I have noted many times on my Virtual Tourist pages that I am a great believer in local knowledge and so it was with the Northern Belle pub in Margate. I was in Margate one summer Sunday afternoon and bumped into my dear friend Geri, a long-time resident of the town. I asked her where would be a decent place for a drink and she told me the Northern Belle was a good bet and that she would go with me as I would never find it by myself. I was a little surprised at this but when we arrived at the place, which is hidden down a back alley, I agreed she was probably right.
If the pub is difficult to find, it is certainly worth the effort for the friendly atmosphere and the huge amount of history associated with it. Originally known as the Waterman's Arms due to it's proximity to the harbour, it claims to be the oldest pub in Margate dating to 1680. So why the change of name then? Well, it is an interesting story and one of great heroism.
The Northern Belle was an american transatlantic ship which got into serious difficulty by running aground at nearby Foreness Point on January 5, 1857 in a terrible blizzard. So bad were the conditions that the lifeboats could not be launched from nearby Broadstairs and had to be drawn by horse trailer overland through the snow to a point where they could be launched. Eventually the entire crew and the pilot were all rescued. The American Oresident, Frnklin Pierce was so impressed by the actions of the lifeboatmen that he ordered special commemorative medals to be awarded to them. If you ask one of the helpful staff in the pub, they will point out some of the actual timbers of the vessel which were used in a refurbishment.
Sunday afternoon was a good time to visit as there is always live entertainment, on the day I visited a guy singing to backing tracks who seemed to be very popular with the locals. Saturday at 1430 is when they draw the meat raffle which I am reliably informed is also well-attended. I was surprised to see such an event as it seems to be a dying tradition in the UK although it was once very common.
Even if you don't fancy a flutter on winning a leg of lamb or listening to the resident crooner, it is an excellent little pub to visit at any time.
I have mentioned other tips on my Broadstairs page about the proliferation of micropubs in East Kent. For those of you not aware of what a micropub is, generally it is a pub selling only beer, cider and sometimes wine but not spirits. I believe it is easier to get this type of licence, although don't quote me on that. They always stock "real ales" generally sold from barrels on display and not a pressurised keg in sight. They also seem to pride themselves on finding unusual brews from obscure microbreweries all over the place.
The first micropub I ever encountered was the Lifeboat in Margate where a couple of friends were working at the time. As you can see, apart from the sign the place looks for all the world like a little corner shop and this is hardly surprising as this was it's former function. Incidentally, apologies for the image as it was taken at dusk on a dull January day with a little compact camera.
If the pub looked unusual from the outside, I was completely taken aback by the interior. Firstly, it is a pub without a bar. they have retained a small counter, complete with a wonderful old-fashioned cash register, which presumably did duty as the counter in the days the premises was a shop. It would appear there is no cellar in the premises and all the beers and ciders, of which there are many, mainly sourced locally, are stored in barrels and boxes in the "stillage" area in the centre of the pub. Seating is provided on presumably deliberately mis-matched chairs and tables in what I believe is a style known as "distressed". One "table" is actually an old wooden barrel.
One respect where the Lifeboat differs slightly from the general run of micropubs is that it does actually sell a limited range of spirits, although not the run of the mill types usually found in pubs. There are some really obscure things produced by artisan distillers. I still think though that by it's style it still deserves to be classed as a micropub.
There is regular live music and I have played here myself but don't let that put you off, all the rest of the acts are very good! There is also a quiz every Wednesday night.
Should all the quaffing make you hungry, there is a small selection of local "snacks", things like dressed crab, jumbo sausages and the like although there are a couple of more substantial dishes offered. I can definitely recommend the Kentish cheeseboard which is excellent.
If you want a decent pint in a place that isn't part of a chain and has a genuine atmosphere, you could do a lot worse than pop in here.
Theatre Royal in Addington Street is the second oldest theatre in the country a year round listing of shows is available from http://www.theatreroyalmargate.com/
You could also visit the Tom Thumb Theatre, in Cliftonville, which is the second smallest in the country, seating just 50 people at a time.Try out their Club Hydropathe: a weekly members-only night of off-beat cinema, sounds and surprises. http://www.tomthumbtheatre.co.uk/whats%20on.html
The Winter Gardens is also near Cliftonville, just past the police station, prices are around 8-10 GBP for a show or panto. http://www.margatewintergardens.co.uk/whats_on/calendar.asp?d=01&m=12&y=2012
The Turner Contemporary art gallery, is located on the sea-front next to the visitor and information centre. The building itself would look more at home in an urban setting, but here it is jutting off the harbour wall like a huge modern art mollusc.
Tracey Emin used to live in Margate and is famous for her unmade bed. But the exhibition I saw in August 2012 She lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea focused on her recent work and although not erotic it contains a lot of nude drawings, mostly of Tracey herself. The media she works in includes watercolours, sculptures, drawings, photographs, tapestries and embroidery.
The exhibition is free but for a small charge there is an audio guide to the exhibition with short commentaries by Tracey.
First, let me deal with the logistics and the way VT works if you are not aware. I actually walked easily to this place from Broadstairs although subsequent research shows that it is just technically in Margate. Readers of my other pages will know that I am a bit of a stickler (some would say obsessive) about putting my tips in the right places so here it is in Margate, but enough of that. On to the detail.
For men of a certain age, i.e. mine, there are certain names that still stir the heart even after all these years - Meccano, Scalextric, Hornby, Corgi, Airfix etc. For those of you who do not know, and I realise that VT is global, these were the names of makes of toys from my childhood. Meccano was a self-assembly engineering kit, Scalextric a slot car racing system, Hornby the gold standard of model railways, Corgi makers of toy vehicles and Airfix produced plastic model kits of just about anything as well as toy soldiers I seemed to have hundreds of as a child. When I found out that there was a Visitor Centre here, nothing was going to keep me away.
