Margate is making a comeback. Surprising as it may sound, this forlorn but loveable Kent seaside resort is hoping to enjoy the kind of mini-boom it has jealously observed in nearby Whitstable and not-so-near St Ives, thanks to two artists one living and one long-dead.
More than £10m has been set aside by the local council to build a gallery dedicated to the works of Turner, which will overlook the harbour an area where Turner lodged and where he painted some of his best-known works. The town's most infamous daughter, Tracey Emin, is lending a hand, by featuring it in much of her work and plugging it in the media. Emin wants to make a film featuring the town. It will, she says, negate the depressing image of the resort projected by Pawel Pawlikowski's Last Resort, which cast Margate as a refugee prison camp.
But you need not wait until the Turner Centre is built to enjoy something more than a chilly dip in the sea and a donkey ride here. Emin recently opened the Living Museum at the resort's wonderfully atmospheric Walpole Bay Hotel, which traces the history of the hotel and its environs back to its construction in 1914. Once you have perused the artefacts you can enjoy tea on the terrace (or indoors when the weather dictates) and if you overdo it on the cakes the rooms are pretty reasonable, with doubles starting at £55.
Walking back up the coast towards the proposed site for the Turner Centre you will pass the rather distressed but still outstanding space-age architectural folly that is the Lido tower. The tower is an Emin favourite and one she is campaigning to save from crumbling to dust. If you head away from the sea here you come to Shell Grotto, a bizarre cavern covered in tiny seashells. There are still disputes over whether the grotto is a pre-Roman temple or merely Victorian. Either way it is well worth visiting. It has now shut for winter, though it might open at weekends around Christmas.
Though the Turner Centre is still at the planning stage, you can stand on the site where it will be built and enjoy the view out to sea that inspired Turner's paintings. If the tide is out you may even spot the remains of the town's Victorian iron pier, which was swept away in a storm.
If you skipped the cream tea you may want to sample some of the fresh shellfish from the harbour's seafood stall or nip across the road to the outstanding Peter's Fish Factory for some fish and chips to enjoy whilst you stroll up the front towards the arcades and Dreamland amusement park. Don't walk too fast or you will miss much of the historic architecture, including an ageing cream-coloured milk bar tucked away next to a large sea-front shelter.
Of course, you should take a stroll along the beach, either on the main sands on Margate front or at Walpole Bay, directly below the hotel of the same name. You may have to search a little harder for the smutty postcards and kiss-me-quick hats than was previously the case, but rest assured these will not go away even when the art world has fully embraced Margate.Living Museum, open 10am-5pm every day at Walpole Bay Hotel, Fifth Avenue, Cliftonville, Margate (01843 221703). Teas £3.50. Shell Grotto, Grotto Hill, Margate (01843 220008) Reuse content