A Weekend Away in Margate
Most of our friends and family have always asked why we tend to venture abroad for our weekends away and holidays. It is true that the UK has plenty of attractive places to visit, many only a few hours away from London by car or train, but we often chase warmer places. A short while ago I decided to spend a weekend in Margate, Kent, and I am sure that they would probably have thought of other places we should have visited in preference to an old seaside resort on the coast of the Thames estuary, but what’s not to love about a faded, grubby seaside town like Margate?
We took the high-speed train out of St. Pancras station on a Friday afternoon with hundreds of commuters happy to have finished for the weekend. One of the reasons for not exploring parts of England’s countryside has been that taking a train journey out of London is painful at times. Firstly they can get very busy and who wants to be standing for more than an hour to get away for a break? Not to mention the British rail system seems to shut down at random at weekends, especially Sundays making the return trip a lottery. Another major factor is that train and UK travel can be rather expensive, so a weekend away from the UK can surprisingly work out much cheaper than staying. Many other families just jump into their car to head off onto the motorways or country lanes to escape London, but we have chosen to live central and avoid the need for a car. However, for this trip we had booked a train in advance for a reasonable price and got seats next to the window to watch the world fly by. In this case on the new high speed link towards the Channel Tunnel before curving out to the tip of Kent with the green English countryside rushing by in a blur.
Once we exited at Margate station, just over 90 minutes later we were welcomed by a full frontal view of a brutalist tower block from the 60’s! Chris asked me immediately if this was really the place we wanted to spend our weekend away, he really does not share my love for ugly, concrete architecture! However, ignoring this eyesore of multilevel living quarters, we could see the sea straight in front of us, literally only a few minutes away by foot from the station, with a wide sweep of sand, and I quickly fell in love with the place. We jumped into one of the waiting cabs to get to our Airbnb flat in a renovated house a short hop across the centre. The rise of Airbnb and other similar services is another factor making travel inside the UK more affordable and attractive for families, and it is certainly better than expensive but the many tacky seaside hotels that seem to be stuck in the 1970s charging a horrendous amount for cramped bedrooms with smelly carpets with no space for an extra bed or family friendly rooms. Unfortunately hotels in Margate were no better and that is why we decided on the Airbnb instead.
On our short drive along the coastal road we could see the sandy shores of Margate’s beach, a huge tidal pool and lots shops, cafes and restaurants. We spotted the Turner gallery next to the little harbour, one of the new main attractions in town. On arrival we could see that the owners of our Airbnb had renovated the spacious flat with passion and a great feel for interior design. It was located in the part of town called Cliftonville, an area that was originally the up market part of town but has had tough times over the last decades and not seen much investment. However, with the increase in popularity of the town over the last years with artists and creative people moving in, it is slowly changing into what will probably become the next hip coastal town. Chris observed that Margate reminds him much of Brighton before it became trendy. Only one block away from the beach promenade and a short walk into town it was the perfect place for us to stay. We loved the huge walk in shower and a kitchen for coffee or juice whenever we felt like it. Jerome had his own room and he loved the giant ornate chess set on the living room table.
There was no question of what to have for dinner when staying in an English seaside resort – obviously it had to be fish and chips. We walked back into town, along the sea front seeking the best chippy. We thoroughly enjoyed our take away from Peter’s Fish Factory, sitting on the harbour wall and watching the sunset over the sea. On our return to the apartment we walked the promenade past the old Lido, before playing a few rounds of chess and heading to bed.
The next morning was grey and miserable at first. We strolled through the splatter of raindrops to the closest good café. The Cliftonville district houses range from run down to fully renovated stressing their Regency or Victorian heritage, some of them have been turned into hotels. Our walk to the café took in a stretch of the promenade that has also seen better days, you can imagine the original Victorians strolling past the iron railings and gazing over the water.
Margate’s Old Lido
As we neared our breakfast spot we again wandered past the old Lido – you can still make out the remains of the pool down on the headland jutting into the sea. It has been lost to time, the pool half filled in by blown sand and overgrown with weeds, the changing complex and old café are now a function room for cheap and cheerful birthday parties. I loved the old seaside architecture, the landmark tower, the old steps, railings and kiosks around the pool, even if the main entrance has become an unsightly car park.
Breakfast at Fort’s Cafe
Heading up to the main road behind the Lido steps we found Fort’s Café, a fairly new addition to the Cliftonville sea front. The friendly eatery serves wonderfully good English breakfasts with all the trimmings but also has a selection of more trendy alternatives. We had a little booth at the back in front of the kitchen and Jerome whiled away the time drawing on the chalkboard at the back of the booth – a nice touch to keep children, and adults, occupied! Luckily as we sipped our post breakfast coffees we could see the sky brightening and the sun starting to poke through the clouds.
Read more about our weekend in Margate in the following posts.