For someone born and bred in Kent, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t visit the small fishing town of Whitstable until a few years ago. It was a glorious day, apart from a strong wind and we made the decision on the spur of the moment. As usual, I grabbed my camera just in case there was an opportunity to photograph some colourful little fishing boats or perhaps a few seagulls.
By the time we arrived and found somewhere to park, the wind had whipped up into a gale. It seemed a shame, because otherwise it looked like a perfect outing. Whitstable is famous for its oysters, which have been collected in the area since at least Roman times and the town itself dates back to before the writing of the Domesday Book. It is popular with tourists and its maritime heritage is celebrated with the annual oyster festival. We had checked in advance that our visit didn’t clash with the festival, so there seemed to be no explanation for the huge crowds everywhere around the town.
Walking proved difficult in the high winds. Either we had to lean into the gale and risk falling forward when it eased, or we walked in the other direction, allowing ourselves to be wind-assisted. That took less effort, but could be dangerous as I was blinded for most of the time with my hair across my face. I quickly realised that if I wanted to take photographs, it would have to be facing into the wind.
We had lunch in one of the local pubs called the Old Neptune. Small, but full of atmosphere, it was situated right on the shingle and had been used as a location for the 2006 film Venus, (for which Peter O’Toole received an Oscar nomination).
After lunch we meandered towards the harbour, but there seemed to be a crowd gathering on the shingle beach. We wandered over for a closer look. The sight that met our eyes was most bizarre, with dozens of people in costume and white make up moving silently towards the sea, all in slow motion. They were also being filmed by a couple of professionals. What we had stumbled upon was the Whitstable Biennale, a festival of contemporary visual art! Normally I wouldn’t have been interested in taking photographs of such a scene, but the wind was doing something amazing with the costumes. I grabbed a few shots before we wandered off in search of a windbreak. These are still some of the oddest images in my collection, but they serve as a reminder of a lovely day out. I would like to go back some time, but perhaps we will check out the weather forecast first!