The world and his missus were surprised recently when Margate was named alongside the likes of Dubrovnik, North Cyprus and Puerto Rico as one of Rough Guides
The world and his missus were surprised recently when Margate was named alongside the likes of Dubrovnik, North Cyprus and Puerto Rico as one of Rough Guides Top 10 places to visit in 2013 – and was the only UK destination to appear in the list. For a town which has historically been linked with T.S. Eliot’s somewhat bleak poem, The Wasteland, and more recently found fame appearing in Only Fools and Horses and Chas and Dave, nobody could be blamed for assuming the prestigious 7th place ranking (above Chile, Puerto Rico and a festival called “Nowhere”, natch) was a further attempt at comedy.
I visited Margate in a journalistic role back in April 2011, to attend the press opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery, which is being hailed as the reason for the town’s regeneration, and my opinion of the town was very much divided.
Pulling into Margate on the train, the wasteland either side of the tracks is home to the skeletal remains of abandoned rollercoasters from the once-decadent Dreamland amusement park. As a child, I remember kids in my class visiting Dreamland—it was a couple of hours drive away, but so worth it. Everybody wanted to go! Its closure in 2005 has undoubtedly played a large part in the degeneration of the town, leaving a gaping gap in the tourism industry until the Turner Contemporary opened, luring a large, but altogether more refined, crowd back to the area.
Heading towards the Gallery, its position over the seafront creating a sense of omnipresence, no mean feat for a building so young, you could easily be forgiven for falling for the clap trap about Margate being a hip destination. The surrounding streets are filled with an abundance of vintage clothing stores, antiques dealers and yummy mummy style cupcake cafes. So far, so hip.
But head back into the centre of town – not along the seafront, which has done a very British job of keeping up appearances, but via the back roads, and you’ll see a very different picture. For every occupied retail unit, at least one other is empty. The shops that have survived Margate’s decline are, for the large part, low end high street stores—bargain chains, pound shops, and what my mother would refer to as “tat stores.” The largest store in the town by far is Primark. Of course, things may have changed in the past 20 months, but internet comments from the locals about the Rough Guides list suggest otherwise.
The explanation for the inclusion of this “gem” onto the list by Rough Guides Web Editor Tim Chester claims that Margate “constitutes one of the highlights of the forthcoming Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey.” Any local worth talking to would immediately be able to list several more impressive alternatives, and even anyone not familiar with the South of England would surely name Hastings and Brighton as worthwhile seaside destinations before they even considered Margate.
If it is a classic British seaside getaway you’re looking for, might I suggest the following:
Less than two hours drive away from Margate, Hastings is a quintessentially British seaside town, complete with penny arcade machines, traditional fishing huts, and a castle on a clifftop.
Steeped in history, part of Dracula is set in Whitby. Also home to Whitby Abbey and a mixture of sand and pebble beaches, Whitby is a more refined alternative to the British seaside resort.
The less mature sibling to Whitby’s refinement, Scarborough is very much penny arcades and golden beaches.
Tower. Rollercoasters. Illuminations. And, from my own personal experience, quicksand. If it’s bright lights and lively nights you’re after, Blackpook is the place to be. Just wrap up warm.
It has been referred to as “London by the sea” and it’s not hard to see why. From the traditional fairground on the pier, to the quaint backstreets of The Laines, and Churchill Square Shopping Centre, there’s something for everyone in Brighton.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in British seaside staycations. The South West is home to many wonderful beaches, and several other gems are dotted around the country.
Image courtesy of Flickr user garybembridge.