- Created: 18 July 2017 18 July 2017
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We once spent a weekend in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It rained steadily and heavily. We had a room in a cheap B&B. We had an energetic five year old with us. A lull gave us half an hour on the beach but the rest of the time was miserable. We divided it between some mediocre cafes and an arcade where our four year old played air hockey (fun at least) and had her first taste of a shoot ‘em up video game (hmm....). We dived into a cinema that was showing Top Cat: The Movie. It was desperately awful, even our daughter thought so.
After that, we vowed that any beach break was to be was to be in a place where there would be something to do if the weather failed us. Margate fits that bill and along with its neighbour Broadstairs, turned out to be something of a Dulwich staple.
As papers have reported recently, it’s also become a staple for people from Shoreditch and Dalston but this article is about tourists rather than settlers, seaside fun rather than gentrification and everything that conjures up.
If the sun is shining, the beach is the thing. Margate’s sandy, main beach is classic seaside with all that that involves. There are plenty of other beaches within striking distance, some quieter and the Viking Coastal Path makes it easy to reach some on foot. The walk itself is well worth it. On our last visit, we trekked to Broadstairs, had a cream tea in the endearingly ramshackle Bleak House guest house and at Broadstairs station, encountered the Orient Express, complete with jazz band. Sadly, we couldn’t hop on and instead took the next Margate train.
So, what if the heavens do open? Since 2011, Margate has been home to a major art gallery; the Turner Contemporary. It is a beautiful space, offering the twin attractions of art and a good place to hang out. We have been a few times, seeing Yinka Shonibare’s Dutch wax printed cotton textile library and the see-sawing figures of End of Empire in 2016. A couple of years before, we lay on our backs looking at Edmund de Waal’s Atmosphere and an exhibition following Mondrian from his early landscapes, naturalistic and then impressionistic through to the instantly-recognisable, grids of rectangular blocks. There is enough of spectacle, colour and fun to keep most kids as engrossed as the grown-ups.
Margate’s real gem however is the Shell Grotto. It hides beneath a non-descript building on Grotto Hill. Stepping in, you find a cafe and gift shop. At the rear of the shop, a couple of steps lead to a room housing a mini-museum and activity room for kids. In a corner, a staircase winds its way down and you enter a little world of mystery. The subterranean walls are pattered with several million sea shells.
For children especially but for adults too, there are moments of wonderful exploration and excitement. The area isn’t huge but it is bigger than a typical folly grotto. If anything, it feels like a more-chaste relative of the Hellfire Club caves in High Wycombe.
The origins and use of the Shell Grotto are pleasingly obscure. The complex comprising the north passage, rotunda, dome, serpentine passage and altar room was discovered by accident in 1835. Since then, there has been a stack of theories ranging from the plausible to the deranged. They include an eighteenth century folly and a medieval, Knights Templar construct. Some peopel have fingered smugglers as the builders of an ornate and rather useless (to smugglers) tunnel or else cast deeper into history to Romans or deeper still to Phoenicians.
Our other problem during that bedraggled weekend in Ryde our B&B. The room was small and there were no communal facilities. This was not a place to be cooped up. In Margate, we make a minor splurge and stay at The Walpole Bay Hotel with its gently bohemian air and room to breathe. It has an old-fashioned, trellis-gaited lift, a museum and art gallery that ranges over the hotel (and includes pieces by Tracey Emin) and a lovely, long veranda for time with a book and a drink. We feel weather proof there.
Trains take about two hours from Herne Hill or West Dulwich and are cheaper if you change at Bromley South rather than going via St Pancras. Our latest trip was for four adults and three kids and return tickets with a Family & Friends Railcard came to £95.
