I once served a man from New Orleans,” the waiter recounted. “He’d come all the way to Whitstable just to eat the oysters.” Hungry Americans are not alone: bivalve molluscs have long been big here. First, the Romans revered them, while in Norman times, a festival was held annually on 25 July,
St James’s Day – patron saint of oysters.
By 1862, the Whitstable Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers was sending 60 million oysters a year to London; in 1894 it was official supplier to Queen Victoria. Trade declined after the wars, but Whitstable has remained synonymous with oysters. And where one food industry thrives, others follow: from Kent cheese to cupcakes, this is a stylish seaside spot where you’ll not go hungry.
Heading along Oxford Street towards the sea, nip into the Whitstable Museum (open Mon-Sat, free entry) for maritime history. Next, graze the stalls of Whitstable Farmers’ Market (held in St Mary’s Hall, the second and fourth Saturday every month) where local producers sell quality produce.
Oxford Street, which becomes High Street, has a sprinkle of chain stores, but you’ll mainly find the colourful shop fronts of independent businesses, from Hubbard’s Bakery to the Whitstable Wine Shack.
There are also galleries – the light that inspired JW Turner now attracts new artists. The Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre hosts exhibitions and painting classes. There is a range of delis, florists and knick-knack emporia on comely Harbour Street. Drink good coffee at David Brown’s Deli, breathe in the sugary aromas of What’s Up Cupcake? and join the queue outside VC Jones, a traditional chippy. While you’re here, don’t miss The Cheese Box, where Dawn sells a pungent mix of British cheeses.
Beside the seaside
The Old Neptune pub, with its wonky wooden bar, sits squat on the beach. From here, walk east, passing the Whitstable Oyster Fishery, to reach the harbour where rows of wooden huts sell the day’s catch: freshly shucked oysters, pots of whelks and seafood platters. Further along,
at Whitstable Harbour Village, the shacks sell jewellery and jumble instead.
The Whitstable Brewery Bar, serving up locally made pilsner and Oyster Stout, sits right by the sea. Further east, Whitstable Castle, built in 1789, has just undergone a large restoration; the newly opened site has a viewing platform with grand views over the bay. There’s also an idyllic Tea Garden, from where you can stroll along the shingle, past the rainbow beach huts, towards Herne Bay.
HOW TO GET THERE
Whitstable is seven miles north of Canterbury on the A290. Whitstable railway station is on the Chatham Main Line; trains run from London Victoria.
FIND OUT MORE
Whitstable Oyster Festival
In late July the town celebrates its famed molluscs with a week of eclectic events, from live music to oyster-eating competitions and the Blessing of the Waters ceremony.
Whitstable Tourist Information Centre
7 Oxford Street, Whitstable
Whitstable Farmers’ Market
St Mary’s Hall CT5 1DD
Wheeler’s Oyster Bar
8 High St, Whitstable CT5 1BQ
Wheeler’s has been selling oysters on the High Street since 1856, and also runs the Shoreline Cookery School once a month.
The Captain’s House/
Harbour Street, Whitstable
Accommodation in the Captain’s House is in the Sailing Loft. Polly’s is a studio apartment. B&B £95.