A town guide to Ramsgate
PUBLISHED: 10:08 09 August 2016
Ramsgate blends stunning surroundings with maritime heritage and a cosmopolitan feel. Discover this glorious, somewhat undiscovered part of Kent
The secret is out and Ramsgate is finally being tipped to be the next hotspot. With so many trendy Londoners moving out of the city and heading to Margate over the past few years, it was impossible for its elegant neighbour to go unnoticed for long.
Only 75 minutes by train from London, it boasts the beautiful Royal Harbour, a buzzing café culture and superb Regency architecture. On a warm summer’s evening, this place has a real continental feel.
If it’s beaches and shimmering blue waters you’re looking for, then Ramsgate is for you. The town is not far from a number of lovely bays and last year its own central beach, Ramsgate Main Sands, was upgraded with a Blue Flag award of its own. It’s recently retained that award for 2016, making it quite rightly one of the best beaches in the country.
There’s also plenty to see and do. If you tire of sipping coffee or beer at one of the lovely habourside cafés, there are a number of boat trips running from the harbour. You can visit the Maritime Museum in the Clock House – with artefacts salvaged from wrecks on the Goodwin Sands – and, moored beside it, the enormous 70-year-old steam tug Cervia.
Also take time to explore the Ramsgate Tunnels, reopened to the public two years ago and now one of the town’s biggest attractions. The network of tunnels that became a ‘town below the town’ during the Second World War, accommodated more than 1,000 people seeking refuge from bombings above ground.
And if walking is your thing, some great walking trails lead from the bustling port to the famous cliffs. Visit Thanet (www.visitthanet.co.uk) has details of routes along the coast path to neighboring Broadstairs and south on the epic Saxon Shore Way to Pegwell Bay Country Park.
The Italianate Glasshouse
Another lovely place to drop by, and one which can slip under the radar of those who stick to the harbour area during their visits to Ramsgate, is the splendid Italianate Glasshouse within King George VI Memorial Park on Montefiore Avenue.
A Grade II* listed historic monument, it was erected in the grounds of East Cliff Lodge, the 22-acre estate of Sir Moses Montefiore, in 1832. The grounds, now the memorial park, were eventually taken over by the local council and the main house was demolished in 1953.
Sadly neglected in the past, the Glasshouse was restored in 2005 and is an enchanting curved greenhouse with cast iron ribs and fish scale glass panes.
Inside you’ll find some mature vines, trained throughout and beautiful in the summer months, as well as an olive tree and some huge agaves. Last year one of the agaves decided to bloom – an event which is said to happen only once every hundred years. Threatening to burst through the top of the greenhouse during its growth spurt, part of the roof had to be carefully removed. The bizarre spectacle was enjoyed by visitors until only recently, when sadly the shoot had to be cut down for safety.
A recent addition to the Glasshouse is the Tea Garden. Open on fine days during the summer months, visitors are able to relax and tuck into a delicious cream tea while enjoying the tranquil and peaceful surroundings.
Shopping and eating
There’s a lovely, relaxed feel to eating and drinking here, particularly in the harbour area. Ramsgate has a thriving café culture and some top restaurants. Some to think about are Miles Bar (01843 585008), the Royal Harbour Brasserie (01843 599059), Bon Appetit (01843 852750), The Bench (01843 588063) and the fabulously quirky Belgian Café (01843 587925). For a great cup of coffee try Caboose, Corby’s Tea Room, Howard’s Café or the very trendy Vinylhead – a combination of coffee house, café and record shop.
When it comes to shopping, there are all sorts of little gems in this seaside town. Vintage and antiques are big business, and a visit to the Petticoat Lane Emporium, featuring 175 stalls all under one roof, is highly recommended.
Other stores to look out for include Nice Things (see interview with owner Suzy Humphries), Showtime Retro and The Saltworks.
