Saturday 10th November 2012 was wet to the point that we were reluctant to take to the fields and had great difficulty deciding where to go. We needed to walk but in the rain that morning, persistent, and looking settled in for most of the day the choices were few. Under-cover but walk as well. Not easy.
Rumour of a hotel in Cliftonville from a local post mistress that was considered to be a living museum was passed on, digested and acted upon. In other words we went to Cliftonville and found the Walpole Bay Hotel where a unique experience was about to unfold, as well as the promise of that English of treats, a cream tea.
The drive there was not encouraging but upon our arrival, we entered the hotel and was made immediately welcome by Jane Bishop, one of the owners, and enthusiastic advocate for the hotel and its attractions. The dining room was being prepared for a wedding reception so cream teas and such were served in the reception or bar rooms, which being filled with all kinds of objects, was a delightful experience.
But let us go back a little.
First impression was that we were looking at a building typical of the past glory of the region, perched on the cliff top with access to the sandy beaches, walks to Margate and Ramsgate and of course within easy reach by public transport and motor vehicle of local attractions. The intrepid visitor can walk to Pegwell Bay or Sandwich and return by bus. Close by are attractions such as Richborough Roman Ruins, Salutation Gardens, the wonderful harbour of Ramsgate, the Turner Contemporary and Margate town centre which is a great place wander.
Those of us with memories of the Mods and Rockers will also, no doubt want to wander the Margate sands and reminisce about old conflicts. The sad thing is that the question about Dreamland is taking so long to resolve with Tesco threatening to poke its nose in. Yuk.
Let us now get to the hotel.
You walk in and the memorabilia is there decorating the entrance hall and the reception desk, the whole complimented by a fully operational trellis gated Otis lift. Jane Bishop explained that we can wander upstairs and look at all the exhibits. There are rooms dedicated to particular themes, hats and coats, dresses, items used in the hotel, rooms that once functioned as bathrooms and utility rooms, and along the walls many of the Art Linens (more that later) presented to the hotel.
The objects are all donated, can be handled and examined, in the main, the more delicate items are behind glass, and although maybe they still work visitors might be encouraged to use the ancient vacuum cleaners arranged in one cupboard.
We should explain the linen displays. It appears that an artist once staying at the hotel painted a sunset view on a hotel envelope and presented it to Jane. Puzzled at first but pleased by the small gift she expressed her surprise and gratitude, and when he asked for a linen napkin she was even more puzzled. He explained that he would do a painting for her on it and send it back to her – the theme – a magic moment at the Hotel Walpole. Thus beginneth the tradition. Today, in the dining room there are framed napkins hanging on the wall from guests who liked the idea, including one from an 11 year old girl from Sydney, Australia.
Quite a nice idea.
There was a lot of interesting little corners to see, many done with an artistic flair a hint of which showed up in our conversation with Jane Bishop. Most creative some of them and all of the displays showed a tastefulness of choice and style. It was an interesting idea, and at times we reminded ourselves that this is a working hotel.
The cream tea was delicious.
We explored the hotel walking the stairs to each floor and wandered around until mid afternoon when I needed a snack. We went downstairs and had a cream tea in the bar, and afterwards went for a walk along the cliff top. The rain had eased by then, and the day was a little warmer. We walked along to the Waste Water treatment pumping station and returned via the beach walk as the sun was setting.
I don’t normally take pictures of sunsets because nearly everybody takes them. Yes they are pretty, and its nice to ooh! and aah! over them but they need to be carefully chosen for best effect – sometimes you are in the right place at the opportune moment. The afternoon was beginning to close down, the clouds were still there dropping rain, but it began to clear and created a beautiful pink sky that silhouetted Cliftonville giving a gentle wintery look to the place, softening the shapes as we walked along the cliff.
Down below it was different and the stronger red of the setting sun picked out the shapes and was reflected in the shore line. We could see what Turner saw in Margate. That ethereal diffusion of light he captured in his paintings was there in the sky.
All very wonderful, as long as you watch your footing and don’t step in a pile of dog poo – the dog poo fairy was not on duty.
Gosh, romantic twit!
We went back to car intending to find chips to eat in town. In the dark we missed the signs for the car parks (I think they missed us too) and ended up going to Ramsgate where we wandered along the harbour – lovely at night. Ignoring the screams of dying victims being shivved and shoved in the water, and avoiding the drug traders, we found a fish and chip vendor and sat down at a table with tea and coffee for a fish and chip supper.
Not upmarket, the guys serving were a bit rough but they were friendly, and the food was nice. On the way home, we missed the turn and ended up going through Canterbury which added a bit to the journey, but again it was a pleasant trip and at least it was clear on the way home.
We agreed that we have added another dimension to our exploration of our counties, and can say that another visit to the Walpole Bay Hotel for an excellent experience is on the cards.