When the weather’s right, the British seaside is a magical place. It’s not just about sun-kissed babes and buff dudes, the kind you find in beach resorts worldwide, but about a whole seaside experience including boardwalks, funfairs, ice cream, sweets and fish and chips. With nostalgia firmly at it’s heart, it’s a step back in time that puts a smile on your face and leaves you with lifelong memories – and if you’re lucky, you might even catch some semblance of a tan.
Before the British summer runs its short and sweet course, a train hopping journey along the Kent coast is a must do. Starting at the iconic Kings Cross St Pancras Station in Central London (return tickets are around £24), you’re smack bang in the Kent countryside before you know it, ready to pick your spot on the beach.
Alight first at Margate, where the seaside is a mere stone’s throw from the train station and greets you with its warmth and colour. In minutes you’ll be casually wandering around Margate’s rejuvenated old town, complete with endlessly potterable lanes filled with vintage boutiques and cute cafes.
Margate’s Turner Contemporary gallery is a must see, especially Grayson Perry’s Provincial Punk exhibition which runs until September 13. It’s a feast for the eyes and brains of fans and non-fans alike. Think Ming vase style pots etched, painted and embossed with Perry’s unique, cartoonish brand of modern art, incorporating familiar art motifs like medieval villages and female forms with comments on consumerism and working class culture. You can also take in sketches of Margate in its heyday and if you come at the right time, you can have a go at playing the interactive cymbal sculpture.
Before you hop on the train to neighbouring Broadstairs, stop for a snack at Mannings seafood van, where juicy morsels such as cockles, mussels and fresh crab abound, putting the taste of the sea right in your mouth.
Just five minutes by train from Margate is Broadstairs. It has an equally pretty seafront but a completely different vibe. Sure, the cafes are cute and the sense of nostalgia prevails but while Margate is cashing in on its rejuvenation, Broadstairs’ continuing appeal lies in its feeling of being frozen in time. It’s not trendy at all, and that’s its beauty. We happily cosied in against a group of white haired, adorable pensioners (dressed to the nines despite the 30 degree heat) at the cafe Aqua 43 to sample their legendary fish and chips and we were not disappointed. This, my friends, is the British seaside on a plate.
Forget your fish and chips – when you get to Whitstable, about 25 minutes by train from Broadstairs and on the route back to London, you’re firmly in oyster territory. Not only are they on every menu in town but they are a key part of the area’s identity. As you slurp down your icy cold, sea-salty, tangy oysters alongside an equally cold beer, you can actually see where your oysters came from – right in front of you. I love the sign in the picture below explaining how the used oyster shells are put back in the sea to help baby oysters thrive and keep those delicious treats on the plate.