Suzy Humphries of Nice Things
Tell us a bit about you
I’m Suzy Humphries and my first career was as a ballet dancer. Then everything fell into place when I co-founded a touring theatre company and became a producer. Since then I’ve worked for several arts organisations and spent 10 years running Masterclass at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London. I moved to Ramsgate in 2008 with my actor/writer husband and, after a while of commuting, realised I needed to re-think life. I co-founded Ramsgate Arts, producing events including the annual Summer Squall arts festival (now the Ramsgate Festival), worked as Town Promoter for a couple of years and opened a shop called Nice Things on Ramsgate harbour in 2010. I’ve always wanted a shop and it was possible to try in Kent, which seemed impossible in London.
What does Nice Things sell?
My shop has become very much about ‘hand made’ and I’m especially keen to nurture and show work from east Kent. I think it’s fair to say I’ve got the largest display of locally-based work in the area. I find people at big shows like Top Drawer, through Folksy.com and mainly through recommendation. UK Handmade is a really good website I’m on, for makers to find me. Some of the products I love are Melanie Tong’s wire fish, Mike Child’s beautiful decorated pottery, Rose Dickinson’s delicate porcelain, Leah Gaynor’s natural, earthy silver jewellery, and Laura Dent’s bewitching sequin-loving mermaids and fairies. I go for the unusual, so the shop has a very individual look.
Is there a big creative scene in Ramsgate?
There are a lot of creative people living in Ramsgate, from writers to performers, painters to crafters. There weren’t any studios open to the public, so it was very under the radar. Now we have DBA Editions, a fantastic fine art print-maker studio, Something Fishy Studios, sculptor Dominic Grant, two art galleries and lots of other people opening up in various spaces. Very established artists like Bob and Roberta Smith and Nick Rankin live here and we even have a studio where Claire and Kai make hurdy-gurdies and mandolins - it’s a joyous space to see!
What else do you do?
I co-run a monthly Handmade & Vintage Fair, which is a great way for new makers to test their work with the public. From Ramsgate Arts, I’m the Executive Producer of the Looping the Loop festival of performance, working with a director Ellie Jones and Jessica Jordan-Wrench who runs the Tom Thumb Theatre. We are in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre in London and are just starting a new three-year programme of two festivals each year and all sorts of other daft ideas! I ran the Summer Squall festival until last year and now do the fundraising for this and other artsy activities we might dream up.
What do you love about living in Ramsgate?
I think most of all I love the sense of space, with the big horizon of sea and sky. I love the drive towards the town, with fields either side and the wild flowers and colours of trees. I love the friendliness and the constant feeling of being on holiday. I’ve got favourite haunts like the Arches Bar with its fab relaxed atmosphere, the UpDown gallery which is stunningly beautiful and smart, Saltworks, a shop in the old police station, the Belgian Cafe where you suddenly realise two hours have happily gone by. I also love Archive, the new Scandinavian-style café on the harbour, and the Hovelling Boat Inn, the tiniest real ale pub in the town centre - so friendly and welcoming.
24-29 July Ramsgate Week
Ramsgate Week is the Royal Temple Yacht Club’s annual regatta and is widely recognised as the alternative to Cowes. A must for all yachting fans, people flock to watch competitors from all over the world take part in races just offshore. Look out for special events happening throughout the town too, including live music, family events and food and drink promotions in the local pubs, bars and restaurants.
23 - 31 July Ramsgate Festival
This town-wide, week-long arts festival encompasses music, dance, drama, visual arts, talks and workshops. Formerly known as the Summer Squall, the event changed its name last year and successfully ran a huge programme of free entertainment with a wide variety of artists and performers, both homegrown and international.
The A299 connects Ramsgate with the A2/M2. The town’s main station is 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of town and has links to London St Pancras via Ashford or Chatham and to Charing Cross via Ashford and Tonbridge.
Property is relatively reasonable and there are one-bed flats on the market for as little as £75,000. Two-bed terraces are between £150,000 and £220,000, with three-bed semi at between £190,000 and £320,000. There are large detached houses, with up to seven bedrooms, on the market for up to £850,000 and a couple of magnificent listed properties up to £1.7million.