Right, Thursday and the Isle of Thanet was today's destination, or more accurately some of it’s seaside towns. Some may remember that we were here a few years back on a trip down memory lane – for me anyway – staying at the quaint Walpole Bay Hotel in Cliftonville, near Margate.
We started, just south of the Isle, in Sandwich, famous, apart from the name, for it’s golf course. Past the golf course is Sandwich Bay, accessed by a private road through the Sandwich Bay Estate for which you have to pay a toll – of seven quid if you are a non-resident and/or driver. We turned tail and headed north.
Ramsgate was next, but not before passing the old Pfizer factory, still standing rigidly erect (sorry, if you don’t know what Pfizer makes that’s wasted on you) despite closing and being sold off some months ago. Ferries still ply their trade from Ramsgate, now to Ostend, but years back there was a regular service to Dunkirk by an outfit called Sally Line no less. As a kid, Cliftonville was the destination of choice for about 14 years on the trot and the hotel owners used to organise booze buying day trips (there was still duty free in Europe then) and in later years we crossed the channel several times coming back heavily laden with Whitbread Export and Le Piat D’or from the boats duty free shop. We stopped briefly for some photo’s, then continued on.
Broadstairs next, a pleasant little old seaside town playing unashamedly on it’s Charles Dickens connections. Dickens loved it here and stayed regularly at Fort House – now called The Bleak House Hotel – which can be seen looking majestically over the curved beach below. Broadstairs quaint little streets are a delight to wander through and we paused for coffee at an old Italian ice cream parlour on the front. Morellis – which has been serving home made ice cream since 1932 here in Broadstairs is now a worldwide concern, with branches as far afield as the Philippines and Kuwait. Oh and Harrods.
Next up and Margate, dear old Margate. Now, where to start. You may recall, when we last visited Margate (which you can read about here) we found a once bustling seaside town in a state of decay and disrepair. I wish, really wish, that I could say that we found an improvement, but we didn’t, not really anyway. Certainly things have been happening – the much lauded Turner Contemporary art Gallery now sits on the seafront. Striking, but hardly attractive, the Turner has been pulling in visitors although we found it fairly quiet when we went in. Sea defence work is in progress and the part of the old town on the sea front looks quite smart. Work is continuing to bring Dreamland – the old amusement park - back to life complete with it’s original grade II* listed wooden framed rollercoaster. I’m not one of natures ‘thrill seekers’ when it comes to fairground rides - the waltzer is usually my limit. However I am on record as saying that I WILL go on the rollercoaster when it is operational again. Just beyond Dreamland however a grey dishevelled 1960’s tower block brings you straight back to reality. A walk up the high street with it’s pound shops and charity shops barely outnumbering the empty units (apparently, the largest percentage of any town in the country) demonstrates that Margate still has a long way to go. Having such happy and fond memories of childhood holidays here – we always came to Dreamland at least once during our weeks stay – it really was quite depressing and very sad.
** Update January 2016 ** – We returned to Margate in December 2015, and found things were certainly looking up – Dreamland had reopened too and the general vibe was much better. Read my blog HERE
A much jollier time was had that evening in Canterbury as we we went to the Christmas lights switch on party in the town centre. One or two people may have thought that I’d got the date wrong and had dressed for Halloween, clad, as usual, all in black with the new spike mohawk but with the long black trench coat getting it’s first outing of the trip too. Anyway, students from the local college played, sang and danced to some typically festive numbers and the Canterbury branch of Rock Choir joined in to get us all going. The stars of the show, were the stars of the local Panto, including Toyah Wilcox and Gareth Gates no less who performed the actual switch on. It’s fair to say, if a little churlish, that Canterbury's Christmas lights wont win any awards but they did add to the atmosphere of a very pretty city centre. We sampled some ale in some of Canterbury’s lovely old boozers stumbling across (not literally, it was still fairly early) some delicious London Pride at less than three quid a pint, and managing to avoid any of local brewer Shepherd Neame’s offerings.
Nothing of note to report on Friday other than a stroll around the city centre again. On Saturday we fired up the old crate and headed west up the A2. First up was The Isle of Sheppey, not an obvious choice for the casual tourist but we thought we’d have a look anyway. The town of Sheerness is functional, with industry and large dockyards providing for most of the local employment. There is a seafront promenade and according to the guide books a loyal band of holidaymakers make it their destination of choice every year. The large marshlands too encourage a steady stream of naturalists. We actually nearly booked a campsite here before choosing Canterbury, but having located it - tucked away up a very narrow dirt track and behind a dodgy looking housing estate – glad we changed our minds.
We stopped on the way back at Faversham, another pretty little Kentish town and home to the aforementioned Shepherd Neame brewery although we resisted the lure of a tour and the usual sampling. One final stop was made, for the second time to Whitstable for a Saturday lunchtime pint and a chippy. In the evening, despite the plunging temperature, the barbeque was fired up, for the second time this trip.
So, that’s our visit to Kent concluded, but certainly not complete. There is always more to see and do, but we did get to see some new places and (for me anyway) take a trip down memory lane. It’s a lovely county and well worth a visit.
Now, where next…..