My husband and I are travelling to the UK in June this year. We are planning to spend a few days in Kent doing some family research. We do not wish to hire a car and wondered what alternative means of transport are available?
Ignore British grumbling about public transport, it's a national pastime. The UK has great connections by rail or coach, particularly in the southeast.
Margate has been a popular spot with daytrippers from London. Since the 1800s it's been at the end of an increasingly busy train line from the capital. During its heyday in the 70s a trip to the strand was the highlight of many a summer and - in the words of Chas and Dave - going "daahn to Margate" became a byword for going on holiday.
The result of 200 years of tourism is that the whole of the Isle of Thanet is crisscrossed with rail lines, linking Margate and the rest of the south.
Public transport is not only a viable way of getting around Thanet, but possibly the best way to get a feel for the surrounding area.
It's perfect if you're looking to do some sightseeing alongside your family research. Canterbury and its cathedral are just 30 minutes away, the white cliffs and the heritage coast of Dover under an hour away by rail.
The train is a great way to cover these distances. In London, there are services every 20 minutes from either St Pancras or Victoria.
Rail timetables are easy to navigate. Though if you are using a data-plan while abroad (Giffgaff and Smarty offer 30 day mobile packages for travellers), I'd advise you to download the trainline app. It's surprisingly good at finding the best value fares, direct routes and works throughout Europe.
Coaches and bus timetables are a bit more sparse. Companies like Stagecoach have a good network for reaching some of the lesser connected towns in the southeast, but buses are few and far between.
I'd recommend relying on rail, with some coach, and you won't need to resort to too many taxi fares.
The train station for the seaside village of Birchington is right on the high street, with Quex Park just a couple of kilometres to the southeast. Though I can't help you with your family research, the Powell-Cotton Museum in Quex Park is home to some of the most complete ethnographic collections from Africa in the world. However, I doubt you're researching as far back as Australopithecus.
Margate has a great choice of accommodation. The town has seen a seaside renaissance in recent years. Although it suffered a bit of a downturn as Brits began searching for their cheap beach holidays elsewhere, a new generation are making Margate their own. At the high-brow end of the beach, the Turner Museum is home to world-class exhibitions. The spiritual home of local artists JWM Turner and the eternally edgy Tracey Emin, the East Kent town is now a beacon for creatives priced out of London.
Perhaps the biggest symbol of Thanet reborn is Dreamland, an 1880s Victorian amusement park which was re-opened in 2015. And though Margate is now surprisingly fashionable, it is still the home of unpretentious beachside bucket and spade fun.
Retracing your family history, you'll feel like a local in not time.
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