Or, to be more accurate, Cliftonville - allegedly the posh end, much as Lytham St. Anne’s is to Blackpool, or Hove to Brighton (yeah, right!), but Chas ‘n’ Dave didn’t sing “Down to Cliftonville” did they?
Getting away early was important so that meant we needed an early arrival of the Purple Peril (The Parcelnet delivery van for the uninitiated) and not too many deliveries to do. Both parameters were in our favour so shortly before midday we were on the road.
Since several people have asked “Why Margate for Christ’s sake?” it’s probably worth explaining that as a child the annual holiday was nearly always in Cliftonville – fourteen years on the run by my reckoning - my parents weren’t very adventurous people (perhaps that’s why I’m an only child?) Anyway the thinking was that it would be nice to go back down memory lane and explore some more of the Kent coastline at the same time.
We eschewed the dubious delights of the M25, preferring instead to take the coast road to Hastings then headed up inland through Canterbury reaching Margate mid afternoon.
The first thing to notice was the absence of the old pier gantry.
Margate pier fell into disrepair and disuse many years ago - I can never recall going on it – however the gantry to the main part of the pier remained stubbornly embedded in the sand for a long while – in fact it was still there on my last visit some twenty plus years ago, despite a number of attempts to literally blow it up! Obviously at some point in the intervening years they succeeded.
We chose a hotel overlooking Walpole Bay at ‘the posh end’ in Cliftonville, close to were I stayed as a kid all those years ago. It advertised itself as a Hotel & Living Museum and boy, what a place. It was like stepping back in time to the twenties. One of the main features was the original Otis trellis gated lift installed in 1927 and still in fine working order. The hotel also boasted a snooker room and a ballroom with the original maple sprung dance floor. The theme continued in the bedrooms and certainly made a change from the clinical characterlessness (try that for size spellchecker!) you see so much of in hotels these days.
Resisting the lure of an afternoon pint or two in the bar we headed out and down the steps to the beach. Walpole bay has a tidal pool and many a hot summer’s day was spent crab fishing from the sea wall when the tide was out – insert your own jokes about catching crabs here!
The undercliff walk is split level and extends all the way into Margate and beyond. During our times here the upper level would be crammed with beach huts, once of which we had always rented for our stay. Sadly they are all gone now and the area has somewhat of a neglected and forgotten air about it. Had some really good times here as a kid too.
We walked along the undercliff walk into Margate and up to the main promenade overlooking Margate Main Sands. Here could be found the old ‘Dreamland’ fun fair park. Currently closed it boasts one of the oldest wooden framed rollercoasters in the country and yes, you’ve guessed it, I visited this place many times as a kid too. Most of the original rides were sold off when it was bought and asset stripped a few years ago, however the rollercoaster had to remain as it was a classed as a Grade II listed structure. In 2008 arsonists attempted to destroy the rollercoaster – if it had been badly damaged the listed status would have been removed and the whole site could have been redeveloped – suspiciously a similar thing happened to the fun park at nearby Ramsgate owned at the time by the same person! Fortunately enough of the rollercoaster survived, other classic rides have been acquired and plans are afoot to re-open it in the near future.
Sadly, the theme of disrepair and neglect continued throughout the town. Not often do we pass up the chance of a pint but we didn’t come across a single pub that we fancied a drink in. There are signs of regeneration in places but a lot more needs to be done to encourage holiday makers and day trippers back. For those in the UK or with access to BBC1 take a look at ‘The Apprentice’ on Wednesday May 13th at 9.00pm. This week’s task is to ‘rebrand’ Margate and attract more tourists.
Not wishing to see anymore we headed back to Cliftonville via the main shopping thoroughfare Northdown Road and down past the old hotel I stayed at all those years ago. Most properties in this and the surrounding roads were guest houses or hotels but the majority have now become care homes, temporary accommodation for asylum seekers or have been converted into flats. The sense of decay continues but fortunately is not quite as prevalent here.
The evenings’ excursion was a drive just around the coast to Broadstairs, a quaint fishing town with a delightful harbour and some great pubs that are certainly worth visiting. We had a very nice meal in one then headed back to the Walpole for a few nightcaps. There was a function on with most of the guests in traditional evening dress. Watching the procession from the dining room, via the bar (our chosen vantage point funnily enough!) to the downstairs ballroom was quite fascinating. Some found the route a little trickier than others!
Readers of previous diaries will know that I rate the overall quality of anywhere we stay by the quality of its breakfast offerings. The Walpole certainly did not disappoint. Presented buffet style the big meaty sausages and succulent thick cut bacon headlined the fayre but the scrambled eggs were fine too. No need to go hungry here as there were plenty of healthier options too.
Soon after we were back on the road, bypassing Broadstairs this time but calling in briefly on Ramsgate, Sandwich and Deal before stumbling on a delightful little place called St Margaret’s at Cliffe. A beautiful little bay nestled at the base of the cliffs via a narrow winding road complete with a seafront pub though it was a bit too early even for us. Enjoyed a mug of tea though watching the ferries come and go from nearby Dover. Definitely worth a visit if your ever in this part of the world.
We skirted Dover and Folkestone and passed through Hythe on our way to our last stop – at Dungeness. Famous in part for its two nuclear power stations (one is currently being decommissioned, the other is still producing electricity) it is also apparently one of the largest expanses of shingle in the world sheltering the nearby Romney Marshes. You will not find conventional houses here but a scattered selection of wooden huts and converted railway carriages. It really is one of the most unique places in Britain.