diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Postcards from the actual seaside [Margate]

My trip to the Isle of Thanet two weeks ago began in Ramsgate, continued to Broadstairs and ended up in Margate. It's a favourite walk, overlooking the sea atop chalk cliffs, doable in four hours and with a convenient station at each end. Here are some snapshots taken after turning the corner at North Foreland to complete my seaside reportage.

Kingsgate Bay brings your geography textbook to life. That is indeed an arch at the end of the beach, and here too are examples of the previous stage in the coastal erosion cycle (a cave) and the subsequent stage (a stack). Thanet council would rather you didn't walk through the middle for fear of falling chalk, but if the tide's in (which it was) that'd stop you anyway. The angle of my photo is deceptive, the arch is no longer attached to the cliffs due to the collapse of a previous arch, which also cut off footpath access to the top of the headland. If geomorphology isn't your thing there's always the Captain Digby, a pub-stroke-restaurant in the shape of a not entirely convincing castle, who overcharge for their car park safe in the knowledge that drivers have nowhere else to go.

Here's a typical bit of north Thanet coastline... rough grassland above not especially high chalk cliffs above a broad concrete promenade above a sweep of beach. This is Palm Bay below Cliftonville, less visited than Walpole Bay to the west and less impressive than Botany Bay to the east. Access from up top to down below is intermittent at best, either via long sloping ramps cutting underneath the clifftop path or down tottering staircases sufficient to deter the casual beachgoer. In livelier seasons, or in normal years, the Jet Ski Cafe dispenses thrills and tea to fans of watersports. The headland in the distance is Foreness Point, home to a water treatment plant whose unsavoury function can be detected as a pungent whiff, so perhaps don't rush to hit the surf.

This bench made me do a double-take. Who is (or was) Hayden, and why would a sarky plaque of this ilk end up affixed to a sea-facing seat? A bout of later Googling confirmed that Hayden Kays is a Margate-based artist, so I suspect he made the plaque as some kind of self-mocking statement... but his website is so comprehensively empty I can't be certain. A little further up the coast I found another memorial bench labelled In Memory Of The Football Season, H Kays 2020, one of a lockdown trio by the same artist (also including In Memory Of Festival Season and In Memory Of Rush Hour Travel). Works for me.

If you fancy swimming in the sea with minimal risk, the Walpole Bay Tidal Pool is for you. Opened in 1937, and designed by the Borough Engineer, it's a huge concrete-edged enclosure on the foreshore replenished twice a day at high tide with fresh seawater. The two longest sides are 450 feet long and the seaward end 300 feet wide with a maximum water depth of 6 foot 6, according to its Grade II listing. I walked round it once when the tide was out, which was unnerving enough, but didn't fancy risking it with an easterly wind whipping waves towards the outer wall. One family were undertaking some very limited fishing from the breakwater, while a plastic hat bobbed up and down in the water further out as part of a regime of bracing exercise.

There used to be another bathing pool just along the coast at Cliftonville Lido. You can still see the depression where the water isn't, and walk through the complex of decaying buildings onshore where only the Cliff Bar and snooker hall struggle on. What really stands out is the 'Lido' beacon on the roof, a bright orange pillar it's very hard not to photograph, so I did. Another nigh-subterranean building is the Winter Gardens, tucked low behind the esplanade, where Jason Donovan has had to cancel next month but Paul Weller still hopes to play in March. On a windswept weekday afternoon I was more preoccupied by dodging bags of dog poo blown from missed bins and accumulating beside the promenade wall.

Hurrah it's Margate proper, and the tide's out, and the beach is almost empty because it's Thursday afternoon. Normally I'd nip inside the Turner Contemporary for some art, but they've just closed for several months for "a series of capital enhancements" (including improved visitor facilities, redesign of the retail area and enhancements to the digital infrastructure). Dreamland too was very much closed. Instead I got to walk out along the harbour arm past the micro pub to disturb courting teenagers skulking behind the shell lady statue, and to stride unhindered across an enormous crescent of sand. Up on Marine Drive dozens of daytrippers downed pints and guzzled fish and chips at carefully spaced tables, while one Jack the Lad inspected his new leg tattoo as blood slowly dripped through his sterile dressing onto the pavement.

The first building you see as you arrive in Margate, or the last you notice as you head back to the station, is Arlington House. This 18-storey Brutalist block was completed in 1964, its rippling facade affording residents panoramic views of both countryside and sea. At its base was a 52-store shopping mall, a pub, a filling station and a first floor parking deck. The base has not aged well, its shops now terminally depleted after a long decline and the car park hired out for visitors to Dreamland. But a 2-bed flat is currently on the market for £140,000, so if you were planning to flee to the seaside for a concrete skyloft here's your chance.

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