We first discovered Broadstairs just after the Millennium celebrations, sometime in 2001. As empty-nesters in a London flat, we were interested in finding a seaside town in which we could purchase a second home as an investment – hopefully a town that had sandy beaches like those we were accustomed to in the United States. As transplanted Americans from New Jersey living in London since 1973, we were used to with wide sandy beaches like the cities along the Atlantic Coast. My wife took holidays in Atlantic City where her family had properties and I worked as a teenager in Wildwood, NJ.
We had searched many locations in the British Isles in an attempt to find beaches we liked. Much to our disappointment, we were not able to do so. Cornwall and Devon were too far away from London. Even though we were attracted to the charm of such lovely areas as Whitstable in Kent and Eastbourne in Sussex, these beaches had stones or shingles, not inspiring to us transplanted Yanks. We had never even heard of Broadstairs.
The suggestion to look here came strangely from our bank manager who mentioned that Broadstairs was a town where people bought investment properties and many services and facilities of the town catered for holiday lets.
So sometime around 2001, we visited the town and walked along the coast taking a close look at the Seven Bays of the area from Botany Bay to Dumpton Gap. We were astonished. Not only were the beaches sandy, they were empty! I recall asking my wife Pat at the end of the day what she thought of Broadstairs on a scale of 1 to 10. Her answer was a very emphatic ‘Nine’.
Shortly thereafter we purchased a small flat on the seafront at Victoria Parade and became familiar with the delights of the town . . . ice cream at Morelli’s, the unusual films on Tuesday evenings at the quaint Palace Cinema and the excellent seafood to be enjoyed all along the coast from Margate to Ramsgate. In no time, we became interested in a larger property and began to look for a house.
Immediately, we were taken aback when we overheard a conversation by someone from down under complaining that there were no seaside properties left in Broadstairs. In a panic, we noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign in Rectory Road and soon we were the proud owners of a terraced house on that street. We sold the sea front flat in no time.
We have been surprised over and over again about how little Broadstairs is known. That is, except for the cognoscenti, many of whom were brought here as children with their bucket ’n spade. Maybe it’s because the locals like to keep a little quiet about how salubrious it is being here. A few years ago when one of the national newspapers published a piece touting Broadstairs as second only to St. Ives in Cornwall for a seaside destination, one could hear a collective groan from the residents fearing even larger crowds of visitors.
In 2007 my wife decided that she would take an assignment with VSO, an organisation for individuals of all ages to volunteer in places like Africa and further afield. She chose Ethiopia and started on a two-year program as a teacher trainer in the the small town of Asella about 175 kilometres south of Addis Ababa.
The question was . . . what was I to do? I had recently sold my travel business and was looking forward to developing a new career as a writer, mainly in the history of science. I had a good start with books about Stephen Hawking (1995) and another on Quantum Theory (2007) published in the popular Beginners series by Icon Books. They both became best sellers and were translated into a dozen languages.
Now I had a new commission which was more ambitious: A Brief History of the Universe as a part of the Brief History Series by the publisher Constable & Robinson. This was to be a review of the great discoveries – from Stonehenge to the Big Bang – which has led to the present day understanding of the nature of the Universe. So, we decided to rent the London flat and I would live in Broadstairs full time and write while my wife was away.
The first activity of the day, after the morning paper from Victory News and coffee on the terrace of the Albion Hotel, would be to look at the tide tables published on the internet. From these tables, one is able to predict the high and low variations of the sea level before scheduling any long walks along the beach. This I did frequently during my sabbatical from marriage and walked to as far afield as Ramsgate and beyond.
I was particularly intrigued on one of my walks by discovering the disused Hoverport landing site at Pegwell, just beyond Ramsgate. In the late 70s, the Hovercraft was our family’s favourite mode of travel to the continent and our youngest son thought that inventor Christopher Cockerell was the most clever man in the world. How sad now to see the eerie, vacant parking lot where we waited for the technological marvel of the day to skim across the surf, descend on the beach and load up with automobiles.
Many locals have noticed me on the way to Ramsgate traipsing along on the firm sand washed by the channel, frequently with my walking sticks. I think I became known as ‘the man without a dog’.
A definite feature of this little town is the variety of eateries here. Deciding on lunch was always a pleasurable chore for me. Often I would opt for fish ’n chips at The Charles Dickens or an Italian pasta dish at the wonderful Posillipo right on Albion Street. In the evening, the charming Thai for Two or the Broadstairs Tandoori tempted me away from another stir-fry at home (my specialty). On Wednesday evenings I would carry my Baritone Ukulele down to The Tartar Frigate and join in on the session of folk songs. In short, I was very content and didn’t miss London very much.
One negative aspect of our success in renting our property has been that we have still have not experienced the excitement of Broadstairs Folk Week. Although Dickens Week has delighted us several times, we have been able to rent our house so easily during the month of August that we give up the dates of Folk Week to some regular clients. This will soon change though as we intend to keep that week open one of these summers for our own use.
Yes, my bank manager was right, Broadstairs was indeed a discovery and a gem of the Kent coast.
By the way, I should mention that I did finish the book, and almost on schedule. J.P.McEvoy