diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Seaside postcard: Margate → Broadstairs
If I've walked a bit of coast before, I don't normally come back and tell you about it again. But I'm going to make an exception with the Thanet Coast from Margate to Broadstairs because there are some things I didn't mention last time. And because five years ago there was no art gallery, there was no high speed rail link and there were no Clangers. Here, then, is a further list of things to look out for.
[map] [13 (above average) photos]

» Margate beach: It's quieter in the autumn than the summer, so sometimes they seal the sand off for special events like motocross. Packs of padded bikers muster by the beach cafe, then ride a series of races round a special course of turns and leaps, with everything created, ridden and cleared between the tides. The crowd seemed to be mostly locals, increasing footfall on the promenade without necessarily bringing more trade to the town. A lovely day for it, even if the wind was whipping bracingly over the harbour arm. [photo]

» Turner Contemporary: This was my fourth visit to Margate's seafront gallery, which isn't bad going given it only opened in 2011. This time nobody was braving the terraced tables outside the cafe, with chairs flung asunder by blowy gales. The big exhibition over the winter features Turner and Constable, and a bundle of fellow 18th century English oil painters who enjoyed sketching in the outdoors. It's a more serious exhibition than I've normally seen here, which I reckon is a good thing, but there's still a sparse gallery of modern arty stuff alongside. Several dozen lovely landscapes won me over, and you can see Turner at the Turner until the new year. [photo]

» Walpole Bay Sea Bathing Pool: You'd have to be fairly brave to enter the waters at the moment. You'd also have to be slightly adventurous, because this cliff-foot pool is located beyond normal strolling distance of central Margate. A concrete breakwater curves out from the shore and bends back to enclose a large expanse of water. Outside the waves are beating hard, whereas in the centre the water's merely choppy, if unappetising. A sign urges you not to walk around the edge, which I ignored, only to find that it was a bit slippery underfoot out there and I had to tread really carefully not to become lifeboat-fodder. Three years ago 200 people walked seven circuits of the pool as part of an artwork for the Turner Contemporary, but I bet they had a lifeguard nearby. [photo]

» Botany Bay: There are several bays between Margate and Broadstairs, most a mixture of rock and sand beneath chalk cliffs. Botany Bay is one of the sandiest, and also boasts a series of geography field-trip-friendly landscape features. A chalk stack standing separate from the adjacent headland [photo]. An actual arch carved through by the beating waves, which one day will collapse to form a second stack [photo]. Various caves, some very shallow and others deeper, which one day will cut through to form an arch which one day will crumble to create a stack. It'll take centuries, but how great to be able to stand here and explore the full cycle. Just make sure you come near low tide, not at high tide, else the joys of scrambling round the headland through the arch to neighbouring Kingsland Bay will be lost. [top photo]

» North Foreland Lighthouse: South Foreland Lighthouse is near Dover, whereas this one's at the top right corner of Thanet keeping watch over the entrance to the Thames estuary. It was also the very last British lighthouse to be fully automated, with the Duke of Edinburgh turning up in 1998 to press the button that made our last lighthouse keeper redundant. It's beautifully whitewashed today, with pristine clipped hedges, and the two cottages alongside are now rentable as unique holiday homes (sleeps 4). [photo]

» North Foreland Steps: I was thrilled last time I walked this way to discover that an obscure staircase carved down through the chalk to the beach was in fact famous. Author John Buchan was convalescing from a duodenal ulcer at a clifftop villa north of Broadstairs when he wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps in 1913. And these are they, although there were actually 78 of them, later replaced to become 108. I crept partway down last time, and brought a torch this time in the hope of exploring further. Alas no, the gate at the top is now firmly locked with a sign warning "no unauthorised access" - for residents of the local private estate only. Damn. Sigh. But blimey, the Thirty-Nine Steps. [2008 photo]

» Broadstairs: It's a bit classier than Margate, sorry Margate, even if it's missing a big-hitter attraction. The beaches are a bit more sheltered, which at this time of year might be important, and the narrow streets by the sea can out-quaint Margate's Old Town any day. Charles Dickens spent many of his summer holidays here, and wrote David Copperfield in a house overlooking Viking Bay, hence there's a small museum nearby. I didn't go back inside this time, I wanted an ice cream... [photo] [photo]

» Morelli's: Wow, just wow. Entering this fifties-style ice cream parlour on Victoria Parade is like stepping back in time. Salmon pink decor, a soda fountain, a juke box, a padded counter, an illuminated menu of convoluted sundaes, what's not to adore. Smiling uniformed ladies are lined up ready to serve you sweet treats and tea, and then you can retire to a pastel-coloured booth to wolf the whole lot down. Morelli's is older than this Art Deco pastiche would suggest, with the UK's first ice cream parlour opening right here in 1932. The brand now has an outlet in Harrods' Food Hall, no less, and further branches in (and I am not making this up) Bahrain, Monaco, Gabon, Dallas, Dubai, Manila, Kuwait and Tbilisi. Not bad for a business that started on the back of a bicycle in Broadstairs. [exterior] [interior]

» Oliver Postgate's house: To those of us of a certain age, Oliver Postgate sits at the pinnacle of children's TV. How we loved his Bagpuss, and his Clangers, and his Noggin the Nog - many of these now to found in the Museum of Canterbury. But Oliver lived here in Broadstairs on Chandos Road, in a small square overlooking the seafront, until his death in 2008. His partner Naomi still lives here, and the house is marked by a blue plaque and a very special mosaic. Tiny Clanger and Major Clanger look down from the front wall, surrounded by stars and boulders and (of course) a trademark dustbin lid. It's lovely, and a delightful tribute to the man who made so many childhood days sparkle. [house] [plaque]

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