We took ourselves and a camera on a little daytrip to the English seaside and experienced some of the highs and lows of Margate.
by John Pope on June 14, 2016
To some it might seem strange that an Englishman of almost forty years of age had somehow managed to spend all of those years (in my defence plenty of them were spent living abroad) without once visiting the quintessential English seaside town of Margate (or Blackpool before you ask).
Recently though this changed, as Six went on a little adventure to spend an afternoon by the seaside. One of the results is this little chronicle/photo-essay of a town caught up in flux and the stark contrast between deep seeded urban decay and slightly overpriced and largely pretentious regeneration.
I wanted to like Margate, I even had some kind of preconceived romanticised vision of the place, the reality though was somehow not what I was expecting. It isn’t a town without any charm, sitting outside by the harbour with a cold beer on a sunny afternoon is lovely, it’s just very jaded and down at heel. While some of my words may be scathing I hope the pictures that follow will show the town in a better light.
You really shouldn’t judge any book by the cover, but first impressions do count for a lot, and the walk into town from the train station in Margate is pretty grim.
Apart from empty and derelict shops, one of the first things that you pass is Dreamland, much vaunted after a recent redevelopment and reopening. We had no plans to go in so I can’t really pass comment, but at a casual glance it seems to be massively overpriced, closes at a ridiculously early hour and generally looks a bit underwhelming.
UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, administrators announced that from 18/06/16 entry to Dreamland would be made free, with a fee charged for individual rides within the park.
A certain Nigel Farage stood as MP for Thanet South in the last election but was thankfully defeated. You might think this means that the area isn’t as racist as it could be and I’m sure it isn’t but that didn’t prevent us from experiencing a bit of less than casual racism while sitting and having a drink on the rather lovely ‘harbour arm’.
The above is particularly ironic given the fact ‘The British Library’ by Yinka Shonibare, one of the current exhibitions at the quite impressive Turner Contemporary museum is an installation that celebrates immigration and highlights the massive contribution that immigrants have made to British culture.
Bites and places
All of that aside it is time to move on to the crux of any P&G article, the things to eat and drink and the places to find them in. Our flying visit to Margate wasn’t highly choreographed, we stopped at places that looked interesting along the way, including:
The Sands Hotel – The Sands Hotel has a charming bar/restaurant including a lovely balcony with a brilliant view of the beach. We didn’t eat, but prices were very sensible (especially for a hotel) and the food looked good. The staff are lovely, the drinks are chilled and it is generally just a nice place to be.
The Lifeboat – If you are looking for somewhere luxurious and plushy (or somewhere big enough to swing a cat) then The Lifeboat is not for you. If on the other hand you are looking for really friendly staff, sensible prices and a fantastic selection of real ales and ciders then it is definitely worth a visit. They do simple food, but do it pretty well. The mackerel was really good (although I’m not a fan of oily fish personally) and there are also sausages or a selection of pies. The pies were all pretty decent, but sadly the accompanying mash was stodgy and heavy. Oh, they also have a nice selection of yummy pickled things like eggs and shallots.
The Harbour Cafe – I always like to write something positive when I can, but it would be unfair to readers to lead them here. The Harbour Cafe is slightly pretentious, offers very mediocre food, and is really overpriced for what arrives on your plate. The burger is really disappointing and the lamb shank was swimming in a really unappealing greasy gravy.
There were also a couple of places that we didn’t go to which seem worthy of note…
The Mad Hatter – It’s a ‘tea room’, it just looks like a really interesting, fun and quirky place to be.
Peter’s Fish Factory – The fish and chip shop which had a massive queue out of the door for well over an hour.
At the end of the day and on a walk back to the train station it became apparent that the entire town seems to somehow die in the early evening. Dreamland closes at 5pm, the large supermarket in the centre of town was closed by 8 o’clock and the streets were pretty much deserted. These weren’t exceptions either, a huge number of restaurants seemed to only be open until the early evening. It seems strange for a seaside town in summer to not be full of happenings all evening, especially on a bank holiday weekend Saturday night.
The other bizarre thing is that lots of places in Margate don’t accept card payments. It’s 2016 in a town with a distinct lack of cash machines, and you can’t pay for food or drinks unless you have hard cash on you. There must be a reason but I have no idea what it might be.
It seems that I missed the heyday of this seaside town by about fifty years. Will it complete the circle of bust-boom-bust anytime in the near future? – who knows, but let’s hope so. The Turner Contemporary gallery and the renovated and reopened Dreamland are steps in the right direction for sure, but somehow they don’t feel like enough.
Scroll down for our little Margate photo tour…