The Magical Margate Trail and Margate Town Trail are both great self-guided walks that will introduce you to the sights of this quintessential seaside town, the theatre, the historic Old Town with curious alleyways and cobbled streets, genteel Cliftonville, and one of the unlikeliest Grade II listed buildings in the country: Nayland Rock promenade shelter. Take a seat here and enjoy the vista over Margate’s golden sands – the scene that TS Eliot (1888–1965) gazed upon as he wrote:
On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Eliot had come to Margate in 1921 to recuperate from a nervous breakdown. Staying in Cliftonville, he took a tram each day to sit in the Victorian shelter and seems to have been soothed and stimulated by the sea, overcoming his writer’s block. The lines he wrote, bleak but moving, became part of ‘The Waste Land’, published in 1922 and hailed as a Modernist masterpiece. An amazing thought as you sit here today.
A poet in entirely different vein, Sir John Betjeman (1906–1984) chose the town, its quirky Englishness, seaside gaiety, dancing and beach pursuits, to stand for all that Britain was defending in his nostalgic wartime poem ‘Margate, 1940’. He knew “the salt-scented town” from visiting while staying in nearby Birchington and you can trace his steps in Margate as he reflects –
“And I think, as the airy-lit sights I recall,
It is those we are fighting for, foremost of all.”
Georgian resort, genteel Victorian bolthole, traditional bucket-and-spade holiday escape, and now infused with the energy of cultural renaissance and Turner Contemporary, Margate continues to reinvent itself while remaining typically English.