Margate, Kent October 2015

by Emma Bumpus on November 6, 2015

Autumn brings a coastal family trail of old and new treasure that opens the gates to a great British seaside pleasure dome that does Kent proud.

Greeted by golden Margate Main Sands we enter a world of international beachcross racing, traditional amusement arcades and distinguishing south-facing Margate Harbour Arm . It is from this sparkling hub of vibrant eateries, galleries and bronze sculpture Mrs Booth that we become acquainted with artist JMW Turner from this picturesque anchorage.

Guided by the seashore Viking Coastal Trail we uncover sunny bays bursting with Blue Flag Awarded beaches that beckon the likes of ice cream, bucket ‘n’ spade sandcastles, sea bathing and family friendly seafront promenade bars and cafes.

Lower promenade views introduce dramatic chalky cliffs, shimmering English Channel and impressively infinite Kent coastline, which all 350 miles long, radiates watersports, beachcombing and all things “holiday”.

Cliftonville transports us back to bygone times where past meets present with remnants of Margate’s 1920’s Lido, which reminiscent of fashionable alfresco marine pool and underground warm seawater baths echoes scenes of popular 1950s beauty pageants with deckchair bingo!

Amidst the Viking adventure playground, holiday developments and emergent art galleries we take a genteel upper promenade stroll past the verdant Winter Gardens, a flashback to the Edwardian period where high-class entertainment helped label Margate ‘London’s playground’. Concert Hall to theatre this pavilion erupts with history, echoing performances by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 1947 to The Beatles in 1963.

Walpole Bay, careertraveller favourite, smacks of unspoilt sandy beach and 1930s character with Grade II Listed open-air seawater bathing pool that continues to revive, rejuvenate and treat locals, day-trippers and holidaymakers galore.

Up above the cliffs in Fifth Avenue is the pièce de résistance Walpole Bay Hotel, an alluring titanic architectural jewel that oozes period charisma, romance and a love that vibrates outside in. From the resplendent garden infused veranda with old-fashioned wrought iron posts and Edwardian marble monochrome floor tiles through to Museum and Napery Art Gallery, nothing is too much for guests seeking pure vintage class and relaxation.

Top to bottom is an imaginative labyrinth of period artefacts and artwork that chronicles the hotel’s lifespan. 20th Century history unfolds with three floors of vintage relics that awaken the senses with original Maid’s Scullery, epoch costumes and lashings of Art Deco influence. Corridors of art reveal famous napkins that feature guest impressions and affectionate hotel memoirs, the type that charms them back year after year.

Each one weaves a thread of theatrical curiosity that soars to third floor heaven where luxury and glamour heighten in the form of Hair and Makeup Salon, home to avant-garde award-winning hairdresser, Jerome Hillion. Boldly ‘Parisian boudoir’ and stage-like is a parlour to please, which offering high-end one to one services suggests Walpole is a film in the making. Sublime!

Back inside the hotel’s original 1920s Otis trellis elevator is a golden age journey down to Reception, which revels in period paraphernalia. Careertraveller darlings are mahogany grandfather clock; chaise longue and endearing 1930s valise brimming with hotel archives.

Whilst beautifully preserved guest records laced with red ribbon take us back to 1914 when the hotel was first built, stellar hospitality comes in the form of hotelier and proprietor Jane Bishop whose entrepreneurial journey tributes tender teenage jaunts to Walpole Bay in the 1960s. Jane recalls how her lifelong nostalgia for the hotel, which closed in 1989, led her and her husband to buy and restore this iconic building in 1995 as part of a joint 25th silver anniversary wedding present/project. Remarkable!

Twenty years on, Walpole Bay Hotel shines as a 21st century beacon that epitomises pure inspiration and reflects a current renaissance of Margate’s classic seaside heritage that sparkles with vitality and redevelopment. Freshly upgraded bedrooms boasting contemporary makeovers still echo times of a bygone era with framed samples of original 1920s wallpaper and Cast Iron Tiled fireplaces, oozing elegance, style and extravagance.

Tastefully exuberant and educated we saunter round the Edwardian Restaurant in admiration of local artwork and pieces by artist Tracey Emin, which situated stylishly near the pianist heightens traditional Sunday lunch and vintage Walpole Cream Tea with full flavoursome home cooked love like no other.

Walpole leaves it’s mark with a final Magical Margate walk around the town’s historical centre that offers distinctive gems from Shell Grotto, a 4.6 million-shell enigma to seafront shelter Nayland Rock Promenade Shelter. As we perch upon this eminent Grade II Listed late- Victorian /Edwardian haven overlooking Margate Main Sands, we people watch in the eyes of author TS Eliot who used the 20th century literary hide as a coastal convalescent backdrop for his famous poem “The Waste Land”.

From the Victorian Police cells of Margate Museum to seafront Turner Contemporary, a prominent UK art gallery that celebrates artist JMW Turner’s love of this British coastal haven, it becomes clear that Margate is a creative art magnet. Dotted with independent shops, new businesses and Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture in the shape of Love Lane we retrace the cobbled steps of the artist who spent his school years here.

Dreamland Pleasure Park, or ‘Hall By The Sea’ is a helter skelter slide of unadulterated retro fun bursting with pinball and space invaders to good old-fashioned fairground rides, including newly restored Grade II Listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest surviving rollercoaster. Rebuilt and partly repaired with original timber that lovingly encircles the park is a testament to Margate’s community who supported it’s revival after 12 years of closure to the public.

Thanks to private and public investment from Thanet District Council, Heritage Lottery Fund and Department of Media and Sport’s Sea Change Fund, Margate’s seaside playground is re-energised and brimming with sea spray entertainment.

In a snapshot, Margate is one giant rollercoaster of culture, coast and cool rejuvenation that has lots to look forward to.

Further information:

Walpole Bay Hotel
Dreamland
Margate Museum
Shell Grotto
Turner Contemporary

Details of Margate can be found on the official tourist information website Visit Thanet.

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