ENG­LAND

Los Angeles Times - - TRAVEL - Rob Stothard Getty Im­ages

The re­stored retro rides of Dream­land and the new art in a gallery named for J.M.W. Turner beckon visi­tors to the re­cov­er­ing coastal re­sort town of Mar­gate.

MAR­GATE, Eng­land — When I grew up in 1970s Eng­land, al­most ev­ery­one va­ca­tioned at the sea­side in bustling re­sort towns such as Black­pool, Torquay, Southend and We­ston-su­perMare. The B&Bs were full, the ar­cades were clang­ing and the beaches were jam­packed with sun­burned fam­i­lies scarf­ing ice cream and fish and chips.

But the rise of cheap over­seas va­ca­tions changed all that. Many old-school Bri­tish re­sorts faded into paint-peeled ob­so­les­cence as boarded-up shops slowly dis­col­ored seafront main streets like nico­tine-stained teeth.

Re­cent years have seen towns such as Hast­ings and St. Ives seek rein­ven­tion with new fes­ti­vals, cul­tural at­trac­tions and slick wa­ter­front makeovers. Most, though, gloss over the kitsch sea­side tra­di­tions that put them on the map in the first place.

But one east coast re­sort keen on re­vival is throw­ing its dice in both di­rec­tions. In 2011 Mar­gate opened one of Eng­land’s big­gest new public art gal­leries out­side Lon­don. And this sum­mer, it has added a sparklingly res­ur­rected amuse­ment park that cel­e­brates Bri­tain’s sea­side joie de vivre.

When I ar­rived in Mar­gate this spring — for the first time in 30 years — I found a worn-out town more than ready to re­dis­cover its hol­i­day sea­son hey­day. Dream­land amuse­ment park, which opened June 19, is ready to hook a new round of visi­tors; the re­sort’s other at­trac­tions are in the spotlight again as well.

My first stop was the beach. Of­ten the least en­tic­ing as­pect of Bri­tish seasides — ask any­one who’s been to Brighton — Mar- gate’s is splen­did. Its wide golden sands, fring­ing a gen­tly curv­ing seafront prom­e­nade of old ar­cades and do­geared build­ings, were al­most empty on my sun-kissed visit.

I started at one end, sit­ting in what re­sem­bled a large, wood-framed bus stop — it turned out to be the English Her­itage-listed Nay­land Rock Shel­ter where T.S. Eliot worked on “The Waste Land.” I even­tu­ally hit the sand, skirt­ing the ocean along­side beady-eyed turn­stones.

With the town on my right, I aimed for the Turner Con­tem­po­rary art gallery, squat­ting at the other end of the beach like a slant­topped Mod­ernist book­end. Named for Ro­man­ti­cist J.M.W. Turner — the pi­o­neer­ing artist painted many lo­cal scenes — this top­drawer at­trac­tion would easily be at home in Lon­don, about 75 miles west of here.

Step­ping in­side — free en­try makes art lovers of most Mar­gate visi­tors — I found an airy, two-f loored space with win­dows that framed the ocean and an ex­hi­bi­tion com­par­ing Dutch master An­thony van Dyck’s por­traits with to­day’s ubiq­ui­tous self­ies.

Next, I hit the nearby Old Town area, a tan­gle of brick build­ings re­pur­posed with bou­tiques, gal­leries and wa­ter­ing holes. Street art adorned the walls here, in­clud­ing foxes, rab­bits and a smil­ing Tracey Emin: The Mar­gate-raised artist’s por­trait beams be­at­if­i­cally from on high. She looks hope­ful.

John Lee

MAR­GATE, Eng­land, touts the Turner Con­tem­po­rary art gallery as it aims to woo back visi­tors.

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