29b – Whitstable

We were mightily impressed with Whitstable.  Maybe we were seduced by the hive of activity after having walked so many empty miles of meandering mudflats.  Maybe it was the buzz of the Bank Holiday weekend.  Maybe it was because the sun was shining.  Whatever it was, we were mightily impressed with Whitstable.

Whitstable is famous for its oysters.  Almost as soon as we reached the outskirts of the harbour area, oysters were everywhere to be seen.  Buildings proclaimed them, markets advertised them, and stalls sold them.

Whitstable seemed to be selling three different types of oyster as far as I could tell, but I came to realise that in fact the boundaries between them were indistinct.

Native Oysters – as the name suggests, these oysters are native to Whitstable.  It is said that they are only harvested when the month has an “R” in it (ie September to April).  That worries me, because the Whitstable Oyster Festival is held in July.

Irish Oysters – I can only assume these come from Ireland and therefore, by definition, are not native to Whitstable.

Rock Oysters – also known as true oysters, rock oysters collectively include the majority of species which are eaten.  They are from the family Ostreidae (pearl oysters, by the way, are not true oysters and are from the sub-order Pterioida, which as far as I can tell makes them clams rather than oysters).

It is a complicated subject, but as far as I can tell rock oysters are true oysters, and Irish oysters and native oysters are rock oysters, so rock oysters can be native oysters but only if they are harvested in a month with an “R” in it and if they’re not then they’ll still be a rock oyster and native, but not a native oyster.  At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because I don’t like the things anyway.

My mother-in-law wanted to try one.  She looked at the first stall we came to, but decided to defer matters whilst she worked herself up and screwed her courage to the sticking place.

We carried on, passing the harbour Lifeboat Station.  They had a tractor in their yard.  As we got closer we realised that this was no ordinary tractor, but an underwater tractor.  It had reinforced glass and airtight hatches.  I would have loved to have seen that in action – in its time this tractor must have seen some very surprised-looking snorklers!

Just beyond the lifeboat station we found a metal sculpture of a diver’s helmet.  Visitors could stick their heads into it and have their photo taken – some of us tried it out for size.

I found out afterwards that local delinquents have been known to smear all manner of unpleasant detritus on the inside of the helmet, so as to surprise the unsuspecting tourist poking his head in for a photo.  We were lucky to get away with a clean insertion!

The reason this sculpture was here was that the first ever air-pumped diver’s helmet was designed in Whitstable in 1829, by Charles and John Deane.  It was not entirely refined at this stage:  as it was not attached to the suit, the diver could not bend over without the helmet filling with water and drowning him.  Still, this design did get some practical experience and was used in 1834 when heavy guns were salvaged from the HMS Royal George, which had sunk in 1782 off Spithead in 65 foot of water.  Its guns had been rolled over the centreline as the ship was taking on supplies, causing it to tilt too far and take on water through unsecured gunports.  It sunk quickly.  Between 900 and 1,200 people were drowned, including 300 women and children who were visiting at the time.

We walked up and down the harbour walls.  Seagulls wheeled overhead, watching the families who lined the walls with crabbing lines, trying to catch crabs with varying degrees of success.

As we turned back inland we came to another oyster stall.  My mother-in-law decided that it was now or never.  Whereas the last stall had been selling oysters by the half dozen, this one would sell a single oysters, on a bed of ice, and with a slice of lemon, for only 50p.

I have to say, for 50p it looked very well presented.

The question was whether or not you would get your money’s worth for that 50p oyster.  As an onlooker, I would say that I definitely got my money’s worth (well, her money’s worth).

I’m not sure it was altogether a pleasant experience.  Maybe it was a bad oyster.  Perhaps it hadn’t been harvested during a month with an “R” in it.  Still, respect has to be given where it is due.  Barbie was the only one of us brave enough to suck a raw oyster out of its shell.  Judging by the look on her face, I was proud to be a coward!  I’d tried a cooked one before – that was quite enough for me.

We set off again.  As we rounded the harbour we had a good view back to the Isle of Sheppey, where we had been walking a few weeks ago.

At the far end of the harbour, we came to “Dead Man’s Corner”, a quiet and rather nasty area where flotsam and jetsam tends to gather, including, according to local legend, the occasional dead body.

We walked out of the harbour area, reaching the pebbly beach to the other side.  Here we were lucky enough to catch “The Street” before the tide came in.  The Street is a natural shingle spit on a clay bed, stretching out into the sea for between half a mile and a mile, depending on which source you rely on.  As we arrived the tide had already started coming back in, but a little of it remained uncovered, allowing us to take a short walk up and back.

There were good views towards the Kentish Flats Wind Farm.

As we left to find a taxi, the tide slowly crept in, over the toes of the fishermen on The Street, as they waited for their dinner.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Lifeboat Station:  N 51° 21.751 E 001° 01.546
  • Whitstable Harbour:  N 51° 21.770 E 001° 01.588
  • Barbie Tries Her Oyster:  N 51° 21.756 E 001° 01.578
  • Dead Man’s Corner:  N 51° 21.789 E 001° 01.692
  • The Street:  N 51° 21.999 E 001° 02.146

Walk #29 Statistics (including the approach to Whitstable from Seasalter, described in the previous post):

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8 Responses to 29b – Whitstable

  1. Annika says:

    My husband and I ended up in Whitstable on a daytrip looking for a nice spot on the coast and have been back about once a month ever since. It’s a lovely place. And I always have at least one oyster while I’m there. :o)

  2. Annika says:

    P.S.: While babbling about myself I forgot to say: those seagull shots are stunning!

    • wingclipped says:

      Thanks Annika – we’re already talking about overnighting at Whitstable when we do the next stretch of coast. Trying to get round the whole of Britain means you can’t stay long in any one place, but while we’re nearby I think we’ll keep stopping off there – it really is a lovely place. I visited your blog and really liked your picture of the Olympic Stadium with the clouds and flowers. Nic

  3. nics aunt says:

    Nic – looks like I missed a lovely walk – Whitstable looks to have been a real treat. However, my admiration (and sympathies) go out to Barbie, and I am impressed by her bravery – I would never tackle an oyster!!!!.

  4. Jill says:

    I had to dissect an oyster in high school.
    Yeah… I decided then and there I would never eat one 🙂

  5. Pingback: 42b – Lydd to the Kent Border « The Coastal Path

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