Out on a limb


Along the Sussex and Kent coastline there are many references to Cinque Ports. Cinque, pronounced sank or sink (both appear to be acceptable) is French for five, the five original Cinque ports being Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Hastings.

Until the 14th century they were formed to furnish ships and men for the King’s service and provided the permanent nucleus of the royal fleet. Rye and Winchelsea were added later as head ports, and other members of the confederation, known as limbs, are Lydd, Faversham, Folkestone, Deal, Tenterden, Ramsgate and Margate. The highest officer of the Cinque Ports is the lord warden, the constable of Dover whose official residence is Walmer Castle.

One of the Cinque Port limbs

I thought a series of articles on the Cinque Ports might go down well over the coming months and having just visited Margate, I thought this would be a good start for the journey.

A sunny day always puts somewhere in a better light and in Margate the sun was shining, the sky was blue, but the wind certainly brought colour to your cheeks. Getting there on the train from Rye was easy – change at Ashford International then, depending on the time of day, direct to Margate.

Margate is very much like Hastings in many ways: a town of two halves, and like Hastings you have the old town and the town centre and each area feels different to the other. The station at Margate is pretty impressive: Victorian architecture with polished oak floor and impressive marble clock above the automatic doors, beyond which is a view out to sea.

Margate causeway

The seafront is typical of the south coast, crammed with competing amusement arcades, fish and chip shops, tourist traps and various attractions. Taking centre stage is Dreamland, an amusement park which first opened in 1880 and after a chequered history is still open today. It includes a big wheel, rollercoaster and a very impressive inner concert stadium which hosts some very big names as part of its open-air concert season.

Dreamland, the south coast’s take on Hollywood

Margate still feels old fashioned; it still has an open-air lido which disappears when the tide is in, so too does the causeway but behind the 1970’s seafront façade you discover a whole different feel. It’s trendy, vibrant, diverse and busy with wine bars, eateries, fashionable shops, pedestrianised areas with market stalls and a completely different atmosphere attracting a totally different demographic to the seafront.

As you head further into town, you find the high street shops like any other town in the UK with the big brand multiples but also including your regular selection of vaping shops, tattoo parlours, cash converters, fast food and mobile phone outlets. The many buildings are very like Hastings – huge four and five storey Victorian and Edwardian houses, some whole but many now subdivided into flats. In one of the side roads, I stumbled across a club with an “A” board on the pavement advertising axe throwing as one of its attractions, and further along, a bin for disposing of unwanted knives as part of the council run knife amnesty scheme.

Keep knives off the streets and dump them here
Sport with a difference

The council has also put in place another initiative which is working really well. On the access points to the immaculate sandy beaches, visitors are invited to “grab a free bag” and to take their litter home with them. It obviously works and admittedly my visit to Margate was out of season but there was no evidence of litter anywhere. Their messages are “A clean beach within our reach” and “Clean a little litter, feel a little better” – subtle but effective. Something for us to think about along our beaches, particularly at Camber perhaps?

Keep the beach clean, do your bit!

One of the headline banners proudly on display in big bold lettering as you enter Margate along the coast road is all day parking at £9. Really? It makes you realise what good value our local carparks are in Rye where £2.50 gives you parking in the town centre for 24 hours!

Parking in Rye is cheap in comparison

Margate has always attracted huge numbers of visitors. An historic meeting place for mods and rockers during the 1960s. The locals at Del and Rodney’s pub, the Nags Head, used it for their annual outing in an eventful episode of the hit comedy series Only Fools and Horses. Although it is quite old fashioned in places, Margate is becoming very popular with a new breed of arrivals as access to London is an attraction and this growing interest has had a real impact on house prices, which are not too dissimilar to prices locally.

Worth a visit perhaps and I’m sure there is a lot more to see than I have touched on, including the Turner gallery and harbour. But I didn’t go there to write an article for Rye News, I went there for a day out and wasn’t disappointed.

Image Credits: Nick Forman .

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  1. What no mention of the Shell Grotto! This was one of the highlights of our trip to Margate many years ago. Had a wonderful time chatting with the owners of a local cafe.


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