The sun was finally calling us to come outside after our lazy breakfast at Forts Café and explore Margate. Originally I had planned the trip mainly because I always wanted to visit Dreamland, one of the oldest fun parks in the UK. Its attractions and rides cannot compete with those of other famous fun parks in the UK and the world but it has the only remaining wooden roller coaster and other nostalgic rides like chair-o-plane and an original helter skelter, many dating back to the early 1900’s and Margate’s hey day as a place to escape the London smog. Sadly Margate Dreamland decided that a weekend in May was too early for people wanting to visit the fun park, I do hope they recognise this soon and open more often. So, if you plan on heading over there do plan ahead (unlike me) and check if it is actually open.
Instead we had no real plan and decided to just get lost and discover what else Margate has on offer for us and other families. First we stumbled onto a junkyard selling old fun park rides at Fort Road Yard. We were in awe to see that there was everything imaginable for sale that one might find at Dreamland and maybe that is where some of the items for sale originated. Old fairground roundabout cars and planes mixed with radio controlled boats, signs, chairs, all with a theme park twist. Jerome spent some time on an old slot machine in one of the huts, next to a pile of vinyl records that smelled musty and did not seem like a bargain to me, even though you could get 4 for a tenner. Neon signs hung on the walls next to fair ground signs of all kinds. The main attractions were the remnants of old rides, including dodgem cars, carousel horses and ghost ride monsters. It was like being in a run down Alice in Wonderland world. We wondered who would buy these memorabilia and put them into their homes or gardens? Although secretly I wanted to take some of the items home so I am sure others give in and open their wallets. I watched a queue form at the fortune-teller’s hut, at least someone seemed to have steady business.
Stroll Through the Old Town
Strolling on down the hill towards the port, we picked up a drink and some freshly baked raisin bread inside the Old Kent Market Hall. A quaint place with quirky little shops and food stalls, including an old double decker bus that serves a variety of food and drinks.
I had noticed a few second hand and antique shops on our walk home from fish and chips the previous evening and wanted to browse through the stores. The Old Town of Margate has kept its historic glory and many of the picturesque houses have been renovated in recent years. It reminded me a lot of how the Lanes in Brighton used to be when we first started to visit the seaside town. Shop after shop, lovingly stocked with everything from valuable furniture to old magazines from the 1960’s, old cameras and china. Chris and I admired an old pinball machine from the 1950s with a horrendous price tag, while Jerome was drawn to the vintage electric trains and carriages.
It is a pity that shops like these have been extinguished in most towns by chain stores and I was happy to see so many of them here in Margate. I could have spent hours browsing each shop and probably splurged on a few items if I could have taken them back with me to London. Each of us was drawn to different items, some reminded Chris too much of old things his family had had to be attractive, whereas many of these were exactly what drew my eye, vice versa things that he or Jerome spotted I could not imagine buying.
Comic Book Shop and the Mad Hatter Cafe
Winding through the lanes of Margate’s old town we noticed that there was an abundance of beach deck chairs for sale, pretty much outside every shop we could see the stripy fellows looking for a new home. They made a splendid piece of English seaside to take home and a great bargain, too. Jerome noticed a comic book shop on Lombard Street and immediately disappeared, lost to old copies of the Beano.
On the corner was a most bizarre café, called the Mad Hatter, decorated with bunting on the outside. Peeking inside I noticed that it was filled with tinsel and Christmas decorations. On the mantle piece and the walls were photos and postcards of Princess Diana. The tables still had l menus and place settings despite the signs on the windows and doors informing the public that it had closed its doors back in February. It must have been one crazy place to come for an afternoon tea, I hope someone opens it up again in similar style.
Around the corner Jerome found a boomerang in a charity shop and Chris bought a washing line and neither Jerome nor I could understand why. Jerome kept quizzing him as we walked over to the key built into the sea and protecting the small harbour with its neglected boats. A group of artists had set up their easels and were painting the beautiful view of Margate’s skyline and harbour. Some of them were very skilled and I admired their artworks, wishing I was more talented at painting myself.
The screeching of seagulls accompanied us along the key side, past the cafes and art galleries towards the brick lighthouse at its end. Chris and Jerome went down some steps at the end and sat down just above the waterline. He pulled out the left over bacon from this mornings breakfast, which he had rolled inside a napkin and tied a streak of it to the washing line. He slowly lowered it into the sea. He told us that he used to do this all the time with his brother on holidays in Cornwall to catch crabs. While they waited I took some photos of the scenery. The boys pulled out the line and the bacon was gone but no crab in sight. They had a few more goes until the bacon was used up but the crabs or fish tricked them each time. Jerome was disappointed at not succeeding and Chris seemed rather surprised that they had no luck at all given his childhood memories – but they both agreed to try again with better equipment another time.
We strolled back along the harbour and along the roadside towards Margate’s sandy beach. There were more shops and cafes on the sea front, one of them sold beach toys, balls and Margate Rock (a hard traditional stick of candy).
Children’s Funfair Rides on the Beach
To Jerome’s delight we saw that the children’s funfair rides on the beach were open and ran straight towards them. There were plenty of other families with their children. The rides were aimed at the younger ones, a giant bouncy castle, train and carousel, but that did not stop us from getting onto the brightly coloured swing boats. A ride was £1.50 and the more tokens we bought the cheaper it got. Firstly, Jerome and Chris went on the swings, then I swapped seats with Chris. It was a lot of fun, and Jerome tried to pull us as high as possible on the ropes, which made my tummy go all funny and I had to stop. The guard was kind and let Jerome carry on, on his own until his arms got too tired.
To be continued…