TENS of thousands of people had a whale of time at a festival celebrating the bounty of the sea.
Visitors and residents turned out in force for the seventh Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival, which proved to be bigger and better than ever before.
It is one of the country’s biggest food festivals and this year around 60,000 people flocked from far and wide to attend, providing an estimated £3million boost to the Weymouth economy.
Full car parks and a busy park and ride facility meant the weekend was a huge boost to the resort with streets and shops heaving with people.
Situated around Weymouth harbourside, the two-day bonanza included dozens of stalls, cooking demonstrations and a chance to celebrate whelks, one of the country’s most neglected seafood.
The two-day festival had a packed programme with profits going to the The Fishermen’s Mission.
Its aim was to celebrate the fruits of the sea and offered visitors the chance to enjoy get involved by learning how to fillet a fish and discover ‘How To’ in the Seafish Pavilion.
The weekend featured talks from the county’s top seafood chefs and a whelk revival.
With about 100 stands, many selling seafood and associated goods, the award-winning Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival keeps going from strength to strength.
The chef and expert line-up included Great British barbecue champion Ben Barlett, The Dining Room’s Taher Jibet, John Wright from River Cottage, MasterChef winner and chef patron of The Casterbridge Mat Follas, Dorset’s Michelin-starred chef from Sienna, Russell Brown and award-winning chef patron, Nigel Bloxham from The Crab House Cafe.
Many enjoyed the demonstrations and talks on cham pagne, sustainability and a ‘Ready Steady Fillet’ competition as well as a fish auction.
Event director Brian Cooper estimated an additional £3m spend in the resort.
He said: “Saturday was the biggest day the Seafood Festival has ever seen. There were even more people on the quayside on Sunday then we’ve ever had before.
“The numbers over the weekend were pushing 60,000 but it is hard to calculate exactly how many – it’s bigger than ever.
“There will be all sorts of development for the future as this giant of a festival moves forward and takes Weymouth with it.
“Weymouth provides such a natural location for an event like this and the seafood is fantastic so it compliments each other well.”
He said that in 2010 Bourne-mouth University estimated an additional £1.5m spend in the town during the festival.
He added: “This year I would say that additional spend has been more like £3m.”
Brett Hibbitt, of the Jurassic Fish Burgers stall, had huge queues waiting to taste one of the local burgers.
While Jackie Cornish, of Miss Marshmellows, said: “It’s our second year at the festival and we couldn’t ask for more.”
James Shannon, who is from Ireland, enjoyed this year’s festival. He said: “The seafood is great. I really liked the Cornish-smoked sardines.”
Thousands packed on to the forecourt of Weymouth Pavilion to see the Aga range master cookery theatre including a special treat by Matt Budden, chief executive of Highcliff Grill, who cooked up a favourite seafood dish while explaining the ‘fish to fork’ ethos.
He told the crowd: “It’s about breaking down barriers. It’s great to be here today to do a demonstration for you all.”
The main sponsor of the event was Pommery Champagne and others included the Dorset Echo, as one of the main media partners, Piddle Brewery, ARA Wines, Weird Fish and Lloyds Bank, with Dorset Dream Cottages and Penn Castle as competition sponsors.
President of Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce Julie Cleaver praised the organisers of the event.
She said: “It is an amazing thing for the town and we are very lucky to host it.
“The team behind it have done a fantastic job.
“It’s been busier than previous years and with so much national coverage people came down for all over the country.
“I would think all businesses in the surrounding area benefited and many more larger boats were seen mooring in the harbour over the weekend.
“The whelk revival sparked an interest in our lost traditions and gave them a reason to try one. The park and ride was packed – we saw at least 100 people queuing to get on the buses which proves it is a real asset. Dorset County Council used the notice boards to urge people to use the facility or cycle. It worked.”
MAYOR of Weymouth and Portland Kate Wheller eagerly bought the first ticket of the Weymouth Carnival grand draw.
The top prize is a new Citroen C1, worth almost £8,000, with tickets available until 10pm on the day of the carnival on August 20.
Mayor Wheller said: “The Dorset Seafood Festival is one of the most popular events in the borough and county. People from all over the county have been coming to it for years.
“It’s great to be here to buy the first ticket in the Weymouth Carnival grand draw – I hope it’s going to be the winning ticket.
“Let’s hope all those people who came this weekend go back home and tell all the people they know how wonderful the borough is.”