Ruth Brindle discovers the delights of coastal towns that have been drawing holidaymakers for 200 years…
Three very traditional English resorts on the north eastern Kent coast double as trendy and fun-filled towns, tailor-made for a convenient weekend away.
Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs on the Isle of Thanet, just over a two-hour drive away from Watford or a 75-minute rail journey from London, are three gems. On a sunny weekend last September, I was lucky enough to sample what’s on offer.
The first stop on the way was the 250 acre Quex Park in Birchington where you could happily spend a whole day with the family. As well as the beautiful gardens and house, built in 1813, one of the main highlights is the Powell-Cotton Museum with its dazzling array of stuffed animals and artefacts collected by prolific collector and adventurer John Powell.
The dioramas – scenes created to show the animals’ natural habitat – are stunning and memorable. After a couple of hours exploring in the museum and the gorgeous gardens it was time to enjoy a hearty lunch at Quex Barn a combined restaurant and shop selling quality local produce and crafts. It is unfortunately closed at the moment following a fire, but is expected be open again soon. Check the website for details.
Next stop was the coast and Ramsgate to check into the charming and quirky Royal Harbour Hotel. It’s in a stunning, elevated location looking out to sea and over the harbour, the only Royal harbour in the UK, and a short walk downhill to the town centre.
My room was at the top of one of the Georgian town houses in an impressive terrace converted into a charming place to stay. It’s obviously popular with visitors to this coast both from the UK and Europe and has a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence and some great online food reviews. But I didn’t have time to hang around for long as there was a lot to explore. Luckily there was a car parking space at the back of the building but there is limited on-street parking and public car parks available.
(Thanet Tourism, Britain on View, Rod Edwards)
With bags stowed it was out in the sunshine for a short walk from the hotel to another fascinating architectural landmark, The Grange which was originally the home of Augustus Pugin renowned architect of the Houses of Parliament. Now owned by the Landmark Trust it was built by the great man in 1843 and is a stunning Gothic delight. Incidentally you can even rent part of the house as a holiday home.
It was then onto the Ramsgate Tunnels a few minutes’ drive away for a walk into the recent past of the Second World War. The 90-minute tour starts in an old railway tunnel and leads into a remarkable network of tunnels under the town. Making my way with a guide along the narrow walkways easily evoked the atmosphere that the townsfolk must have felt when the town was under air attack in August 1940.
A terrifying total of 500 bombs were dropped in one day destroying 1,200 homes. But thanks to the forethought and persistence of the town’s borough engineer and mayor there was only minimal loss of life. The building of the tunnels saved many lives.
After the tour you can wander into the town or enjoy some time on the big sandy beach which is served by cafés, bars and restaurants and there’s lots for kids to do, including a small number of fun fare rides. Nearby is also a great surfing and windsurfing beach.
With such a busy day behind me it was a pleasure to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, The Empire Room, which serves delicious locally-sourced dishes. My main course of mullet was melt in the mouth. The surroundings are cosy and the Empire themed poster and memorabilia added to the atmosphere. A welcome change for me from modern minimalism!
The next day began with an equally delightful breakfast in the downstairs dining room of the Royal Harbour with a great sea vista. As well as a full English breakfast, which went down a treat, there were lots of tasty extras such as honey straight from a honeycomb and freshly baked croissants. It was also really relaxing to read the morning paper in the drawing room surrounded by distinctive artworks – a particular feature of this hotel.
After checking out of the hotel the next destinations were Broadstairs and Margate, a short drive along the coast. If you don’t drive, the local bus service The Loop is a great way to get between the resorts.
Broadstairs is beautiful, and very popular with holidaymakers. Parking is limited so it’s good to arrive early, find a space at a car park in town and wander down towards the beach, which is perfectly sheltered by chalk cliffs. It’s a fabulous place to swim in the sea. I particularly love the lift that’s a boon for those who can’t manage the steep steps up to the top of the cliff at one end of the beach, the handy café and the beach cubicles that you can hire to keep all your buckets and spades and to change in if you are staying for a few days.
Youngsters will love the traditional rides and activities. It’s pretty much perfect for families.
Charles Dickens also loved it here calling it “the freshest, freest place” and the quaint Dickens House Museum is a must-see. You can step back into the past with scenes and artefacts that were originally the inspiration for Betsy Trotwood’s house in David Copperfield. It’s right on the esplanade, so an easy visit.
With plenty of excellent eateries, fish and chip shops and an ice cream parlour with a dazzling array of flavours to choose from, it was hard to leave this gorgeous resort, but Margate was beckoning.
With London hipsters making a beeline to buy property in this seaside town, it’s not surprising it has a very trendy vibe. The many vintage shops, cool coffee shops and, of course, the ultra-chic Turner Contemporary right down by the sea make this ideal territory for culture loving folk.
(Photo by Thanet Tourism)
The building itself is breathtaking and the changing exhibitions give an excuse to come back again and again, just like its namesake the renowned artist J M W Turner who loved the light here and who recreated the vast skies in stunning detail. He once said they are “the loveliest skies in all Europe.” Modern artist Tracey Emin also remarked: “I never stopped loving you,” speaking of Margate itself.
There’s a café at the Turner, but I was delighted to relive childhood seaside visits with a plate of cockles at the booth outside. A visit to the seaside is not complete without some seasfood.
But if it’s a more adrenaline fueled thrill you are after aim along the front to the newly refurbished and updated Dreamland amusement park with the biggest wooden rollercoaster in the country, reopening April 28.
Heading home from here I could truly say I’d had one of the most fascinating and fun weekends by the sea I’ve enjoyed for years. Try it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
The Isle of Thanet is around 40 square miles in area (103.30 square km) and is situated on the most north-easterly edge of Kent, the Garden of England, with coast on three sides
15 spectacular sandy beaches and bays – more Blue Flag beaches than any other district in England
North East Kent Marine Protected Area – the whole coastline is covered by international and national designations for its marine and bird life
Longest continuous stretch of coastal chalk in Britain
Rich in historic connections and commemorations such as the evacuation of Dunkerque, helping hold the frontline inWW1 andWW2, the arrival of the Saxons, the invasion of Hengist and Horsa and the arrival of England’s first Christian