30 Jan Margate: the Haeckels seaweed wrap
Most people book ski trips in winter. I booked a massage at Haeckels, a ‘wild fragrance and ecological skincare company’ whose lab and treatment rooms are in the seaside town of Margate, on the part of Kent that sticks out towards the North Sea.
My little day trip from London was not only to experience the Haeckels Detoxifying Seaweed Wrap, but also to check out the much-talked-about Margate art scene, to taste some Kent wine and seafood, and to go for a brisk coastal walk.
Turner Contemporary and the Carl Freedman Gallery were closed; the seafood was good, but the ‘unnatural’ Kent wine made me ill; so thank goodness for Haeckels and the walk along the beach to Botany Bay.
Margate: a day trip from London
Margate is a place of contrasts. Many artistic types have moved here from London in search of cheaper living and the seaside. Some call it Shoreditch-on-Sea. would call it London Fields-on-Sea. Yet one in three children in the area live in poverty.
Many residents are working hard to melt away that divide. One is Annie Nichols, founder of Hot Meals Now. I met Annie at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. Another is filmmaker and former volunteer beach warden Dom Bridges, founder of Haeckels, who I haven’t met,
Haeckels call themselves ‘ocean farmers‘, harvesting the ocean’s botanics – especially seaweed – and turning them into natural products. It’s about being sustainable, building communities, rejoicing in the sense of place that Margate offers, and honouring (and helping to save) the oceans.
The Margate art scene – Carl Freedman & Tracey Ermin
Margate’s main beach is huge, sandy and windswept, with the fleet of little boats sheltered by the Harbour Arm. On the beach, you will find – at least for the moment – the Haeckels sea bathing machine, made by local crafts people. Yes, I took my swimsuit, but the path of life did not lead me to try the sauna inside, and the wheels looked a bit entrenched in the sand to take it to the water for me to swim
The sky that day was a pure, pure blue, almost a Prussian blue. The windy was icy. Not a cloud in the sky – and it was the beauty of the clouds, the sunsets and the quality of the light that drew JMW Turner, the 19th century English Romantic painter, back to Margate time and time again.
I checked out the location of the Carl Freedman Gallery, which opened last year in the old Thanet Press building. His once girlfriend, young British artist Tracey Ermin, grew up in Margate in the 70s. According to an interview in The Art Newspaper, they used to visit Tracey’s mum and nan together above a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop on Northdown Road, towards Cliftonville.
Tracey’s studio adjoins Carl’s gallery, and plans are afoot to open it as a Tracey Ermin foundation. “I do not want to wake up to London, I want to wake up and be inspired by the same things that inspired Turner,” she was quoted as saying in the Isle of Thanet News.
Lunch at Angela’s
Then an early lunch at Angela’s. I had come down from London with my 56mm portrait lens to take a picture of Angela. To my dismay, the name is merely in homage of Angela, who ran a greengrocer’s from this spot just off Marine Drive in the 1950s.
Angela’s is intimate, with white walls, open kitchen and tables made out recycled plastic bags. My neighbours on the adjoining table were interior design students from China studying in Canterbury, They had come to Margate to film a project. Margate is small. I had caught them on camera that morning.
The food was good. The bread was sourdough from the local Thanet district. The view, through the fogged up windows, was of Turner Contemporary,
Falling foul of sulphites
… But, but, but, something was not right, I discovered a few hours later… my glass of Ortega wine (a variety popular in cool-climate wine-growing regions) from a Kent vineyard was making me feel nauseous and dizzy. I knew it was the wine as this has happened many a time before, especially with unregulated wines found in England, where wine is more about lifestyle than culture.
It’s the high dosage of sulphites, and other unnatural substances. Most wine labels say ‘contains sulphites’, but the dosage level is never indicated. Sulphites occur naturally, but adding sulphites is not natural. It is done to enhance the taste, the appearance and the shelf life. Organic wine is no better, as being ‘organic’ refers to the way the grapes are grown, and not how the wine is produced.
My new resolution when going out in England is to only drink wine marked as sulphite-free, in the same way that in Asia I only eat GSM-free food.
Botany Bay in Kent
After lunch, I walked to Botany Bay – whose name has nothing to do with the Botany Bay in Tasmania. It was a near 90-minute round trip along the sandy beaches shadowed from the sinking afternoon sun by the chalky white cliffs.. In all I walked 22km that day.
Botany Bay is famous for its chalk ‘stacks’. Plenty of people seemed to have hired bicycles and followed the coastal path at the top of the cliff. I like walking on sand… preferably bare foot, but not in January.
Seaweed luxury at Haeckels
Once back in the Cliftonville neighbourhood of Margate, I climbed to the top of the cliff, and opposite the abandoned Lido, in a parade of shops, I found Haeckels, for my next ‘botanical’ experience.
The Haeckels Detoxifying Seaweed Wrap = body exfoliation + body wrap in bladderwort seaweed + scalp massage + lymphatic drainage massage, Haeckels harvested the seaweed fresh from the beach that day (with a licence). It takes as long as it took me to walk to Botany Bay.
This is about true luxury: an exclusivity that comes from uniqueness, craftsmanship, vision and passion.
Walking through the door of Haeckels is like entering a fantastical world by the British seaside … with all its tinges of sea greys and splashes of coral pink, feelings of nostalgia, and touches of eccentricity … The museum-salvaged glass cabinets, the brown Haeckels bottles positioned in the printers’ sink, the colourful paper flowers made by a local artist, and the view through the Victorian windows on the first floor across the expanse of sea.
Ninety minutes later I emerged from my treatment with my skin fresh, my mind clear and my spirits high.
With only ten minutes to go to closing, and darkness descended, I took some photos (with my 56mm lens), made a few ‘made in the Margate lab’ purchases, and had a quick chat with the lovely young man going to set up Haeckels in London’s Broadway Market this February. He did not want to move to London., he said. He preferred living in Margate, as so many people do.
Not wanting to wake from my dream-like state, I went straight to the train station and back to London.
What I bought at Haeckels
- Seaweed & Salyclic Powder Exfoliant, made from nothing more than the powders of walnut shells and seaweed, and willow bark extract.
- Rosehip & Seaweed Suspension… an online map shows where Haeckels has harvested the seaweed.
Where else to eat & drink in Margate
- Bang next to Haeckels is Roost, whose head chef and owner once worked at St John’s in London. It is a cheerful-looking café and restaurant, specialising in ‘street food on the sea’, with the likes of soft shell crab burgers, tofu tacos and a ‘buddha bowl’.
At the heart of Haeckels is the idea of being part of a community. On their paper bags, they suggest the likes of:
- Hantverk & Found for seafood and natural wine. (Hey! Hopefully no sulphites.)
- Mala Kaffe in the Harbour Arm for allpresso coffee
- Daly Café for English breakfast and Sunday roasts
- Godwin Fish Bar in Cliftonville
- The Reading Rooms boutique bed & breakfast to make it a weekend at the seaside
ADVICE: Catch the more expensive fast train direct from London Kings’ Cross to Margate. Otherwise you may be stopping at each and every station. Even as far out as Margate, this is London commuter belt. The journey talks around 90 minutes.