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Broadstairs Kent

Travel and tourist Information about the seaside town of Broadstairs in Kent

broadstairs harbourThe little seaside town of Broadstairs sits on top of the chalk cliffs with a long, steep road, Harbour Street, passing through and old stone arch which leads to Viking Bay. From the C16th right up until mid C19th, Broadstairs was a ship-building region and this stone arch, York Gate, was built in 1538 as protection for that industry. Originally it was called Flint Gate and had two heavy wooden doors that could be closed in times of threat from the sea but in 1795 it was extensively rebuilt , and renamed York Gate, after the 'Grand Old' Duke of York. As you walk down Harbour Street take a look at the quaint Palace Cinema, formerly known as The Windsor Cinema. Built in 1911 from knapped flint, it is one of the smallest cinemas in Britain, a 1 screen cinema that seats only 100 people.

Evidence of Broadstairs' maritime past can be seen as soon as you pass under York Gate and come to the harbour. Here on the jetty is the Old Customs House and 17th century weather-boarded Boathouse. Many quaint and charming ancient fishermen's cottages and sheds still exist, now tastefully converted into shops and restaurants. One such is No. 9 Harbour Street. A charming flint cottage, now converted to a shop called 'The Old Curiosity Shop' with a wishing well outside. 350 years ago, this same well was used by smugglers to hide their contraband. When the present premises was being renovated the well was excavated and inside were found some brass-rimmed kegs (used for storing spirits during the C19th) and two large cannon balls. It is thought that the cannon balls were used to hold down the smuggled goods.

High on the cliff top overlooking the North Foreland and Viking Bay stands Bleak House. Built in 1801 and originally known as FortBleak House House, it was used as a coastal observation station by the North Cliff Battery. Messages from a telegraph station on the roof, were sent to warships to alert them to suspicious vessels out at sea. However, since those days, the house is now well known as the place that Charles Dickens and his family spent many long summer holidays from 1837-1859. Today, on the outside of the building, there is a medallion portrait of him with an inscription. Dickens adored Broadstairs and Fort House, calling it: 'our little watering place' and, it was here that he wrote much of his famous novel, David Copperfield, and was inspired to write Bleak House. His study was on the extreme right of the building, high on the hill top, looked straight out to sea and it is not surprising that it was in this place that he received the inspiration to produce such wonderful classical literature. For many years during the C20th, Bleak House was a museum where it was possible to see the house where Dickens had worked. Sadly now, it has reverted to a private house again. However, much of the memorabilia of Dickens can still be seen at the Dickens Museum, located at Dickens House on the seafront. This building too has many links to Dickens himself. It was here that Miss Mary Strong lived who became the model for Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. The museum also plays a central role in the annual Dickens Festival in June. This is a lively and attractive festival with everyone dressing in Victorian costumes, making the visitor feel that they have gone back to the time when Broadstairs was a prime Victorian holiday destination. During the festival the Dickens House Museum holds dramatic adaptations of a Dickens novel. Around the town you can see Victorian melodramas taking place, Victorian cricket matches, Music Hall concerts and traditional street fairs and concerts at the bandstand. Try and organise your visit to Broadstairs with this Festival. Dressing up is not obligatory but it certainly is fun!

Shopping facilities in Broadstairs are excellent and there are several delightful pubs, cafes and restaurants offering cuisine from allBroadstairs beach over the world. To name just a few, immediately below Bleak House, facing the harbour, is The Tartar Frigate public house. Frequented by Dickens, it takes its name from a locally built naval ship, the HMS Tartar. In the 1860s it was a popular drinking place for soldiers, fishermen and smugglers. Alternatively, try The Charles Dickens public house which is one of only three privately owned public houses in Broadstairs. It is thought to be the largest pub in the town with a main bar downstairs and the old assembly rooms on the upper floor. More than 200 years old it is more than probable that Dickens did drink here. Being right on the seafront it gives wonderful views of Viking Bay. The Pavilion and Garden on the Sands is also a wonderful place to stop for refreshment. Right on the beach, it, too, has picturesque views over Viking Bay and the harbour. It is located on the site where the C16th shipyard of George Culmer was located. Very close to The Pavilion, in Victoria Parade, is Morelli's Ice Cream Parlour. It opened in 1932 and is one of the few original 1950s coffee bars still open in Britain. It retains most of its original 1950s decor and has the most amazing relief ceiling design. It also probably has the best ice-cream ever!

