Since moving to Margate, it’s become obvious that there are a whole range of conflicting tourism strategies trying to pull people here. In fact the only problem is that, for people outside the area, it’s probably too confusing. We have a Turner & Dickens Trail, the Viking Coast, Margate The Original Seaside… plenty of good things, but rather muddled.
So what are the basics? Margate is one of the three towns in the district of Thanet and it looks north, from the tip of England straight up the North Sea. Next door is Broadstairs (literally – you can walk there) and just below Margate is Ramsgate, which looks south and connects via the Port of Ramsgate to the continent. The towns-on-three-sides are a clue that Thanet was an island, and it still has the advantages of an island – everything is close and easy to reach.
We have an incredibly active coastline; surfing, walking, sailing, cycling, swimming all happen along the 27 miles of beaches and cliffs. Across Thanet, we have the most Blue Flag beaches in the country.
That coastline is beautiful. Chalk cliffs for the most part, with beautiful bays in between (‘~gate’ means ‘a gap in the cliffs). There’s great birdlife and fantastic rockpooling. Some of the bays – Joss Bay, Botany Bay – are well known in their own right.
And there’s incredible history too; the Vikings landed here first, the Romans knew it – there are Roman remains at each end of the channel which separated the island from the mainland. More recently, RAF Manston was at the centre of the Battle of Britain and the bomber raids over Germany, including the most famous of all, the Dambuster raid. Turner, Charles Dickens, TS Eliot, Tracey Emin, Oliver Postgate, John Le Mesurier, Ronnie Barker all have connections. Youth culture – think mods vs rockers – has always been huge in Margate, centred around Dreamland, reopening in 2015 as a heritage amusement park. There are a wealth of small museums – at RAF Manston, in the home of the explorer Powell-Cotton, underground in a hidden Shell Grotto.
There’s plenty more history just down the road, too. Canterbury is less than half-an-hour’s drive away, or a short, cheap, train ride. That means, too, that it’s easy to visit Margate, Broadstairs or Ramsgate if you’re already in Canterbury. Perhaps we should open a Tourist Information Centre there, and pull a few of Canterbury Cathedral’s million visitors a year up the road to see our wonders.
But nobody outside the area really knows the name Thanet – it’s an administrative district, not a place. The towns are too distinct, each with their own heritage; Turner, TS Eliot and Tracey Emin in Margate, surfing and good food and folk music in Broadstairs, Dickens and maritime history in Ramsgate.
So what to do? Well, I think the focus should be on the three towns; they are, after all, why people visit. Each has a name and history to be proud of. There could be a joint branding – one typeface, a three-colour palette, some common language – which all three share. The three towns need to stay distinct; they have spent over a hundred years building a good brand. And they complement each other, provide balance.
And the name Isle of Thanet should be brought back – not the meaningless ‘Thanet’ but a name that means we’re an island. People love to visit an island – the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Purbeck – and they know that this means many towns, all within reach, with coastline and cliffs and beaches around them.
It’s worth staying here for a weekend because everything is so close – historic towns, culture, coastal walks, wildlife, good food, watersports, heritage buildings, contemporary art.
And a strapline? That’s simple – we’re living ‘Where Britain began’.