Lots of Londoners have a favourite coastal town, and for me that town is Margate on the north Kent coast – let me tell you what it is about the place that appeals to me…
For one thing, Margate is readily accessible from London these days – once upon a time it was a long journey on a slow train but today it’s just an hour and ten minutes out from Stratford International.
The town has quite a few attractions – some you might expect include its two theatres, attractive harbour arm and a broad sandy beach that appears at low tide. One that you wouldn’t is Margate’s spectacular shell grotto, just on the edge of the town centre. A visit involves descending into tunnels and a final chamber that incorporate over four and a half million seashells in all, arranged into elaborate patterns. Discovered by a Mr Newlove who was digging a duckpond in 1835, I think this mysterious place is a marvel and probably worth a visit to the town for this alone.
Something else that particularly appeals to me is the sense of boundless optimism that’s evident as soon as you step off the train. It is this attitude that has brought a new art gallery to Margate in the shape of the Turner Contemporary out on the promenade, and little shops and boutiques that wouldn’t look out of place in London’s more trendy neighbourhoods – there’s even a shop dedicated to cupcakes.
You can add to that well-advanced plans to regenerate the long-derelict Dreamland. This large amusement park on the seafront finally closed in 2006 after years of under-investment and neglect, but it will reopen this summer with a fresh new look after years of campaigning and fundraising by local residents – it’s going to have rides from across the decades and lots of other things going on. Although not as extensive as Brighton’s scene, Margate can also hold it’s own in the street art stakes.
Margate has another side that I find intriguing – it’s bare bones do show in some places, particularly up towards Cliftonville which sits just to the east of the town. The abandoned Lido has definitely seen better days, and the Winter Gardens are also looking a little threadbare, but I find these unloved spaces with their long histories rather romantic for some strange reason – I think it’s the same feeling that draws me towards ruined castles and abbeys…
If I’ve whet your appetite to check Margate out for yourself, there’s lots of information on Thanet’s official tourist information page.