Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Day Trip from London

Have you ever visited some place that everyone seemed to rave about, but once you saw it, you didn’t get it?

That was me on a recent cycling-train adventure to the southeast coastline of Kent. The day was supposed to be sunny, but since this is England, dark, rain clouds filled the sky once I arrived in Margate, about 2 hours southeast from London Victoria. I had packed my Turkish beach towel, camera and book, but not an umbrella. Silly me!
The seaside town of Margate has been called “Shoreditch-on-Sea” and “Mar-Great” by London media because of the influx of creative types from London, so it sounded like a cool place to visit. But as I tried to cycle past the shuffling tourists on the faded promenade, I saw two cows and the Hare Krishna clanging bells. I thought, WTF?
Then, there were all the old amusement park rides and tacky arcade games with garish lights that seem to feature in other downtrodden seaside towns like Southend-on-Sea and Herne Bay that I’ve visited. Maybe it’s something you grow up with if you’re English, but I don’t get it. Is it part nostalgia?

Coffee and Art in Margate
Well, I wandered past the pastel-colored buildings and Margate Main Sands (the town’s sandy beach) and headed to Mala Kaffe at the end of the pier. I ordered a lovely flat white and sat inside at the small bar, avoiding the fine mist outside.
It was low tide during my visit and a not so nice odor wafting off the seabed outside. I wrinkled my nose as I cycled past and decided to pop into the Turner Contemporary Gallery. I had a quick mosey past some bizarre, modern art pieces and decided to find a place for lunch.
Outside the gallery is an Antony Gormley sculpture, which has been placed on the chalk bed in the sea and can be seen from the gallery windows.

Margate’s Old Town section seemed to have some interesting, refurbished shops and cafés that looked inviting. I stopped at the Old Town Deli as it was advertising homemade food and local Kent produce. I had a delicious salami sandwich, a small salad and a half a pint of Kentish cider. (Can you see a theme to my day trips from London?) This part of town looks like it could be explored more, but I was interested in cycling onto the next beaches.
Near the Old Town in Margate, the Tudor House, dating from the 1500s, is a small museum with period costumes on display.

A Bounty of Beaches
Following Northdown Road and later a paved cycle path, I headed out of town about 3 miles and stopped at Botany Bay. This long stretch of sandy beach, surrounded by towering chalk cliffs, was quite nice, but the sea was filled with green seaweed. Yuck! On the positive side, the sun had returned which made the white cliffs look brilliant.
Just around the curving coast is Kingsgate Bay, home to some interesting features such as Neptune’s Tower, Kingsgate Bay Sea Arch and Kingsgate Castle. At first I thought, Neptune’s Tower was the remains of some king’s castle or fort, but it is a folly. Lord Holland, who built nearby Kingsgate Castle in 1760, also built the tower to resemble a fort designed during the reign of King Henry VIII. The nearby castle is perched up on the chalk clifftops and sits behind a tall, gated fence with a sign saying it is divided up into private residences now. Fancy that!

Here, I was content to sit on the beach for awhile and read my book. There was no way I was treading into that water unless I had some wellies on. I found the invasion of seaweed to be so strange because online photos of the area hadn’t depicted that feature.

Next stop on my cycling adventure was Stone Bay, a pretty, sandy beach that is lined with dozens of cute, rainbow-hued beach huts just like in Melbourne. The high chalk cliffs cast a shadow over part of the beach in the late afternoon. Now, this is a beach where I could see myself sunbathing!

Beautiful Broadstairs
Finally, I stopped in Broadstairs, which was a much more attractive town compared to Margate, just a couple miles away. The town stands on top of the cliff overlooking the golden arc of Viking Bay and its beach below. Broadstairs seemed to have prettier Victorian buildings, perhaps because of its connection to writer Charles Dickens, who stayed here at various hotels from 1837-1859.
After cycling in the midafternoon sun, I treated myself to a refreshing ice cream cone at Morelli’s, a 1950s, Italian ice-cream parlour that made me feel like I was back home in New York.
Even though there is a train station in Broadstairs, I had to cycle 4.2 miles back to Margate since I had bought a return ticket. The British National Rail system is quite frustrating because you can’t buy inexpensive single tickets. A return ticket always seems to be the cheapest way to go. So when I plan my cycling adventures, I always must pay attention to the return options as well as the train times.

I probably shouldn’t complain too much because if I were back in the United States, I wouldn’t be having these type of cycling adventures in the first place.
Of course, the sun was out once I returned to Margate late in the afternoon.

What is your favorite beach in the U.K.?

Note: If you are a more experienced cyclist, there is a wonderful route called the Viking Coastal Trail that covers 32 miles (51.4 km) along the coast from Margate to Broadstairs and Ramsgate.
Unfortunately, this map doesn't cover my entire cycling trip, but at least it gives you a rough idea of the return trek from Margate to Broadstairs.


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Alan said...

So, you went to Margate - Oh, dear!

Joy said...

Thanks Alan! Lol, any other good seaside recommendations for me? :)