The Walpole Bay Hotel is about a mile to the east of the Turner Contemporary and Margate Main Sands. Room rates at this time of year include £85 a night for a standard double and £115 for a family suite for four.Add a comment
- Created: 06 July 2017 06 July 2017
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Walking around the Giacometti exhibition at the Tate Modern there is an unmistakeable intensity in the air. It’s always been there since our first encounter in the sculpture garden of The Maeght Foundation, Saint-Paul de Vence in the South of France. Giacometti achieves something in his creations many other sculptors can only dream of; he imbues them with the fiction of life. The sensation of presence lasting only a split second, a first glance, emanates from the work in front of you. Add a comment
- Created: 19 June 2017 19 June 2017
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There is something about oppressive hear, when the air thickens and the sunlight bears down like a thing with mass. Movement slows and becomes more deliberate. Hurry is pointless.Add a comment
- Created: 19 May 2017 19 May 2017
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It’s a sultry summer night, 23 July 1977. After much pleading, the thirteen year old me is allowed to stay up for the first half of BBC2’s double bill of horror. The film is Son of Frankenstein and I am sucked in by the heavy gothic atmosphere, the weird, expressionistic sets and lighting, the haunting music played by Bela Lugosi’s Ygor and finally, Boris Karloff’s monster.Add a comment
- Created: 12 May 2017 12 May 2017
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The Cultural Revolution was a particularly brutal period in Chinese history. In 1966, Chairman Mao unleashed a torrent of violence and ignorance that aimed to purge the country of revisionists, the bourgeois, the traditional and the capitalist.Add a comment
- Created: 09 May 2017 09 May 2017
- Hits: 1887 1887
Having lived in West Dulwich for the last 3 years, I have become aware that is a bit of a desert when it comes to dining out locally. While other places like Herne Hill seem to have an ever growing choice of eateries and drinkeries, West Dulwich has Cafe Rouge and the god awful pub-come-wedding venue, the Rosendale. Add a comment
- Created: 05 May 2017 05 May 2017
- Hits: 725 725
Yesterday would have been Margo Durrell's birthday. There was always a little bit of confusion about her age because she used to chisel off a year here and there. She died in 2007 at an agreed age of 87. So to commemorate her 97th birthday I have written this short piece. Add a comment
- Created: 02 May 2017 02 May 2017
- Hits: 715 715
Ever since art school I have found the most famous works of Hockney, such as the Hollywood portraits and interiors, very sterile, soulless, lacking any vital life element. He has an architects knack for precision, producing works that are void of spirit. Add a comment
- Created: 26 April 2017 26 April 2017
- Hits: 573 573
After we published the first part of my South Circular ramble, from West Dulwich to Woolwich, we received a message from a reader in China (we have a reader in China!). He said he’d forwarded the link to a friend who had lived in Dulwich for forty years and the friend’s response was “should have turned left out of the station”.Add a comment
- Created: 20 April 2017 20 April 2017
- Hits: 1091 1091
I have recently received several links to press relating to the forthcoming series of ‘The Durrells’, the ITV adaptation of the books of Gerald Durrell. The success of the first series has guaranteed a second and, I am told, a third. Add a comment
- Created: 31 March 2017 31 March 2017
- Hits: 1149 1149
You’re on a plane, heading off on holiday. You stand in line, holding a pair of two litre milk cartons, filled with aviation fuel. As the queue moves forward, you ready yourself, and when you get to the front you have one second to empty them and then race to the back of the line to refill. That’s the rate at which a 747 or Airbus gets through fuel. “I was amazed to hear that” nine year old Katla told me afterwards. Add a comment
- Created: 26 March 2017 26 March 2017
- Hits: 760 760
There’s a cheerful patch of daffodils to provide a little relief from the dirty spray thrown up by cars and lorries. A cold, wet Wednesday morning, the fag end of rush hour; the perfect time to walk the South Circular, or at least a chunk of it. My starting point is West Dulwich station. I head east. At a bus stop, three bags of dog poo and a tennis ball prepare for a square dance or maybe a four-way stand off. There’s traffic noise rather than Ennio Morricone. Yards later, the beautiful Dulwich College hoves into site, wooded hill behind.Add a comment
- Created: 24 March 2017 24 March 2017
- Hits: 803 803
Many Brits can last a winter up until about mid January before they start falling apart. The jet stream delivers warm currents to our south western shores that deceives us into believing that we are further south than we really are. Unfortunately, come February, the jet stream itself seems to have abandoned us, so like migratory birds many people flee the UK for sunnier climbs.Add a comment