“The world is mine oyster!” – Shakespeare
There are few pleasures in life better than a lazy, Sunday lunch of fresh seafood and chilled wine at a table by the sea. A pleasure made all the more divine as a capstone to a pleasantly epicurean weekend at the Whitstable Oyster Festival.
The Whitstable Oyster Festival has a remarkable history dating back to Norman times, when hard-working fishermen held an annual ceremony of thanksgiving for their survival and harvest. Today, the people of Whitstable symbolically recreate the ‘Landing of the Oysters’ - the Whitstable Sea Scouts bring oysters ashore for a formal blessing before being presented to the Lord Mayor. The oysters are then distributed to inns and restaurants throughout the town as part of the vibrant Oyster Parade.
The Festival’s positively effervescent atmosphere permeated every corner of this tiny, historic town. And, there was something to appeal to every taste and age. There were tons of activities for families and children; oysters galore (of course!); plus an amazing quayside ‘epicentre’ offering a wide variety of delicacies (with and without seafood), from piping hot paella, and Portuguese sausages, to local hog roasts and Kentish cheese. There was also an array of entertaining and informative cookery demonstrations in the main marquee. Truly, a food-lover’s paradise!
However, oenophiles and ale enthusiasts needn’t have felt left out as there were booths and tastings dedicated to a range of local and international beverages: local ciders, regional wines, as well as master-class tastings of Taittingers champagne – the perfect oyster accompaniment. To the sheer delight of my husband, The Whitstable Brewery ran its own Beer Festival in tandem with the Oyster Festival. Two delights on one beachfront! With a selection of over 30 real ales and beers – and featuring several homegrown brews – The Whitstable Beer Festival was a real hit. These beers were best enjoyed in the sea-salted breeze, with fresh rock oysters, served alfresco on the beach outside the Brewery Bar.
Leaving the driving to public transport, we camped at Bragg’s Lane Farm Caravan and Camping Site outside Herne, about 4 miles from Whitstable. Derek and Doreen Newman’s small, secluded site is a well-kept secret, and perfect for a quiet get-away. Each night, we staggered back to the campsite under a canopy of stars, and could hear the sound of sea birds calling in the distance, reminding us how close we were to the sea. Finding tranquility such as this, on the first weekend of the schools’ holidays, is nothing short of a miracle!
All credit to Derek and Doreen for their superb management of the site. Toilets and showers were always very clean. There’s only one shower cubical per toilet unit, but as this isn’t a huge site there weren’t massive queues, though sometimes there was a bit of a wait in the mornings. There’s plenty of hot water for showers and the washing up station. Local transport is plentiful and reliable, so venturing off to the seaside is a doddle.
We ended our Whitstable adventure at the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company restaurant, purveyors of the Whitstable Native oysters. Appropriately, we dined on fresh rock oysters and grilled local dabs to start, followed by local sea bass, stuffed and grilled with garlic and rosemary, served with new potatoes, and two fresh salads (green leaves with fine beans; tomato, basil and red onion). Looking out over the sun-drenched sea, sipping chilled rosé and Whitstable Pale Ale on one of summer’s hottest days, we felt replete and slightly decadent - nothing could be finer!
Pictorial Essay -
Whitstable Oyster Festival, 2011
|Fresh seafood galore!|
|Paella on the quayside|
|Young Festival revelers enjoying the sights and sounds|
|Landing of the Oysters|
|Best seat in the house to view the proceedings on the beach|
|Oyster Parade in full flow|
|Oyster Procession through the town|
|Sea Scouts bearing the oysters|
|Colorful Whitstable shop|
|Colorful Whitstable characters|
|A picture postcard view|
|Darling Boy in the brisk sea breeze|
WHERE TO STAY
Bragg's Lane Farm, Bragg's Lane, Herne Bay Kent CT6 7NP PRICE: £14.50
Why Stay Here: An idyllically peaceful little site, down a secluded lane outside (about a mile) the village of Herne, with four pubs serving local ales. Lovely rural woodland walks, delightful seaside towns (Herne Bay Whitstable) and the cathedral city of Canterbury all close at hand.
Getting Around: Site in easy accessed from the A29. Excellent regular bus service runs past the site on the main road - the “Triangle” runs between Canterbury, Herne/Herne Bay and Whitstable at regular intervals throughout the day and late evening.
Suitable For: With just 20 touring pitches set on 1 acre, surrounded by fields, this site is perfect for couples and adults looking for a quiet get-away or a tranquil retreat. Great for walkers, ramblers and anyone who enjoys being near the seaside and historic sites.