A weekend in Broadstairs
With seven spectacular sandy beaches, a Folk Week this month and a great shopping and art scene, Broadstairs is a perfect choice for a weekend away...
With seven spectacular sandy beaches, a Folk Week this month and a great shopping and art scene, Broadstairs is a perfect choice for a weekend away
Broadstairs has plenty to offer those who love a bit of action, from surfing (Kent Surf School, 01843 866707 and Joss Bay Surf School, 07812 991195) to golfing (Northcliffe Golf Club, 01843 862140) and sailing (Broadstairs Sailing Club, 01843 861373), plus plenty of activities for children. For the less energetic, there are leisurely walks along the cliffs and around town. Literary associations abound: John Buchan's novel The Thirty-nine Steps refers to the carvings in the chalk cliff face above Stone Bay, and Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins and Hans Christian Andersen stayed in the town. Charles Dickens regularly holidayed and worked at Broadstairs for much of his professional life. His influence is ubiquitous, from the pubs and shops named after his novels to the memorabilia-packed Dickens House Museum and Bleak House (pictured below), the dramatic, rambling clifftop mansion, where he wove his tales. There's an annual Dickens Festival every June, with plays, concerts, readings and Victorian music hall recitals around the town.
Broadstairs Folk Week (7-14 Aug: see also page 124) is an annual event, now in its 44th year. Look out for shows by artists featuring the best of folk, blues, roots and world music, pub gigs, plus music, song and dance workshops, from harmony singing to clogging. The varied programme of activities begins on the Friday night with a ceilidh at the Pavilion.
Smuggling to surfing
The town is named after the 'Broad Stairs' cut into the white chalk cliffs leading from the sands to the 12th-century shrine of St Mary above. Prior to this, it was known as Bradstow, meaning 'Broad place', and has traditionally been associated with the neighbouring settlement of St Peter's, which came under the jurisdiction of the Cinque Ports. Fishing was its original industry, but Broadstairs soon acquired a talent for shipbuilding and smuggling, the many caves and tunnels in the cliffs providing ideal repositories for contraband goods.
Sadly, both industries were curtailed by the 1840s, but by this time tourism was beginning to fill the economic gap, with a number of seaside residences having been built for the rich. One of these, Pierremont Hall, was once a holiday residence of Princess Victoria, and this grand building now houses the council offices. The arrival of the railways completed Broadstairs' metamorphosis into an upmarket major holiday resort and in the 1850s, the population had doubled over the previous half century to 3,000.
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By the end of the 1800s, several convalescent homes for children had been built, established to benefit from the town's healthy sea air. Fittingly, the Joss Bay Surf School is based on Joss Bay, named after the notorious local smuggler, Joss Snelling.
Start your tour at the Dickens House Museum, which is also the Tourist Information Centre, where the helpful staff will give you all the information you need, including details of the Broadstairs town trail. Behind the promenade, you'll find small streets packed with individual shops.
The attractive buildings of Albion Street are particularly interesting, and here you'll find two antiques shops (Bee Antiques and Bubbles Antiques) and three bookshops (two Albion bookshops and The Broadstairs Bookshop), plus the Ritzy Retro Boutique, for antique clothing.
Viking Bay, the largest of the town's seven bays, fronts the promenade and there's a fantastic panorama of beautiful chalk cliffs and Regency and Victorian buildings.
Viking Bay has a harbour and sailing club, clifftop promenade, boardwalk and a harbour pier, and is host to Kent Surf School, with shops, surfing, restaurants and amusements nearby, offering masses of children-friendly activities, such as donkey rides, and Punch and Judy. To your left is the majestic Bleak House on the cliff top, overlooking the town.
The Dickens House Museum and Tourist Information Centre was once the home of Mary Pearson Strong, the inspiration for Dickens' Miss Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. The parlour is refurbished according to its description in one of his novels, and many artifacts are on display.
Clue up on Crampton Tower
This interesting trio of buildings was designed and built by the Victorian engineer Thomas Russell Crampton, to house the town's first public water supply. The museum commemorates the inventions of local hero Mr Crampton, the first person to lay a telegraph cable under the channel.
Enjoy fine food
The Tartar Frigate and Seafood Restaurant (01843 862013) has breathtaking panoramic views over Viking Bay and dishes from around the world, as well as seafood specialities. The Fayreness Hotel Restaurant and Bar (01843 868641) on the clifftop above Kingsgate Bay, offers a range of foods for every palate, and daily specials.
Take a promenade
From Balmoral Gardens, a formal landscaped area since 1824, go along the promenade towards the town and adjacent to Dickens House find Nuckells Gardens, with its 1800s-style planting. Near the bandstand are the lovely Chandos Gardens and beyond that, Victoria Gardens, opened in 1892, with rustic paths, arbor and pergola.
Visit St Peter's Village
This beautiful village has some of the oldest buildings in the area, including the ancient seat of local government. There's a flint-built listed parish church that has been on its present site since 1128, with a pointed arch roof that dates from the 13th century. The churchyard contains the remains of many famous local residents.
Try the other six bays
Botany Bay is the most northerly, with wonderful chalk features; Kingsgate boasts the best sea caves plus a secluded sandy beach; Joss Bay, below the North Foreland Lighthouse, is surfers' paradise; Stone Bay has great rockpools and a promenade, Louisa Bay is fab for kids and Dumpton Gap has a low-tide walking route to Ramsgate.