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Spotlight on: Broadstairs

PUBLISHED: 18:33 31 July 2015 | UPDATED: 18:33 31 July 2015

Viking Bay, Broadstairs

Viking Bay, Broadstairs

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Beloved by Dickens, Broadstairs exudes a nostalgic seaside atmosphere with a clifftop promenade, award-winning sandy beaches and plenty of great places to eat and drink

Vintage ice cream parlours, candy striped beach huts and children building sandcastles; there is something wholesome and nostalgic about Broadstairs.

But despite its sedate atmosphere this little seaside town, whose crest motto is Stella Maris (‘Star of the Sea’), a name derived from a former flight of steps in the chalk cliff which led from the sands up to the 11th-century shrine of St Mary on the cliff’s summit, has seen its fair share of excitement and change.

Waterloo 200

Earlier this summer ‘Bradstow(e)’, or ‘broad place’, as it was originally called, had a big role to play in nationwide events to commemorate 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo.

On 20 June a dramatic re-enactment of the arrival of the ‘Waterloo Dispatch’ – Wellington’s victory message carried by a young major who rowed ashore to Broadstairs - marked the day in 1815 when the momentous news arrived in England that Napoleon had been beaten.

Having come ashore on its beach, the town was the first to hear of that defining moment in European history and, two centuries later, they haven’t forgotten their pivotal role in making sure the dispatch was safely sent on its way to London.

A new plaque now commemorates the event and Broadstairs received its own ‘New Waterloo Dispatch’ on the bicentenary. See also page 61 for more pictures from that thrilling day.

Dickens’ summer home

History is never far away. The town’s deep-rooted connection with Charles Dickens is celebrated with an annual Dickens Festival in June and with a museum dedicated to the great writer.

A frequent visitor to Broadstairs, Dickens was famously thought to have based Bleak House on the magnificent Fort House at the top of the cliff, which he leased and where he spent summer holidays in the 1850s and 1860s. Although it became a wedding venue in 2012, Bleak House (CT10 1EY), as it is now called, still offers tours of Dickens’ study and serves wonderful afternoon teas in the Great Expectations dining room.

Immerse yourself further at the town’s Charles Dickens Museum (CT10 1QS), which is housed in a cottage that was the inspiration for the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield.

In rooms where Dickens himself regularly took tea with the owner, visitors are able to browse through the many letters he wrote about Broadstairs, his original writing box and the displays of Victorian costumes.

The author’s love of Broadstairs was well known, with his official biographer saying his Bleak House summer home was ‘the residence he most desired’.

It was of course the sea which attracted him as it continues to do today with people flocking to enjoy the clean waters, the award-winning beaches and the traditional seaside fun.

A tale of seven bays

With seven bays around Broadstairs you’re never far from a beach, but it’s hard to miss Viking Bay. It’s the town’s main beach and its main attraction; a beautiful, horseshoe-shaped bay with sandy beach, clifftop promenade and boardwalk. It’s perfect for family fun with deckchair hire, excellent facilities and a surf school. Similarly, nearby Joss Bay is a surfer’s paradise. With 200 metres of sandy beach, board and wet suit hire, surf school, sun loungers and a café, it’s the perfect place to spend a day by the sea – and hard to imagine it used to be frequented by dangerous gangs of smugglers once upon a time.

More rural but with more character, Botany Bay is a hidden gem of a beach dotted with huge chalk stacks and surrounded by white cliffs. When the tide is out this is a great location for rock pooling.

Stone Bay is long and shallow, so good for walks and paddling, while Louisa Bay has a promenade and children’s attractions.

Stunning Kingsgate Bay is a real find and it’s not hard to imagine the smugglers of old in what are some of the best sea caves in the country. Finally, Dumpton Gap is close to Ramsgate and at low tide you can walk along it into the town.

Eating and shopping

Great places to eat include the Tartar Frigate Restaurant (CT10 1EU, 01843 862013), The Royal Albion Hotel (CT10 1AN, 01843 868071), Paolo’s Kitchen (CT10 1NE, 01843 309106), Restaurant 54 (CT10 1NF, 01843 867150) and The Charles Dickens (CT10 1QS, 01843 603040). Not to mention Bessie’s Tea Parlour and Aqua 43 (see My Town).

And when it comes to ice cream, it’s got to be traditional ice cream parlour Morelli’s (CT10 1QS, 01843 862500), which has been there since 1932.

As for shopping, Broadstairs has Westwood Cross Shopping Centre (CT10 2BF) for high-street brands, but many small independent gems are tucked away down the town’s little streets, including gift and antique shops.

For gifts and unique homeware, try Bay 158 (CT10 1JB), Present Company (CT10 1LP) and the wonderful Arrowsmiths (CT10 1LR).

My Town with

Karen Evans, Bessie’s Tea Parlour

Tell us about your business

Bessie’s Tea Parlour (CT10 1NE, 01843 600189) opened in August last year, serving home-made food and drinks using local ingredients where possible. All of our tea is blended in Broadstairs by Rosie Lea Teas and we have our own tea ‘Bessie’s Blend’. We host a variety of popular events too, including a pudding club, the ‘Broadstairs Bake Off’, seaweed foraging and tea tasting.

You own the restaurant next door too?

43-45 Albion Street has been in our family now for more than 40 years and the building itself dates back to the 1800s. Over that time, number 43 has always been a restaurant and continues to be run by our family as Aqua 43, serving fabulous fish and chips and other traditional British food.

Number 45 has had a more varied existence, being home to a number of retail businesses over time. However, for many years it served as the residents’ dining room when the whole building was known as The Clifton Hotel and Restaurant where families would come and stay for their summer holidays.

The original kitchen in the cellar has been reinstated, although I have fond memories of it as a groovy party room for hotel residents in the 1970s!

Why a tea parlour?

Last year the existing lease agreement came to an end and we decided not to lease the shop again, instead we returned the shop back to catering use for Bessie’s Tea Parlour. Since 2012 I had been running a little vintage caravan business, ‘Bessie the Caravan’, popping up to serve afternoon teas, home-made cakes and drinks all over the UK for events, weddings and private parties.

So frequently asked if I have a permanent base for people to come and visit, I decided it was time to expand the Bessie business and where better than our own premises in lovely Broadstairs?

There seems a vintage revival here?

In a seaside town such as Broadstairs people seem to enjoy a touch of nostalgia, remembering happy seaside holidays, individual shops and an experience that sends them home with a smile.

Although the interest in vintage style seems more popular than ever, I believe it is more the individuality of shops, locally sourced products and a sense of community that is of benefit to Broadstairs.

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