Today promises to be the "scorcher" that the forecasters have promised, a good day for a trip to the seaside. From my point of view that is both good and bad. It’s good because fine weather is obviously desirable for a day out at the seaside; bad, because it means that whichever seaside we visit, there are likely to be crowds on arrival and packed trains there and back.
Following a familiar pattern, we walked down to St Pancras where I bought breakfast (porridge, croissants and coffee) at the Camden Food Co while Tigger queued for HS1 tickets to Ramsgate. Though on the Kent coast, Ramsgate is not such an obvious “seaside” location as, say, Margate or Broadstairs. It is a quieter place and still retains something of the atmosphere of a bygone age.
Fortunately, there were no railway engineering works in that sector this weekend and the journey passed off smoothly. The HS1 travels at high speed to Ashford International, using the Eurostar track, and continues the rest of the way at normal speed. On arriving at Ramsgate we were pleased to find that it was not busy at all.
We walked from the station towards the sea or, rather, the cliff. In West Cliff Road we saw this road sign, modified to remove the mention of the ferry port. Although you can still travel from Ramsgate to Ostend, the cross-channel service, including the red-liveried hovercraft, was killed off by the Channel Tunnel.
Our direction led us to the sea at the top of the cliffs and a pleasant green where people can sit and the children can play, though today there were not many here enjoying it.
Visible from the cliff top is a sandy beach. There are no ice cream stalls or beach entertainments, just a plain beach, but a beach nonetheless. For whatever reason, it was deserted.
One reason why the beach is deserted may be the proximity of the freight terminal although the lack of the usual beach facilities obviously plays its part.
A broad promenade leads along the top of the cliff towards the town, offering views of the sea, the port and the gulls riding the rising air currents and squabbling among themselves. People are tempted to feed the gulls though they shouldn’t because it makes them aggressive and causes conflict between people and gulls – something which is ultimately bad for the gulls. Gulls are very active birds and they can be enjoyed without throwing food at them.
Many of the houses along the seafront are quite old and have retained such features as finely wrought iron balconies. They would have been owned by the wealthy class during the 19th century. Today most have been divided into flats but they are at least still providing homes for people. During the 1870s, novelist Wilkie Collins occupied number 14.
Nearer the town is the old harbour which these days seems to serve as a marina for private pleasure craft and perhaps a few working boats.
This attractive arcade, with the Royal Temple Yacht Club above it, today accommodates a set of small restaurants. We decided to have lunch here and looked at what was on offer. It wasn’t difficult for us to make a choice: Indian food is our favourite and the Baithak was ready and waiting!
After lunch, we walked into the town centre and explored the narrow streets. It is quite a pleasant town with some interesting shops and cafes such as Corby’s Tea Rooms where we enjoyed a fine pot of tea on a previous visit.
We now took a bus to a destination that Tigger knew and wanted to show me. The bus took us only part of the way and we then set out to walk. Much of the walk was through an apparently endless housing estate where we had to guess which way to go, and I didn’t enjoy that very much, I must confess. There was also a footpath which we followed for apart of the way.
At last we arrived within sight of our goal and there found a cottage with a tea garden to which we gratefully repaired for refreshment. At the door was a notice saying that you could be served in the garden only and that there were no tables inside. We enjoyed a nice cup of tea before venturing on.
The tea garden belongs to the last house before our destination which lay a hundred yards or so further on. We crossed through a small car park and reached one of its two entrances.
It is called Botany Bay and lies right at the end of the knob of land projecting into the North Sea – Kent’s most easterly point – on which Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate stand, and which is known as the Isle of Thanet. It is no longer a true island though it was once separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel. This became filled in with silt from the River Stour, reuniting Thanet with the rest of Kent.
The Bay is enclosed by low chalk cliffs giving it a sheltered, intimate feeling. The beach, of fine, soft sand, slopes gently down to the sea which, being the North Sea, is quite cold – not many people ventured into the water while we were there though Tigger went in for a paddle!
