If you do one thing this week…head to Whitstable here on the Kent coast this weekend for the start of the annual Oyster Festival.
In its 32nd year, the Whitstable Oyster Festival is a revival of what was originally a holy festival dating right back to Norman times. Back then it was to be thankful of both the harvests and their survival at sea. Now, it’s more the survival of the fittest to cram everything in from oyster shucking and eating, to fish n chips, to food festivals and beer tasting. Oh, and grotter building.
Grotters you say? Yep, these are small light filled grottos that children build all along the beach with the shells left over from all the oyster snarfing. Originally, these grottos were built by children who begged for “penny for the grotter” much like the Guy Fawkes tradition. They were also originally intended to ward off evil spirits that may bring harm to the fishermen. Now, hundreds of children, both locals and tourists, swarm to the beaches and grab themselves a bucket of shells and a candle to light later on. When they’re all lit as darkness falls, it’s really quite beautiful.
So, apart from entertaining small kids with grotter-building and crabbing, what else is there? This year they have yet again built the family friendly “Shuck” down in the harbour, the heartbeat of our town, right on the tip of the West Quay which has stunning views of the sea and the Turner sunsets (true fact, he came down here to paint the stunning sunsets that he is famous for) The Shuck hosts a whole tonne of live music and events – The Cuban Brothers, Goldie, various DJs all doing their thing at the weekends that top and tail the festival. That’s all on top of the vast array of beer festival and food markets.
Saturday 23rd is where it’s all at with the Landing of the Oysters at 4.45pm which is when the oysters are blessed by the local priest. Slightly later than usual this year as it has to coincide with the tides, obviously. It’s a great atmosphere and follows the parade in which many of the local school children take part, which then all form part of the official opening of the festival. And King and Queen of the oysters which are worth the trip alone (!)
If you’re on your holidays then there’s loads to do all week, from open air beach side cinemas through to various comedy gigs, art trails and music – culminating on Thursday with the grotters and a brilliant off-shore fire works display, to bring things to a close with a bang.
Part Wicker Man, part modern day arts, comedy, music, food and drink – the festival is a huge draw. 80,000 people will descend this weekend, so my top tip would be – either park and ride (www.whitstableoysterfestival.co.uk for details), or get the train. But be warned, don’t leave the train too late… as they get absolutely packed. And it’s definitely a case of “no room at the inn” if you’re planning on staying, so maybe dip your toe in this time and book ahead for next year.
So come shuck an oyster or two. And brace yourself for a stupidly busy, but really brilliant British weekend.