Whitstable was established as a port in Norman times and there was a tradition even back then for fishermen to give thanks for the harvest and celebrate together. After attending church, the people of the town would play games and relax together. The quiet month of July was chosen for this celebration, and as the feast day of St James of Compostella fell on the 25th, this day became the focus of the oyster festival. Over the years the festival has evolved into the full 4-day event it is today.
What Happens at the Oyster Festival?
On the Saturday morning at high tide, the oysters are landed and blessed. This ceremony marks the official start of the festival and involves fishermen wearing traditional dress landing oysters using old-fashioned nets and yolks around their necks.
The landing of the oysters and a blessing kicks of the Whitstable Oyster Festival. Photo:https://www.whitstableoysterfestival.co.uk
The festival has continued to evolve with the passing years and small changes have been made to improve the weekend's events. There are some events that always remain the same, however. These include an oyster-eating contest, tug-of-war competitions, a food and drink fair and the Grotters. The Grotters are small structures hand-built on the beach using empty oyster shells. Families make them purely for fun and as the sun goes down, candles are lit inside to illuminate the shells.
More recently there has been a couple of stages set up for live music that takes place on all days of the festival. And on the Monday afternoon, the beach comes alive with families flying kites together.
There are lots of different things going on during the weekend. Children are encouraged to draw on the sea wall with chalks, covering the concrete with colourful pictures. There is a crabbing competition with various categories such as the angriest crab caught! Local artists put on workshops where adults can try pottery or painting. And of course, there are lots of food and drink outlets offering every edible creation you could think of.
Oyster stalls line the streets
Accommodation sells out quickly for this weekend but many local homes advertise rooms to rent on Airbnb. Parking is very difficult, so try and get the town by public transport if possible.