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A British tradition – beaches and bank holidays

A day trip to the seaside was once a regular British bank holiday activity, Mrs A and I recently indulged in a trip down memory lane.

The popularity of the English beach holiday has been waning for a long time, once thriving resorts have suffered accordingly. Freddie Laker started it and Stelios hammered a few more orange nails in it’s coffin. However with a resurgent nostalgic interest in bygone British culture, coastal towns from Morecambe to Margate are rediscovering former glories.

The Kentish town of Margate is experiencing rejuvenation and revealing its colourful heritage. This began with the opening of the Turner Contemporary in 2011, a gallery inspired by JMW Turner’s appreciation of the town. We visited, seeing Tracey Emin’s exhibition She Lay Down Deep Beneath The Sea, and Rodin’s The Kiss. Emin’s work is a series of visual musings on the theme of love and relationships, the embroidered works are lovely. The exhibition also includes some small works by both Turner and Rodin (who we renamed ‘Rudein’, due to the erotic subject matter of some of his pencil sketches). The Kiss is romantic, not rude, both are worth the visit.

We meandered through the Old Town pausing to watch a Punch & Judy show. This area is developing a deserved reputation for it’s shops and cafes and there are many vintage shops of note, in our opinion the best is Breuer & Dawson on King Street. This appears well-established but has been open only a few months apparently, a fantastic selection and very personable service, thanks to Sammy.

We continued by bicycle, destination Broadstairs, passing the modernist Dreamland Amusement Park en route. This 1930’s park includes the Scenic Railway – the 4th oldest roller coaster in the world – menagerie cages and a cinema building, all of which are Grade II listed and currently undergoing renovation. We rode along the cliff-top path passing thronged beaches at Botany, Kingsgate and Joss Bays.

Bustling Broadstairs had an atmosphere of unabashed bank holiday fun. Toes tapped along with a brass band knocking out standards to an appreciative crowd whilst we enjoying a world-famous Morelli’s gelato. Then, a couple of hours spent people-watching on the beach tucking into dressed crab, fish & chips and Shepherd Neame ale.

In the opposing corner of the country, Margate’s Dreamland project was preempted by Morecambe’s Midland Hotel a few years earlier. Opened in 1933, this was one of the first modern hotels in the country. Architect Oliver Hill, an Arts & Crafts-trained convert to modernism fulfilled his vision of architectural and decorative unification on this project, specifying every detail down to crockery, table linen and door knobs. Various decorative works by Royal Designer for Industry Eric Gill were a feature of the hotel, not least the five metre Portland stone bas-relief in the entrance lobby. With it’s heyday lasting only a few years the Midland suffered decades of decline until it’s Urban Splash renovation and reopening in 2008. The view across the seemingly endless expanse of Morecambe Bay Sands to the distant mountains of south Lakeland is incredible.