Broadstairs Folk Week

Beach huts at Broadstairs

You cannot beat a good day at the seaside. Exploring rock pools, paddling in the sea and wolfing down fish and chips in the rare British sunshine is a treat often overlooked in favour of cheap breaks to reliably hot destinations abroad.

A new survey by the National Trust and YouGov found that trips to the coast had declined by 20% in the last 10 years, while half of the nation haven’t been to the seaside in the last year.

Those questioned in the survey said that they were too busy to get down to the coast when the weather was nice, that it was too expensive or that transport links were poor. This, my friends, is rubbish, as I discovered this weekend.

Broadstairs is a small seaside town on the Kent coast, and less than two hours away from London on the fast train from St Pancras. Each year it hosts Broadstairs Folk Week, bringing together all manner of morris dancers, fiddle players and singers.

Miraculously the opening weekend of this year’s festival coincided with some of the best weather we’ve seen in weeks: strong sunshine with a warm breeze, hot but not sticky.

We arrived at lunchtime on Sunday, following the crowd of day-trippers from the station towards the seafront, music wafting from the pubs along the street.

Seaside toys at Broadstairs

Something about the bright sunshine and the green sea meant the photos I took came out tinged with blue, like a postcard from the 1970s. When we passed a video rental shop that was apparently still trading, I wondered if we’d travelled backwards in time.

Broadstairs postcard
Stick a horrible font on top of a photo and voila! Wish you were here?

If you take your folk music seriously, you can book tickets to see big performers in the evening (we missed Kate Rusby’s sold out performance the night before), but we were happy ducking into pubs when we heard something we liked, and wandering past troupes of dancers and impromptu sessions on the prom and joining in with sea shanties on the jetty.

Broadstairs bandstand in Folk Week

Sea shanties at Broadstairs Folk Week

Broadstairs Folk Week session on the prom


It was great to see so many people out in the sun and enjoying a nice slice of British culture, but I was slightly taken aback to see a few controversial black-painted faces among the participants. It’s a touchy subject. The origins behind ‘blacking up’ are unclear, and with some believing it is an old method of disguise, in the same way as some modern protesters wear balaclavas, while others argue that it is the result of the minstrel craze of the nineteenth century, where people would paint their faces to mimic black people.

Either way, I found it disconcerting to see people plastered with black paint, particularly in an area that had recently come close to voting in the loathsome Nigel Farage as MP. While it’s important to uphold traditions, they should adapt as our culture does, and I, for one, think it’s time the black face paint was retired to the history books.

Blackface at Broadstairs Folk Week

Dad was keen that I visit The Chapel as soon as possible as he thought I might be a fan. He wasn’t wrong. Housed in -you guessed it- a chapel, dating from 1601, The Chapel is now an ale house-cum-bookshop, also selling coffee, pastries and local grub, and regularly plays host to music and quiz nights.

Before I’d even crossed the threshold, I was ready to move in. Most of the walls are lined with books for you to peruse, and possibly buy, as you drink your way through a huge range of ales, ciders and perries.

We arrived as a band of Morris dancers were winding up, only for them to be replaced by a duo doing bluesy Joni Mitchell covers. For once, Dad’s outfit seemed almost normal amid the ribboned folkies with their top hats and jingling socks.

The Chapel at Broadstairs
Enjoying folk with the folks

Not everyone was there for the music. Viking Bay was packed full of chubby Englishmen, with their rolls of belly fat caught somewhere between milky white and lobster red, sunbathing teenagers and frolicking children.

Kids on the beach at Broadstairs

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I headed down to the quieter Stone Bay, carefully studying what remained of the rock pools for creatures from the deep. While the giant squid stayed away, there were still plenty of limpets and dead crabs to find hidden among the seaweed.

Rockpools at Broadstairs

Crab at Broadstairs

Broadstairs seagulls

It was with heavy heart that we boarded the train back to London that evening, leaving the sun, the sea and the songs behind us.

Broadstairs Folk Week 2015 poster

While the beautiful weather may have gone, Broadstairs Folk Week continues until Friday 14th August.

The town suffers from the occasional power cut, so make sure to take cash with you and prepare to queue for your fish and chips.

Have you been exploring the British Isles this summer? Got any tips for days out from London? Do you think it’s time people stopped painting their faces black in the name of ‘tradition’?


Ramble away...

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