October 07, 2015

Dear Margate, What Took You So Long?

The Cafe Cat in Margate
 It’s unlikely you’ve missed the recent hum around the rebirth of this small, Kentish seaside town and yet, if you have, I’d be more than happy to regale you with the tale here, so please do read on. 
 Arguably the UK’s first major holiday destination, alongside contenders like Brighton, Whitby or Scarborough, hundreds and thousands of British people would flock to the south-eastern coastline to bathe, seek thrills on the Scenic Railway at Dreamland with soggy teenage kisses, and soak up whatever they could of the summer, strolling along the numerous natural and beautiful bays to Broadstairs. It’s curious to think how somewhere so ruddy prime could ever have fallen into the shadows in the way that Margate had done in the decade or so before now.
 Somewhat downtrodden and deserted, one could almost see tumbleweeds scurrying along the sands that once beckoned to Turner to rest his easel and paint the sea skies now so famed and cherished by the nation. “Margate?” spat locals in neighbouring Canterbury “Why the bloody hell would you want to visit Margate?” I would argue of its charms but before I knew it I’d be drawing another pint of ale, for attentions would have been turned back to the daily crossword with a shake of the head. “Be quiet. 4-letters.” “HUSH.”
Margate Town view of Dreamland
 And for those stepping off the train to be greeted by an unsightly tower block and an abandoned stretch of beach, it might have felt the same. Perhaps I’m a romantic but wandering down the promenade, past the faded arcades and listening to the sound of creaking two-pence machines and the soft lull of the waves, Margate always had my heart. Its grey skies and lost soul were enduring.

There was so much to discover, even then. Highlights included hour-long rummaging at Scott’s Junk Emporium, or getting unnerved by yourself visiting the Shell Grotto – a dimly lit underground cavern of over 4-million British seashells arranged in short tunnels leading to an atrium which, to this day, no one really knows the truth of. You can ask a dozen people and they’d all tell you a different story but consistently feature the little boy who climbed down a hole to retrieve a lost tool in the 1800s and instead found Margate’s biggest mystery. 

Even then, overhearing the townspeople themselves gathered in hushed groups, complaining of the lost glory of Margate, you could feel the beginning of a new kind of spirit emerging; a fighting community. And, even then, the sun would come out from behind the clouds and bathe the town in light.
Places To Shop in Margate I probably am a romantic after all, but I wasn’t the only one.

When the Turner Contemporary was built on the seafront, on the site where Turner would often rest up at a local B&B with an inspiring view, the county was abuzz that this would be the turning point for the town and yet while it set wheels in motion, it wasn’t until independent shops and cafes started to pop up in the Old Town that people really started to consider it. It wasn’t until Dreamland tenaciously fought for years to reopen its doors to the public that the rollercoaster started to pick up speed.
Shops in Margate
And so that brings us racing to the current day. Margate. On the cusp of being somewhere really rather magnificent, and yet striking fear into my heart a little. I can’t complain. You’ve got fantastic coffee shops, running what’s known as a ‘disloyalty card’ that encourages caffeine-seekers to choose from a number of independent outlets rather than the chains. There’s promises of candy floss on the carousel once more, and giddy adrenaline on the Ferris Wheel, the sound of pennies rushing in the arcade, and more and more Kentish food-joints offering local grub – like the fantastic GB Pizza.
 However, with all that teeters on the edge of success, is the staggering height from which it might fall once more. How can a small town like Margate sit tight and pretty, without plummeting once the shine of a new penny dulls?

Speaking with a fellow Margate-lover, we mused over what had really stolen our hearts upon our first visit. Or what had consistently captured attention across the country at the turn of recent events. We concluded on a key word that you might have already seen used in reference to Margate and other areas of the UK: Regeneration

I hope they never ‘finish’ Margate. Along the coastline, gentrification moves steadily in as high-speed railways are established, as flood defences improve, and as old-town charm waltzes back to the dancefloor. However, in the capital, we’ve seen the effect that overdoing this can have on a community, notably in East London, where locals, grit and character are driven out and prices driven up, leaving only those who can afford to stay.
Margate Cafes
 To keep those tumbleweeds from turning once more, must Margate remain in a state of construction, and glinting promise? Call me a romantic for certain, but what I really want to know is how will Margate keep the magic alive this time?

For more information about what’s on in Kent and Margate head to VisitEngland 

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