include the The Duke of Cumberland (01227 280617, CT5 1AP) and The Old Neptune (01227 272262, CT5 1EJ), right on the beach. n