Organisers of the first Stranraer Oyster Festival have hailed the event a massive success that exceeded all expectations.
Over 10,000 people visited during the three day festival which saw sell out performances, demonstrations and events, with crowds flocking to see Hardeep Singh Kohli, Mr Bloom from Cbeebies and local spectacles, like the giant seafood paella created by John Henry of Henrys Bay House Restaurant.
More than 500 people took part in the inaugural Big Oyster Bash at North West Castle, a highlight of which was a rendition of Bonnie Gallowa’ by 17 year old Stranraer Academy pupil Kathleen McClenaghan.
Three thousand oysters (a third of a tonne), were consumed over the weekend, many of them by people who had never tried an oyster before, including many local children. Market stall holders sold out completely, 150 kites were designed and flown by young visitors to the festival and feedback from local accommodation providers suggests the area was fully booked within a 20 mile radius of Stranraer.
Romano Petrucci, Chairman of Stranraer Development Trust, who organised the festival, said: “The Festival was incredible and it shows just what can be achieved when our community works together.
“I heard a comment by a visitor that this was the weekend when Stranraer fell back in love with the sea. Our beautiful town has always had an affinity with Loch Ryan and with the sea, but when the ferries left town our connection with the water went with it. We lost a bit of our identity, but our first Oyster Festival has given us that back.
“We may no longer be a ferry town, instead we are now a destination to visit rather than a place to travel through. Our oysters have helped us to craft a new identity for our town. Stranraer will quickly become known as a tourism and food destination, somewhere to visit for incredible seafood, warm hospitality and stunningly beautiful vistas.
“Feedback from local businesses is overwhelmingly positive, with increased sales across the board and many businesses reporting record breaking sales. We are inspired and excited by the potential of Stranraer Oyster Festival and we have already come up with a host of ideas for how to make it bigger, better and more delicious next year.”
Stranraer Oyster Festival is Scotland’s first major oyster celebration. It was designed to celebrate the seafood heritage of Stranraer, including Scotland’s last remaining wild, native oyster fishery in Loch Ryan.
The festival also hosted the Scottish Oyster Shucking Championship in partnership with Seafood Scotland. The hotly contested competition saw local oyster expert Tristan Hugh-Jones of Loch Ryan Oysters win the title. He will now go on to represent Scotland in the World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway this weekend.
Tristan said: “The festival was an overwhelming success and the team are completely exhausted by shucking thousands of oysters over the weekend. We were thrilled to be able to share our passion for Loch Ryan oysters with local people, and Rob and John of the Vital Spark loved introducing children to the creatures that can be found on the floor of Loch Ryan.
“I’m delighted to have won the Scottish Championship amongst such tough competition. I’ve always wanted to compete in the Galway World Championship, and I couldn’t be prouder to be representing Scotland at this major event.”
Stena Line was the Headline Sponsor of Stranraer Oyster Festival and the festival was part funded by the European Maritime Fisheries Fund and by Dumfries & Galloway Council’s Major Events Strategic Fund. The festival was also supported by The Holywood Trust, SSE and the Big Lottery Fund and was sponsored by a large number of local businesses.
An independent economic impact study has been commissioned to evaluate the value of the festival to Stranraer and the results are likely to be announced in October.