I’ve just returned from a weekend in Margate – my first trip to the Kent coastal town in 13 years.
In 2005, the main attraction to the area, amusement park Dreamland, closed. Due to be redeveloped into housing, a Grade II listed 1920s wooden rollercoaster meant that the site couldn’t be worked on and in 2013, the site was bought back for redevelopment. And thank goodness because, together with the Turner Contemporary gallery, Margate is experiencing an unprecedented revival.
It took about an hour and a half from Kings Cross St Pancras (even less from Stratford if you’re an East London girl like me), and we got an Air B&B place to stay in Cliftonville, which is about 20 minutes walk from Dreamland, 15 from the Turner Contemporary. Owner John has converted the property next door into three flats of varying size, each with their own balcony. We stayed in HMS Seahorse (all the flats are named after Nelson’s ships), at a cost of £112 per night. John provided us with orange juice and croissants for breakfast, and greeted us with a bottle of drinkable red. There was a range of old school CDs (when we pressed play the Bangles’ Eternal Flame blasted out, much to our amusement) and feel-good DVDs, including Mamma Mia and Slumdog Millionaire. Although, much to our horror, no Nicholas Cage…
Aside from Dreamland, which we’ll get to, Margate’s old town is host to a clutch of lovely vintage emporiums – curated beautifully I might add – cafes, bars and some of the best furniture shops you’ll ever have the pleasure of browsing. If I ever have the funds to buy a house and furnish from the ground up, I’ll be driving there in a removal van before I even think about stepping foot in Ikea! Being a loose leaf tea fanatic, I have to sing the praises of Lady Tesla’s Loose Leaves and Mud, a tea shop run to eccentric perfection – generous 100g bags of tea leaves start from around the £3 mark (I took away some delicious peppermint for £4.50 and it’ll last me for ages, even if I drink it every day). You can also try any of the teas to take away for £1 (or drink in). I had an amazing coffee and amaretto rooibos (red) tea – I’m itching to go back and buy a full bag now!
The Turner Contemporary gallery is currently host to the Provincial Punk exhibition by Grayson Perry and it’s not to be missed – getting so close to Perry’s works was totally unexpected. His pots are extraordinary – but the true jaw droppers are his massive tapestries, including 2009’s Walthamstow Tapestry.
On the opposite end of the artistic spectrum, Margate is home to the mysterious Shell Grotto, which features 4.6 million shells stored away in passageways under someone’s house!
For £3.50, you can wander the cool passageways and have your mind blown by the ornate walls, with its mosaics of flowers and animals. Mysteriously, the origins of the grotto is unknown, although perhaps if the Friends of the Shell Grotto raise enough funds needed to conserve it, perhaps they can fund carbon dating to discover the truth!
On Saturday night we ate at the critically acclaimed Ambrette, which serves incredible Indian cuisine (not of the curry variety) for a decent price – although booking is pretty much essential. (It was lucky we turned up at 5:45!) The service is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Essential dining for any visitor (essential drinking being provided by the Lifeboat pub). A quick, tasty Sunday lunch was eaten at the Great British Pizza Company in Margate.
After filling up at Ambrette and having a glass of courage in the relaxing surroundings of the Lifeboat pub, it was time to embrace Dreamland’s roller disco – one of the first attractions to open at the park. For £4.95 (peak), you get given a pair of skates and can roll to your heart’s content! Needless to say, we stayed until closing time – AND I didn’t fall.
The next day, it was finally time to hit the rides of Dreamland. Unfortunately the scenic railway isn’t fully restored and ready for action yet, something I was well aware of – unfortunately, neither were a few other rides, including the Crazy Mouse, which I was a little disappointed by! However, there was still a wide range of rides on offer, from the child friendly (Caterpillar), to the downright terrifying (Top Spin – a creakier counterpart to Chessington World of Adventures’ Rameses Revenge). You can even experience crazy levels of G-force in the Barrel of Laughs, which spins so fast that you stick to its sides as the floor drops from beneath you.
There’s still so much to be opened at Dreamland, rides aside. Next to open is the Dreamland Ballroom, followed by the Hall by the Sea and even a bingo hall! The design of the park and its marketing is cleverly pitched at young Londoners like me – and I hope others find themselves seduced by it. Margate might not match Brighton for nightlife, but it has the potential to be a major seaside resort in the next few years. I’ll certainly be back, friends in tow.