Monday, 27 July 2015
Dreamland, the Shell Grotto and Botany Bay
Hardly a weekend passes these days without an article in one of the broadsheets extolling Margate as the place to be for leading-edge short breaks for the culture vulture with a sense of fun. I am beginning to get used to being in a parish where people come to visit; last week was rather special because all of my four sisters came down, together with various children, mostly now young adults whom I have a tendency to assume are all about 14 years old. Their accommodation varied between a good three-storey airbnb, a sea-view hotel and the 15th floor of the brutalist icon Arlington House with fantastic views.
The first evening, Dave opened up The Hoy specially for us after I asked to book a table for 16 people. I do recommend it: fresh food, local vegetables, reasonable price, excellent service, real ale and a view across the harbour. (#LoveMargate)
The following day was blessed with bright sunshine - perfect weather for a visit to Margate's funfair, Dreamland, re-opened recently with its Wayne Hemingway designs and confident retro-chic. The rides are not intended to compete with Alton Towers but rather to offer a slightly tongue-in-cheek trip to yesteryear with enough g-force to make it fun.
There were enough of us to take over all of the dodgem cars for a session, though only a select few went on what is usually called, I think, the wall of death or something - the one where it spins round and the floor drops away but you are pinned to the wall by centrifugal force. At Margate it is called the Barrel of Laughs. The ride hosts were delighted to have a middle-aged "Vicar" on board (I did correct them) and were amused when I suggested afterwards that it had cured my hernia.
If you are visiting Margate, I do warmly recommend Dreamland. The staff are charming, friendly and genuinely concerned that everyone should have a good time. The whole enterprise is good for Margate, both in attracting visitors and in providing much-needed employment.
The visit was also an opportunity for me to get to the Shell Grotto for the first time. I loved the old advertising poster which says that it is "declared by all the leading Journals to be a very great Curiosity" and that "It is considered the Lion of Margate, one of the World's Wonders, and the most extensive piece of Shell Work in Europe."
There is quite a bit of work going on to restore and clean the Shell Grotto, partly necessitated by its having been "splendidly lighted with gas."
A visit to Margate is not complete without seeing what Turner called "the lovelies skies in all Europe" at sunset. Here is a photo from after dinner at Botany Bay: