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The Walpole Bay Hotel, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent

Click to view picture gallery“The traditional seaside town
  of Margate has once again come
  to the fore with the arrival of
  The Turner Contemporary and
  a promise of a rejuvenated
  seafront — where golden sands
  have long enticed holidaymakers
  who can now stay at a great
  hotel and dine out at a rather
  special restaurant
...”


WE HAVE COME TO MARGATE to sample the delights of an outstanding, award-winning restaurant, The Ambrette, and to visit a notable hotel, The Walpole Bay, at nearby Cliftonville, which is within walking distance of The Turner Contemporary.

Built by Louisa Budge in 1914 'for discerning guests', The Walpole Bay was extended in 1927. The Budge's grandson inherited in 1965, and Jane and Peter Bishop bought it in 1995 as their home and to continue the tradition of a family-run hotel.

In the spacious reception, which features intriguing memorabilia, Jane Bishop sweeps towards us with her engaging smile, making us feel instantly welcome at The Walpole Bay Hotel. Jane and her family have maintained the classic Edwardian elegance of a by-gone era. The two words seem to suit Jane perfectly: Elegant and Classic.

“We arrive hungry and
tired and are quickly
whisked onto the
relaxing, flower-decked
Terrace which has
featured in films and
advertisements.
A wonderful cream tea
awaits us with light
scones (still warm from
the oven), jam bursting
with fruit and ultra-fresh,
whipped cream
...”
A real character, the charming Jane is warm and friendly, priding herself on being the face of The Walpole Bay. We arrive hungry and tired, having worked into the small hours, to be whisked onto the relaxing, flower-decked Terrace which has featured in films and advertisements. A wonderful cream tea awaits us with light scones (still warm from the oven), jam bursting with fruit and ultra-fresh, whipped cream.

We travel up to our room, a Bridal Suite, via an evocative 1927 Otis trellis-gated lift which has pride of place in the hotel — an experience in itself! The suite has a sitting area with an archway through to a modern four-poster bed, a desk and a television and door to the balcony. The room is cosy and comfortable; the bed inviting and the classically styled bathroom spacious. All rooms have sea views and more are being converted to family suites.

We wait on the terrace for dinner before being called to our table in the airy Edwardian dining room. The first course is flawlessly prepared: a tasty prawn cocktail and leek and potato soup, not over-salted. Everything is cooked fresh, so expect a wait while delicious aromas waft from the kitchen, tormenting your taste buds.

The menu comprises good, wholesome food and, given notice, can be quite flexible. We opt for the absolutely delicious chicken with mushroom sauce, accompanied by a tray of mixed vegetables with new potatoes. They have got this so right. A young Russian lady at a nearby table describes her salmon as "the best of the best".

Jane tells us her husband Peter is a fantastic vegetarian cook with an instinct for flavour. He has passed his experience on to their son Justin, who has cooked our meal to perfection. Jane is a discreet presence; checking that all is well with all of her guests.

Following a restful night, we come down to a fine buffet breakfast that includes Sausages, Bacon, firm yet moist Scrambled Egg, Tomatoes and Beans. And Mushrooms, which are wonderful!

Jane recalls her first sight of The Walpole Hotel as a child on a visit to Margate, pressing her nose against the window, convinced she'd never be inside. Much later it was her ambition to own the by then neglected building and to restore it to its former glory.

"The survey," Jane reflects, "was damning." The project is a labour of love, at one stage seeing Jane perched high on the roof for two and a half hours, chisel in hand, taking down a dangerous chimney. The 1940s brick ties are in the museum and everything salvaged from the renovation has been recycled where possible.

“Artistes appearing
at The Winter Gardens
come here
and one lady drives
from Cardiff
for Sunday Lunch —
which, along with
Cream Teas,
are very popular.
..”
Peter Bishop is a builder and carpenter by trade and carried out much of the work himself. An astonishing find was thousands of pieces of unused crested crockery dating back to the 1940s, at the back of a coal hole used as a store. They also found brown paper packages bearing registration cards and hotel registers dating back to 1927.

Among the treasures of the hotel are beautiful eiderdowns and linens, carefully mended. Jane had lavender bags made from the linen lace but, understandably, guests kept them as mementoes. Jane is keen to preserve every bit of history, hence the living museum of social history at the Walpole, opened by controversial artist Tracey Emin, with related memorabilia, displays of antiques, photographs, period costumes and artefacts.

When Jane hears praise for The Walpole, she gets very emotional. All the hard work is worth it as people begin to understand what the Bishops and The Walpole Bay Hotel are all about. "It means they really get it," says Jane. "Not everyone does."

Lots of interesting people use the hotel, with its spacious lounges, a snooker room and a lovely 1920's ballroom with an original sprung maple dance floor. Artistes appearing at The Winter Gardens come here and one lady drives from Cardiff for Sunday Lunch — which, along with Cream Teas, are popular. Jane deeply appreciates the loyal clients who supported them through the recession. "Local people," she says, "were great. And everyone who comes here knows they will experience home-from-home."

