Dreamland, the iconic amusement park reimagined for the 21st century, epitomises the spirit of Margate’s reinvention, channelling the vintage seaside jollity of retro dodgems, coasters, merry-go-rounds and helterskelters. The mood was certainly bubbly as chubby comic anti-hero Billy Bunter and his chums eagerly looked forward to visiting Dreamland, the Winter Gardens and many other “attractions in merry Margate” in Bunter’s Holiday Cruise.
Bunter creator Frank Richards (nom de plume of prolific children’s author Charles Hamilton, 1876–1961) lived in Kingsgate and Thanet became the backdrop for several of his classic schoolboy adventures. But jolly japes take a nasty turn in Bunter’s Holiday Cruise when the shipwrecked man the boys pick up is revealed as a dangerous fugitive from a bank heist. Nevertheless all ends well in the climactic Margate scene and Bunter is full of “the joys of Margate, especially the eatables and drinkables”. Mouth-watering Morelli’s ice-cream at Dreamland or fish-and-chips by the beach, anyone?
It’s no secret that the 15 sandy beaches and bays of the Thanet coast are pure heaven for family holidays, swimming and surfing. Less well known are Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome’s connections with the area. Ransome (1884–1967), whose books launched a million childhood sailing dreams, enjoyed regular visits to Ramsgate Harbour and during one trip he saw a picture of a child in a red cap – inspiring the famous headgear of Amazon pirate girls Nancy and Peggy Blackett. The author also used a voyage he made in his yacht from Ramsgate to Suffolk as reference for his book, Peter Duck, and Ramsgate appears again in We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea – 2017 is the 80th anniversary of its publication – when Jim Brading complains about a gang of wreckers, The Ramsgate Sharks.
With 2016’s evocative Swallows and Amazons film still fresh in minds and 2017 the 50th anniversary of Ransome’s death, what better way to pay homage than by embarking on your own adventures afloat with Active Ramsgate: catch a Sea Searcher boat trip and go seal spotting, follow two new coastal canoe trails, or join a canoe safari to view the fabulous bird life of Pegwell Bay.