Thanet in Kent (Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate) revival – time for leisurely exploration?
I wrote a posting a few months back entitled: Kent Seaside towns: Margate, Ramsgate & Broadstairs. Potential still to come?. It was based on observations I had during a visit during winter. It created some reaction and feedback from passionate residents and lovers of the area, which is collectively known as Thanet, on Twitter. Two of which, called Paul Nichols (from Broadstairs) and Dom Bridges (from Margate), have written and provided a review and thoughts on the area for the blog that they entitled:
Brave Thanet’s nascent revival – time for a leisurely expedition
Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs, three towns often like siblings, each one vying to mark their identity distinct from the other two. The reality is they are quite interdependent whilst at the same time offer visitors to Thanet differing experiences. Isle of Thanet is where the ancients came to bury the dead whilst last century the Thanet seaside towns were famed as highly popular summer resorts pre-foreign package holidays. Sadly, over the last 30 or so years tawdry reputations have somewhat stuck with the general decline and lack of inventive civic forward planning.
Still what falls can with enough willpower rise and community led regeneration have been prevailing buzz words in more recent times. Riding on the high hopes for the Turner Contemporary and rock-bottom property prices a consistent trickling influx of newcomers, mostly ex-Londoners – affectionately referred to as DFLs – are giving the Thanet towns booster shots; injecting a creative and enterprising spirit fuelled with passion for realising the potential.
There’s much natural beauty to discover with miles upon miles of wide sandy shorelines with exposed white chalk cliffs. Between the towns lies stunning, award winning, secluded bays whilst the town centre beaches swell with ever increasing day trippers for as many months as possible. Out of season it’s like it’s all yours, making for a perfect get-away without custom hold-ups or long distant travel. The high-speed train from London is set to reduce the journey to just short of one hour.
As Margate’s Turner Contemporary is well publicised, even featured in International airlines’ in-flight magazines, we’d like to briefly draw your attention to other merits in each of the historic Thanet towns that could make a visit more insightful and venturesome.
The one time pioneer of British holiday hedonism, has sadly through recent economic downturns weathered very tough times indeed. However like a Phoenix rising from the flames, not in a dissimilar fashion to its’ American cousin, Coney Island, Margate has a genuine new buzz about it.
Every other day a new independent shop seems to be opening in the Old Town that’s tucked behind the water front, from high-end vintage clothes stores to cutting edge tattoo parlours. This surge of regeneration is now spreading up to Cliftonville, undeniably one of the most deprived parts of Margate. At the vanguard, a new style café, reborn from a dilapidated 60’s Italian Ice Cream parlour, Forts, providing all manner of entertainment from book clubs to vintage vinyl evenings (not to mention locally sourced tip top food!).
Margate is a town coming alive again with change and fresh new ideas. Listen carefully and you can hear people discussing their business ideas openly on the streets. A buzz connected to the arrival of the hard working TURNER Contemporary but also from the newbies to the town. In essence it is creativity itself that is filling Margate’s lungs with fresh air.
This is an exciting time to witness a British seaside town going through such a revival and to feel the euphoria of its local community, one that wants you to stay and welcomes your creative input and ideas, to get involved. Or if you prefer you could simply wander along the epic Margate sands and follow the coast line along to Botany Bay, perhaps stay at the luxurious Reading Rooms that carries the exclusive Mr and Mrs Smith seal of approval. Or explore the strange enigma of the Shell Grotto or lose yourself in RG Scott’s labyrinth of an antique emporium. Margate has hidden gems however not every visitor will take the time or have the curiosity to uncover them. For example, how many would know that beneath the Snooker Club on North down Road lies a perfectly intact café laid out like the Lord of the Rings with a functioning waterfall running through it?
Possibly the quietest of the 3 and undeniably the quaintest Broadstairs is beginning to shake off its out-dated legacy as a stuffy retirement destination.
Key spot-on stylish guesthouses, like Belvidere Place and Salon Bohemia, have promoted this small town for a discerning luxury weekend for hard-pressed city dwellers.
As well as original 1960’s Italian ice-cream parlours, new nostalgia themed cafes like Oscars Festival Cafe have popped up providing an invaluable social space for the local bohemians and visiting artists and writers. The main draw of Broadstairs are its’ 3 fine beaches, one of which Viking Bay, shaped out of our collective imagination of a crescent shaped smugglers bay, as indeed it was. The town also puts on an autumn food festival showcasing the best of local Kentish produce which each year is drawing large numbers of foodies.
A much larger town and port is more urban with spreading suburbs. The main draw here is the harbour, royal no less, with its encompassing ring of cafe and restaurants. Less known are the long sandy beaches either side that offer enough wide-open space to lose yourself whist admiring the wind-surfers. For those who appreciate historic buildings, there are old quarters, which centre around Addington Street and The Vale, both areas colonised by artists and musicians. The Queen Charlotte, a pub, art gallery and occasional pop-up restaurant, which opens only weekend evenings, could be your portal into the local creative community. If you’re after some fresh fish then head directly for Eddie Gilberts.
Words of caution, if you’re not an enthusiast for homogenous out-of-town shopping complexes, then steer away from the Westwood Cross. Positioned smack in the middle area that lies between the 3 towns, it is frequently congested by incoming traffic and can mistakenly give a visit to Thanet a poor first impression. Never mind it is probably the culprit that drained much of the lifeblood from each of the towns’ high streets. Approach Thanet by the main roads into either Margate or Ramsgate and save yourself unnecessary stress, lost time and sore eyes.
If this brief summary has maybe whet an appetite to explore or know more of what lies in Thanet beyond the easily seen and popular misconceptions, you’d be well positioned to pocket the neat insider’s guide published last year, Discover Thanet, which I hear is set to be updated as new ventures continue to pop up. To have a finger on the locality’s pulse, Twitter has proved a conduit for the towns’ movers, shakers and followers, sharing vital information and their pride in these tide-changing times for contemporary Thanet.
Paul and Dom recommend that you visit www.discoverthanet.co.uk, which sells a guide to the area which promises:
- “Discover Thanet is a beautifully designed, independently published guide to Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Written by discerning insiders and packed with hidden gems, handy itineraries and inspiring ideas, Discover Thanet is the essential guide to this unsung corner of the Kent coast. Contributors include Metro and Olive restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin, journalist Iain Aitch, and internationally acclaimed artist Ann Carrington”
Photo Credits: All photos taken by myself except Margate Seafront at top of blog and the Margate Turner Contemporary which are by http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman