Spotlight on Whitstable
What is it that first comes to mind when you think of Whitstable? Is it the gorgeous Kent coast? Quirky little streets filled with unique boutiques? Oysters? All of the above? If so, you’d be right, and there is much more besides. If you’ve never been, it’s time to go – you’ll love the town at first sight. If you know it well, visit again; it’s the kind of place that is always changing. And if you live or work there, you’re very lucky indeed.
History in Brief
The Romans loved the area around and including what is now Whitstable just as much as the locals (and those further afield) love it today. They particularly loved the fact that there was an abundance of oysters just off the coast, and they began to set up businesses that revolved around harvesting these delicacies and selling them all around the country.
Whitstable was known as Witenstaple when it was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086, and the name simply referred to a landmark – a white post – which was used to offer directions to travellers who were passing through. But, those oysters were still making a mark and, thanks to more ‘modern’ methods of harvesting them, the industry continued to grow. By 1610, the name Whitstable had stuck and it was the administrative centre for the whole area from Blean near Canterbury to Seasalter.
The 18th century saw Whitstable at its peak and its exports were seriously in demand. The place was so busy with traders that a special toll road was built between Canterbury and Whitstable to try to ease the congestion in the town and make things move rather more smoothly. Wondering what all the fuss was about, tourists starting following the road and soon enough, Whitstable had become a popular seaside holiday destination too.
Things to Do
- Whitstable Castle & Gardens
Whitstable Castle, also known as Tankerton Towers, is a stunning place. The castle itself is impressive, but it is perhaps the gardens that are the most famously enjoyed part of the place. This, along with a lovely tea room (serving afternoon tea), a play area and events throughout the year make this attraction one not to be missed.
- Whitstable Museum & Gallery
The Whitstable Museum & Gallery is a fascinating glimpse of Whitstable past, present and future – with special details available about the town’s maritime history. Here you can see exhibitions about how Whitstable grew into the town it is today, including information about the seaside holidays, the oyster fishing industry, shipbuilding, the steam railway and the memorial to local resident Peter Cushing. There is even a fire engine to clamber around on and the chance to hunt for fossilised shark teeth.
- The Horsebridge Arts & Community Centre
This fantastic site is located right in the centre of Whitstable and it offers a varied programme of cultural and community activities and events. For more than 10 years it has been a hub of entertainment and information, becoming known as a quality venue for the arts, social, learning and leisure. Events include galleries, workshops, talks, live music, screenings, a theatre space and a popular café.
Birdies is a lovely little bistro that has both indoor and outdoor seating. Chequered tablecloths, handwritten menus, chalkboards with specials written on them, photographs of Whitstable past on the walls…it’s all incredibly charming. But, not only does it look the part, the food here tastes superb too. Freshly caught and cooked fish, lobster and of course oysters adorn the menu and the choices are a wonderful mix of modern and traditional cuisine.
- The Whitstable Oyster Company
This world famous restaurant, also called the Royal Native Oyster Stores, has been around for a long time now, and the Whitstable Oyster Company itself has enjoyed over 500 years of success, so when it comes to eating the finest, freshest fish this is the place to come. As you would expect, you can start with half a dozen Whitstable Oyster Co. rock oysters, but you don’t have to continue the theme as there are many other dishes on the menu too including chargrilled organic salmon with white bean purée and asparagus; baked halibut fillet with sour cream, swiss cheese and chives; and deep-fried local cod in beer batter with chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce.
Samphire is a gorgeous bistro restaurant that is well loved in Whitstable. The food is simple, the produce is high quality and the end result is the perfect place to enjoy excellent food in a gorgeous setting. The menu is varied and exciting, and includes items such as mussels with Biddenden Cider, garlic and thyme; ham hock and leek terrine with sweet and sour rhubarb; and miso and fermented chilli potato hash, pak choi and a fried duck egg.
- Whitstable Oyster Festival // Jul
One of the most important, colourful and famous events in the Whitstable calendar has to be the Whitstable Oyster Festival. This annual event, held each summer, is two weeks of celebration of the not-so-humble oyster. That celebration involves plenty of live music, standup comedy, outdoor cinema screenings, games and events and of course a lot of oysters being shucked and eaten.
- Whitstable Carnival // Aug
Whitstable is a busy place in the summer thanks in part to its lovely location and attractions, and also in part to the Whitstable Carnival. There is a traditional parade full of fun floats as well as many different and unique stalls, live entertainment and, of course, the crowning of the carnival queen herself.
If there is one spot in Whitstable that houses all of its charm and personality in one place it has to the picture-perfect town centre. Winding, quaint streets filled with the most fascinating of independent shops, there is nothing chain-like or corporate about Whitstable. Come to Whitstable and explore and you’ll discover treasures and gifts in abundance.
Did You Know?
Old Bridge Road in Whitstable is aptly named; this is where the oldest railway bridge in the world can be found.