Out on the Isle of Thanet – (no rendezvous with Janet)

The Isle of Thanet is not the most pre-possessing of place names. It has three major population centres – Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs and a very large out of town shopping centre at Westfield.

We went , partly for cultural reasons (Margate Sands feature in TS Eliot’s the Wasteland). We were keen to follow in Chas and Dave’s footsteps as they went down to Margate (scroll down for details).

The Isle of Thanet’s  only mention  in popular conversation comes in Ian Dury’s Billericay Dicky where the songwriter claimed to have had “a rendevous with Janet – out on the isle of Thanet”.  Dury proves there are many other good rhymes for Thanet including Ban- it, Plan it and Pomegranate. I am not allowed to sing this song in my household, especially on  a Sunday and I don’t think that Dury was particularly interested in matters cultural.

Last  Sunday, since we had no church duties, Stella and I made our way “Down to Margate” from Victoria. Here – a note of caution – there are numerous tickets from London to Margate , Broadstairs and Ramsgate many with restrictions. Travelling back to Kings Cross costs a lot more than to any other station as you use the South East’s faster trains.

It is only 66 miles as the crow flies from London to Margate but it takes nearly two hours from Victoria. We travelled through a December mist which lifted as we pulled into Margate , meaning we could scan the sea for Antony Gormley’s submerged man. Sadly, we saw no more than what looked like a buoy from the Turner art gallery. This art gallery is a fine building but what goes on in there is a bit of a mess – a Christmas fair, a creche for arty parents to entertain unimpressed toddlers and some crazy exhibits which hardly justified the visit.

Damnit we wanted a Turner, not a load of Turner coffee table books in the gift-shop.


The Crab Museum

Things took a turn for the better when we wandered into the Old Town. Avoiding the advice of the guide book, we entered the Crab Museum. I learned a lot

Crabs can teach us about biology, climate change, evolutionary history and much much more. But, with the right frame of mind, they can also teach us about ourselves. TCrab Museum rolls out science, humour and philosophy into a unique and was part of our satisfyingly baffling day out.

We discovered the secrets of these remarkable animals, from the forgotten story of the giant Margate crab to what the extinct Sooty Crayfish has in common with fidget spinners.

We also bought some lobster repellent.

During our visit, Ned was showing children what was going on by way of snail action in some sand he’d dug up from the beach that morning. He displayed a magnified view on a big screen and we could watch as what looked like sandy sludge came to life thanks to technology we all could understand. It was magical.

The Team who run the Crab Museum are uttlerly nutty. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed visiting a museum so much.


The Lifeboat pub in Margate and the Chapel in Broadstairs

We were pleased to see that this pub now advertises “Fuck Brewdog” as the holistic message and is a fine and warm place to drink good local beers like a stout that tasted like chocolate with chili.

We learned in the pub that Eric Morecambe had been married nearby and that Trotters Independent Traders had organised a Jolly Boy’s Outing to the town which featured in an Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special in 1989.

The landlady was dismissive of Ramsgate’s cultural appeal and told us to get on the loop bus and see Broadstairs and Ramsgate harbour;  which we did.


The Loop Bus of Thanet

The loop bus takes you into the real Isle of Thanet , full of bungalows of people who like Nigel Farage a lot and are more interested in lighting up their bungalows with Christmas Tree lights than saving the planet. The bus allows you to see the Isle of Thanet’s biggest architectural feature, the retail park at Westfield, which is very big indeed..

We took some time off the bus to visit Broadstairs and the Lifeboat’s sister pub – the Chapel which was also good, especially when playing Dr Feelgood, but not as good as the Lifeboat as it didn’t have a sign saying Fuck Brewdog or a landlady who made us laugh.


Peter’s Fish Factory

We most enjoyed Peter’s FishFactory on our way back to Ramsgate Station. Although this is too close to the Turner Contemporary Gallery for comfort, it does good and cheap fish and chips and has a place to eat them round the back of the shop (which was handy as it was getting ready to snow.


Snow joke

We did get the fast train back, mainly because the slow train left early but also because one of us had an any route ticket and the other didn’t and we fancied an argument with the ticket collector (who never came)- though it was fun getting the dodgy ticket to open the gates at Kings Cross (be warned).

It was snowing on the way back and it was snowing getting back to Blackfriars which took a long time due to there being no Thameslink – presumably in anticipation of the snow and forthcoming strikes.

Looking back on our trip to Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate and the Isle of Thanet – I would not reccomend most of it – but would strongly reccomend Margate’s Crab Museum , the Lifeboat Pub and Peter’s Fish and Chips shop. For a warm place to see the shopping centres and the bungalows with Christmas tree lights, the Loop bus at £5 all day is good value but if you are coming to the Isle of Thanet for a cultural experience, I’d suggest you give it a miss.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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