Around the Isle of Thanet

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.

Ramsgate Station
Ramsgate Station
A pleasant absence of crowds

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.

Wrought iron
Wrought iron
This house has nice old-fashioned wrought-iron work

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.

Ghost sign
Ghost sign
This is a a reminder of when there was a cross-channel ferry and hovercraft service from Ramsgate

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.

Approaching the cliff top
Approaching the cliff top
There is pleasant open parkland at the top of the cliff but not many people were out enjoying it

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.

Ramsgate sandy beach
Ramsgate sandy beach
Looking down from the cliff, you can see that there is a sandy beach

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.

Ramsgate's freight terminal
Ramsgate’s freight terminal
From here you see container ships setting off for Northern Europe and Scandinavia

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 whirl of excited gulls Feeding gulls
A whirl of gulls
A couple was feeding the gulls and causing a lot of excitement

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.

Nelson Crescent
Nelson Crescent
This elegant stand of houses (now mostly divided flats) facing the sea was built between 1798 and 1801

collinsplaque

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.

The old harbour
The old harbour
This is the old harbour which nowadays accommodates mostly privately owned pleasure craft

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.

W Cliff Arcade
West Cliff Arcade
This picturesque arcade offers a range of eateries from Italian through Indian to Thai.

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!

Baithak
Baithak
We had a pleasant Indian lunch here

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.

Corby's Tea Rooms
Corby’s Tea Rooms
A good place to partake of a pot of tea

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.

Footpath
Footpath
This footpath took us part of the way

Tea garden notice

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.

Dormer Cottage
Dormer Cottage
We stopped for refreshments in the cottage’s tea garden

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.

Entrance to the bay
Entrance to the bay
I imagine the slope is top allow easy access boats and other heavy equipment

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.

Sandy beach
Sandy beach
The beach is made of fine soft sand but a stiff breeze comes off the sea

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!

Gulls riding the updraft
Gulls riding the updraft
In this windy place, the gulls love to ride the strong air currents

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.

Chalk "gateposts"
Chalk "gateposts"
Two chalk “gateposts” stand at one end of the beach

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.

Swept by the sea
Swept by the sea
This secluded stretch of sand is swept by the sea at high tide

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.

Waves make spray
Waves make spray
Our visit coincided with the high tide when the waves gave off plumes of spray as they broke against the chalk columns

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.

Cliff top view
Cliff top view
From the cliff top it can be seen that the beach continues beyond the bay

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.

Gulls on the beach
Gulls on the beach
The beach here is so undisturbed that flocks of gulls rested at the ease on the sand

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 aloft
Gulls aloft
There were also flocks of airborne gulls, riding on the updraft from the cliffs, wheeling and gliding in ever changing formations

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.

A ruin

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 "gateway"

another cliff "gateway", this one a complete arch…

Lion and traffic cone

a lion guarding a traffic cone…

and the North Foreland Lighthouse.

North Foreland Lighthouse
North Foreland Lighthouse
Perched on a hill, the lighthouse flashes its light even in daytime

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.

Stone Beach
Stone Beach
Reaching here, the last beach before Broadstairs, was encouragement that we were nearing our goal

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.

Beach huts on Stone Beach
Beach huts on Stone Beach
Stone Beach is known for its rows of beach huts, many painted in bright colours

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.

Viking Bay
Viking Bay
This is Broadstairs’ famous and much loved beach and harbour

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…

Gull at Broadstairs Gull at Broadstairs
Gulls in flight
We had fun trying to photograph gulls in flight

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!

Questing gull
Questing gull
Superb in flight, gulls are competent on the ground too and as opportunists, hard to beat

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.

Ramsgate station concourse
Ramsgate station concourse
The unfussy but elegantly proportioned concourse at 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.

Juvenile gull, Ramsgate
Juvenile gull, Ramsgate
Yes, another gull picture. I can’t resist these beautiful creatures

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.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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9 Responses to Around the Isle of Thanet

  1. Big John says:

    It must be about three years since I last visited Ramsgate and at that time most of the town was a run down wreck with boarded up shops, a few ‘greasy spoon’ cafes, and it’s fair share of ‘street people’. It’s the town where I had my first seaside holiday in the late 1940’s, So let us hope us hope that the old place is on the way up at last.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Strange. We have been visiting Ramsgate and the region since 2005 and I don’t recall Ramsgate being run down as you describe.

      It seems quite a lively place though I did freak out some elderly ladies in a cafe when they spotted my black nail polish.

  2. Peter says:

    As kids (living in the Thames Valley area) we used to holiday in Ramsgate quite a bit during the 60s and 70s, and then my parents retired there.

    It was always a pleasure to go and visit them, partly because they rented a one-room chalet on the seafront from the local council (the deserted beach you saw is probably that way because the single block of chalets that used to be there was demolished to make way for the access road for container traffic).

    Even in winter it was possible to go down to the chalet and enjoy the view – lots of activity on the water – and the sounds of the gulls, and keep warm thanks to the free gas provided as part of the rental.

    There were quite a few locals who maintained a chalet year round and there was an informal social club as a result. Some hardy souls would even venture into the water with snow on the ground – I’m told the sea temperature was elevated by the summer sun well into the winter months, but I never had the courage to find out for myself🙂.

    Thank you for giving me an up to date view of the area – another nice trip down Memory Lane from your blog.

    Big John is right – Ramsgate did suffer a serious depression, in part due to the activities of the Sally Viking line (a long story – my late Dad was part of the effort to try and fend off the destruction of that part of Pegwell Bay, undertaken in pursuit of short term profit; everyone predicted that the ferry would eventually be driven out of business by the easier access to Europe afforded by the then impending Chunnel, but local politicians refused to heed the warnings).

    The modifications made by Sally to the local coastline resulted in a massive build-up of silt in the harbour mouth, which in turn required constant dredging to keep it clear for traffic (Volkswagen used Ramsgate as their sole port of entry into the UK at that time, and of course there was the ferry – whose owners were the cause of the problems in the first place).

    In the 80s and 90s there were often whole swathes of derelict shops, driven out of business because of the falling tourist trade. Some areas were gentrified at huge cost (expensive designer street lamps, for example) and areas were pedestrianised as a way to try and encourage a revival but with no appreciable benefit to the local population.

    If Ramsgate is experiencing a resurgence in popularity that’s hopefully good for the locals, and I’m pleased for them.

    • SilverTiger says:

      The visitor (especially one who spends only a few hours there at a time) sees and understands less than someone with a closer knowledge of the place, so perhaps for that reason I missed the signs of decay and saw only the charms I wanted to see. Or perhaps the situation has radically improved since the days you both speak of.

      To me it has always seemed a pleasant enough town with plenty to attract the photographer’s eye.

      • Peter says:

        I read recently that windfarm projects may have breathed new life into the area, so that might account for the uptick you’ve observed. Whatever the cause, the positive effect is certainly welcome.

  3. WOL says:

    Looks like you had beautiful weather and were remarkably free from crowds. That’s the kind of outing I like. I do so hate to have to fight through crowds to do things.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Not only is there the discomfort of crowded streets but all facilities are crowded as well. I like quiet and quiet places where I can look around me without being jostled. You may have noticed that my photos always contain as few people as possible – just call me a misanthrope🙂

  4. WOL says:

    You’re like me. Dealing with people in ones and twos, especially if they’re friends, is one thing, but herds of strangers is another matter completely. Definitely one of those “little bit goes a long way” things.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I have become more sensitive to crowds with passing time. It’s not simply the difficulty of moving about in crowded conditions but also the fact that facilities are also crowded out.

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