Broadstairs walk on the beachBroadstairs interest doesn't just stop at the harbour though. Close to the railway station at the end of the High Street is Crampton Tower and Crampton Tower Museum. The tower is part of the first public waterworks of Broadstairs and opened in 1859. Crampton was a son of Broadstairs and a notable Victorian engineer, specialising in railways. waterworks, gas supplies, buildings and submarine telegraph cables. The museum has some interesting exhibits of early transport systems as well as working model railway layouts. You can also visit the tower itself which houses some fascinating memorabilia connected with Crampton. Not far from Crampton Tower is Pierremont Hall. built in the 18th century and where the Duchess of Kent and Queen Victoria used to stay when they visited Broadstairs to benefit from its health-giving air. Although the house is now used as the Council offices, part of the estate was bought by the Council and laid out as a park and recreation ground, known as Pierremont Pleasure Grounds. It has a pleasant garden, well laid out and maintained. It is a perfect place to sit in the Kent sunshine and relax.

Much investment has taken place to make certain that Broadstairs retains the historical charm that keep visitors coming. To ensure that it remains attractive to visitors, money from the Lottery Fund and the European Union have been sensibly used to restore much of the seafront from the harbour to Victoria Gardens. Walking from Harbour Street along the seafront all the way to Louisa Gap and Victoria Gardens is a walk back in time. Eldon Place, close to Harbour Street has many delightful late Georgian houses. Just in front of Dickens House Museum is a little Regency garden, Nuckell's Gardens. It is laid out with plants and shrubs fitting to the early 19th century and it is here that the lift to the beach is sited too. The Edwardian shelter has been skilfully rebuilt and the bandstand has been refurbished, as has the shelter and clock close to Preacher's Knoll. On top of the cliff are the Victoria Gardens laid out in 1892 which include charming features such as a rustic arbour and pergola. From here you can cross the Louisa Gap via the bridge and enjoy a pleasant stroll along the cliff top to Dumpton Gap.

Louise BayThis walk now brings us to the last two bays that make up Broadstairs. Louise Bay and, the oddly named, Dumpton Gap. Just around the southern headland of Viking Bay we come to Louisa Bay. It is 150 metres long with a promenade and disabled access via a fairly steep slope. The beach has chalets for hire and a cafe for refreshment. It is usually quiet and is another great bay for rock pools. Thomas Crampton of Crampton Tower fame, built the bridge which goes across the Gap. The last of the seven bays, and the most southerly, is Dumpton Gap a strange place with a deep chalk coombe or gorge . Its earlier name, Dodemayton, is no longer used and is as odd sounding as its current one. History tells us that a religious hermit, Pettit, lived for many years in a cave at Dumpton but disappeared after being found drunk and disorderly in Ramsgate. This is one of the best low tide walking trails to Ramsgate where the natural profile of the chalk cliffs can be seen. It is also possible to reach Ramsgate along the cliff top if there is a high tide.

If you are looking to stay in Broadstairs then you should try the Royal Albion Hotel. Built in 1760, it was another haunt of Dickens who sometimes stayed here rather than at Fort House. It is in the centre of the old town and right on the seafront with gardens that lead directly to the beach, so you couldn't ask for a better location. Alternatively, for self-catering, the 17th & 18th century Fisherman's Cottages in St. Peter's Road are gorgeous. Very reasonable priced for 3 and 4 star accommodation. For vegetarians, the Copperfields Guest House is minutes from Viking Bay and is an award winning 4 Diamond, Silver residence. Both Fisherman's Cottages and Copperfield will take pets.

2007 travel guides