Media interest in The Walpole has been unbelievable. Fantastic things seem to happen to Jane and her family and German visitors increased following a chance filming at the hotel by ARD for a television documentary, followed by a German magazine article.

Soon after, an editorial team from the French Marie Claire saw the Walpole featured in Kent On Sunday and descended on Jane — who despite preparing lunch for sixty-two, rearranged her schedule to co-operate for an amazing feature about the "eccentric hotelier" and the "wonderful Sunday lunch".

A highly-amusing story in the Thanet Times — the result of a sex-romp entitled Lovesick being filmed at the hotel — bore a clever headline: "(Jane) Bishop and the Actress: Hotel is setting for sex romp"!

“The Walpole has an
established connection
with the art world and
Jane is particularly proud
of The Napiery.
This textile art gallery
is a display of works on
linen table napkins
courtesy of creative
guests — people from
all walks of life
but including Turner
Contemporary exhibitors
Russell Crotty, Ellen
Harvey and
Tracey Emin
...”
The Walpole has an established connection with the art world and Jane is particularly proud of The Napiery, as featured in Thanet's magazine The Isle. This textile art gallery is a display of works on linen table napkins courtesy of creative guests — people from all walks of life but including Turner Contemporary exhibitors Russell Crotty, Ellen Harvey and Tracey Emin.

The hotel has hosted Tracey's birthday parties for ten years and was the location for her film, televised by the BBC, and the book signing for Strangelands. Tracey donated auction items to raise funds for the hotel's restoration projects and some of her work, painted on original bed sheets bearing an embroidered Walpole Bay Hotel logo, is displayed at the London Hayward Gallery.

Touched that everyone, whoever they are, puts so much time and effort into Napkin Art, Jane is keen to point out that each one is important to her. Her first napkin was from Curtis Tappenden, who wanted to acknowledge the "magical stay in your magical hotel" and another is from British photographer Martin Parr.

Highlights for Jane have been the elderly gentleman who sat across the road for a while drawing the hotel and Sid Porter, who was determined to finish his painting before he died from cancer. "Unbelievable," says Jane, "the talent all these people have."

Jane is a trustee of the Turner Contemporary, which hit 250,000 visitors the week we visited (September 2011). Known for its iconic architecture, the gallery plans to bring together 87 Turners — the first time so many of Turner's paintings have been together in one place. From 4 October to 2 September 2012 Rodin's life-size marble sculpture The Kiss, on loan from The Tate, will be exhibited in The Turner Contemporary's Sunley Gallery. Admission is currently free.

During the day we took time to look around Margate, starting at the Turner before going on to the mysterious Grade I listed Shell Grotto. Built using over four and a half million shells, it was discovered in 1835. There are no clues as to when or why it was built. Perhaps a pagan temple dating back to the Romans? Or a Regency folly? There is a small café, offering lovely coffee, teas and soft drinks, at the entrance.

Among other Thanet attractions is the Dickens' House Museum, theatres, top international golf courses, boat trips that include seal watching, a 27-mile long Viking Trail for cyclists and walkers, The Powell-Cotton Museum at Quex House and at Quex Barn you can buy unusual foods and fresh vegetables, see Art In The Barn (local and little-known artists exhibit) and try the first class restaurant.

On the second night we dined at the award-winning, Michelin-listed The Ambrette, a very exceptional restaurant specialising in subtly-spiced Indian dishes offering a completely different experience with melt-in-the-mouth explosions of delicious flavours.

In celebration of ther arrival of
Rodin's The Kiss at Margate's Turner Contemporary, The Walpole is offering a very special and romantic package — The Kiss mini-breaks. Along with a stay at The Walpole, this includes a unique and exquisite ten-course aphrodisiac tasting menu at the award-winning, Michelin-listed Ambrette Restaurant (read MotorBar's review). The Kiss mini-break is available until Autumn 2012.

Back at The Walpole, a souvenir of Margate dating back to the mid-1920s, reads: "Good and liberal table is kept and every attention given to the comfort of visitors". A tradition that the Bishop family is honouring. — Maggie Woods

The Walpole Bay Hotel
Fifth Avenue, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent, CT9 2JT
Free Wi-Fi, family and pet friendly, free on-street parking outside the hotel
Tel: 01843 221703 | Email: info@walpolebayhotel.co.uk
Web: walpolebayhotel

Local Attractions

The Ambrette Restaurant read MotorBar's review
44 King Street, Margate, Kent, CT9 1QE
Tel: 01843 231504 | Email: info@theambrette.co.uk
Web: theambrette

The Turner Contemporary
Rendezvous, Margate, Kent, CT9 1HG
Tel: 01843 233 000 | Email: info@turnercontemporary.org
Web: turnercontemporary

The Shell Grotto
Grotto Hill,
Margate, Kent, CT9 2BU
Tel: 01843 220008
Web: shellgrotto

The Winter Gardens
Fort Crescent, Margate, Kent, CT9 1HX
Tel: 01843 292795 | Box Office: 0845 38 999 38
Online Bookings: eticketing.co.uk/margatewintergardens


You'll fnd additional tourist information at visitthanet


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