Approaching the place is, frankly, hardly inspiring. Coming from the Broadstairs you are confronted with what looks like, and indeed is, a large drab factory building. Although, like most things in UK now, production has now been moved overseas (China in this case), the building is still a working distribution depot. Walking to the far end of the building I found the fairly unassuming entrance, entered and spoke to the very friendly young lady on the desk, paid my £4 admittance (other prices are on the attached website) and walked into what was effectively a wonderland, losing about 40 years in the process.
The Visitor Centre is part informative and moreover great fun. Starting with the life story of the eponymous Frank Hornby (1863 - 1936) and his making of sheet metal toys for his children it goes, more or less chronologically, through the development of what is now known as Hornby Hobbies Ltd. and their acquisition of various other brands until their present position as one of the pre-eminent toy manufacturers in the world.
There are exhibits of very rare models, examples of how they are actually made, a simply brilliant model railway display and a hands on Scalextric track which I would have loved to have a go on but there were a bunch of youngsters having such a good time on it, albeit doing a lot more crashing than driving.
I had enquired as to the possibility of photography inside and the young lady had told me that was no problem so I went on a bit of a shutter frenzy, taking far more images than fit on a VT tip, so I have created a travelogue.
There is a cafe onsite which I did not try although it looked very pleasant, and also a huge shop of just about everything Hornby you could ever want to buy, although I was a little astounded at the prices. Then again, it has been decades since I bought anything from them.
The Centre is all on one level so would be suitable for mobility impaired visitors and I did notice a disabled toilet facility (at the back of the shop should you need it).
I fully appreciate that this tip will be of little use or interest to many VT readers now that "toys" seem to be centred around things with screens but for us oldies it was a complete and utter joy.
The loop bus is a wonderful fast service that travels throughout the day between Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate and the huge Westwood Cross Shopping Malls. For 2.90 (2012 figures) you can get and and off all day long and travel throughout these areas. Every 10 - 15 minutes, even on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Ask any local where the bus stop is. Although if you arrive at Margate rail station you have to walk to the council offices to pick up the bus.
BARGAIN or what?
I love rummaging in second hand book shops, especially ones that have a semblance of order and look clean and inviting.
Tiverton Books ticks all those boxes, you can sit and read and rummage to your hearts content, It is down the steps next door to the Smiths Court Hotel in Cliftonville. Its opposite the bandstand. Great place to browse for old books and quality second-hand. Days open Tues, Wed, Thursday, Sunday
Art is on the agenda in Margate: Try these all close to the Turner Contemporary
Pie Factory Artists Studios, 5-9 Broad Street, for cultural activities, exhibitions, workshops and cafe http://piefactorymargate.co.uk
Marine Studios, 17 Albert Terrace overlooking the ocean near the Turner Contemporary. Gallery and meeting space
Margate Modern Art, 9 King Street (road leading down to the Turner Contemporary from the Shell Grotto) to buy watercolours, paintings, sculpture and by local and British artists
Art For All 9-10 Marine Drive, art gallery, art and crafts workshops. Family Pottery, Canvas Painting and Collage. Every Saturday from 11am-2pm. Activity time approx 90 minutes to 2 hours. £7 per activity. www.artforall.eu
Many cafe bars and niche shops around this area near the Turner Contemporary too
the turner art centre was built,using lottery funds. it is not befitting of the area,as no one that lives here,is into art. it is supposed to attract people from out of town,which it will. but once they have seen it,and the lack of facilities surrounding it,they wont come back!! margate is a bucket and spade seaside town,and thats what it will always be. there is an ols saying,and it involves the words 'polish' and 'turd'!! not recommended at all!! minus 5*
The Turner centre is due for completion in 2011. It is located in the harbour area, and is currently a bit of a blot on the landscape. Hopefully it will look much better when they take the scaffolding down. In the meantime, there is a small exhibition in Droit House, explaining how the build is going and showing what it will be like when it is complete.
The main Theatre in Margate is the Winter Gardens. Built in 1909, the theatre is set in to the cliff and surrounded by attractive gardens. There is always something happening at the Winter Gardens; Variety shows, concerts, musicals and even line dancing classes. Margate Operatic Society (MOS) perform there twice a year, usually the end of May and the end of November. This is an amateur company which has been described by many as 'one of the most professional companies in the area', and 'as good as going to the West end". The ticket prices are much cheaper too!
There are lots of beaches to lay on if you want to sunbathe. Margate main sands are very commercialised, but there are lots of shops and bars close by, trampolines, swings etc for the kids and are close to the main transport hubs. Most of the locals use the beaches further along the coast, Palm Bay being a favourite. These beaches are much quieter and more basic.
All Margate's beaches are sandy. Not a pebble in sight!
Margate is famous for its amusement arcades. There are lots of them, with gaming machines to suit all ages and budgets. when I was a kid I used to play on the penny falls; I think the 'penny' part went up with inflation!. There are lots more high tech options too. You could try and win a fluffy toy from one of the 'grabber' machines as made famous in 'Toy Story 2'.
At any time of year, a walk along the sea front is a great thing to do. Once you get away from the main beach area, it is peaceful, refreshing and invigorating (particularly in winter). We have white cliffs too! You can walk quite a few miles along the under cliff if you so wish. At one point you have to go across the sand, but other than that, the whole route is paved.
Stop off for an icecream on your way.
If you get tired, most buses will take you back to the centre - Cecil Square, or to the main seafront.
There are 2 bowling alleys in Margate, one quite close to the main sea front - 'AMF', and another - 'Bugseys' further along the coast in Cliftonville. Both of them have good facilities, so take your pick depending on your location.