As you can tell from the number of windbreaks visible in the photo of the beach, a stiff breeze blows up the beach from the sea. This is something of a nuisance to humans (it blows sand into everything, including your ears), where it meets the cliffs it creates a strong updraft and the gulls love this: they hang in the air like kites, rocking as they adjust to the air movement, or they glide fast along the edge of the cliff, inches from the grass.
At one end of the beach stand to columns of chalk, rather like massive gateposts. The sea has eaten around them and left them isolated from the land they were once part of. The further one (on the left in the photo) has a flat top covered with grass, much to the pleasure of the gulls who can roost there without fear of disturbance by humans.
Beyond the gateposts is a small, secluded stretch of sand. At high tide the water sweeps across it and so it is probably best to avoid being caught here by the tide, especially in rough weather.
During our visit, the tide reached its high point and then began to recede. The waves hitting the “gateposts” often threw up plumes of spray. Because the beach slopes only gently, incoming waves would rush up the sand quite fast towards you. Standing there taking photos, I had to dodge the water a couple of times.
We returned to the cliff top by the second entrance which has a concrete staircase. From here you can see the tops of the “gateposts” (one is much more massive than the other) and how the larger provides a refuge for the gulls. It can also be seen that the beach continues beyond the bay to the west, though I have no idea of the terrain there.
We set off on foot southwards towards Broadstairs. The first part of the route lay along the cliff top and we could see that here the beach was so quiet and free of people that flocks of gulls felt safe to rest on the sand or bob about on the inshore waves.
Gulls also socialize in the air, wheeling and calling, and flocks of airborne gulls were doing just that, benefitting from the updraft from the cliffs, as though surfing the wind.
As we went along, we passed a golf course with this ruin in one corner (I have no idea what it is or was – but now see Update below)
another cliff "gateway", this one a complete arch…
a lion guarding a traffic cone…
and the North Foreland Lighthouse.
The lighthouse seems to be marooned, far from the sea, in the middle of the fields, but it is still a working lighthouse and even in daylight you can see that the light is sending out its coded flashes. You may just be able to see the red glow of the lamp in the above photo.
The sun was sinking as we arrived at Stone Beach. This is the last beach before Broadstairs and that encouraged us to keep going. (Not that we could do anything else, really!) Stone Beach too was remarkably empty for such a warm and sunny day.
Stone Beach has a wide esplanade providing an area safe from rising tides. This is lined with beach huts, some in plain wood finish, others painted in bright colours or with imaginative designs and pictures painted by the tenants. Beach huts are still in demand in some places and change hands at sometimes startling prices. Today, we saw only one hut occupied at Stone Beach.
Usually, I photograph Viking Bay from the cliff top, so it was a welcome opportunity today to catch it from a different angle. The bay was not named after Vikings stormed ashore to rape and pillage the local habitations. It acquired its name only in 1949 after a Danish re-enactment of the arrival of Hengist on the Isle of Thanet. Hengist and Horsa, you may recall, were allies of the British and were given Thanet to live on but later decided that they and their compatriots might as well take all the rest too. With friends like that…
We had a drink at the Pavilion, now a pub, but once the shipyard at Broadstairs, and then went up onto the cliff top promenade for a last look around. There we had fun trying to photograph gulls in flight because they come quite close to the cliff edge, wheeling and diving. They are hard to photograph, though, because they move so fast and have a habit of changing direction just as you press the shutter release, leaving you with yet another picture of blank sky!
It was time to make a move. Cutting through the side streets to the main road, we caught one of the buses on the Thanet Loop. These are circular routes, running both clockwise and anti-clockwise, that connect all the main places in Thanet. The bus took us once more to Ramsgate station.
It had been a long day and we had covered a great deal of ground – even for us – and much of it on foot. Botany Bay was new to me and particularly interesting for that reason as well as for its natural beauty. Broadstairs is a favourite of mine even though we have visited often and will no doubt do so often in the future. It has been the sort of day after which one can retire to bed tired but content.
Update June 9th 2011
The ruin in the corner of the golf course is apparently called Neptune’s Tower and it is what remains of a folly built by the first Lord Holland, probably in the 1760s.