Spotlight on: Ramsgate
PUBLISHED: 09:51 24 July 2015 | UPDATED: 09:51 24 July 2015
With a beautiful marina, award-winning beaches nearby and a thriving café culture, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in the South of France. Welcome to Ramsgate
Only recently the Sunday Telegraph again tipped Ramsgate as one of Britain’s most up-and-coming coastal towns. It’s one of those rare seaside places that’s off the radar of most second home owners so when you do discover it, it feels as though you have been let into a secret.
This year Ramsgate has had more of its fair share of the limelight, thanks to the 75th anniversary of Operation Dynamo in May.
Not to mention the battle between election hopefuls Nigel Farage and Al Murray or the freak earthquake that shook the town a few months ago.
But there is something else going on in this maritime town. Behind the scenes there are plans to radically transform the famous port as Thanet District Council drives ahead with its Ramsgate Maritime Plan.
The idea is to regenerate the port and Royal Harbour Marina; attracting new businesses, creating more jobs and improving services and experiences for residents and visitors.
The results are impressive at the marina, which has been awarded four Gold Anchors – the international rating scheme for marinas. Following European funding of 3.15m Euros since 2011, facilities for mariners have been greatly improved. Pontoons have been replaced and the latest technology installed, ranging from LED navigation, a smart metering system and access control system to CCTV and better lighting.
The beauty of the marina and quayside bars and restaurants of course play their own role in the regeneration of the town, but the Port of Ramsgate also has a large role to play – especially as it is just 35 miles from France.
Until recently it operated services to Dunkirk and Ostend but it has now evolved into a construction, operation and maintenance base for three offshore wind farms. While the port cannot compete with the marina’s beauty, its value to the local economy is just as significant. The aim is for it to become a major UK maritime hub competing in global markets.
But that’s not all. In the last few years the area around the marina has become something of a trendy spot to relax, have a drink and do some shopping. The Military Road Arches in Ramsgate harbour, historically the home of chandlers and other maritime businesses, have been given a new lease of life. Repurposed by the council in 2013, the arches are now home to a diverse range of businesses, cafés and retail outlets.
It’s a testament to the rising ‘trendiness’ of the place that these include a chocolate café, a vintage store and art galleries.
The area looks very different compared to the Ramsgate that served as the launch pad for Operation Dynamo 75 years ago.
In May the town celebrated the anniversary of its most important historic moment with church services, parades and a showcase of more than 50 of the famous Little Ships which made the crossing from Ramsgate to Dunkirk between 27 May and 4 June 1940.
People came from all over the world to remember the brave actions of those who took to the water in their merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft and lifeboats to evacuate trapped allied troops from Dunkirk.
Another way that Ramsgate is marking this anniversary is through a new museum and education centre within Ramsgate Tunnels. The Defence of the Nation museum opened in May with its primary Operation Dynamo exhibition.
Free to visit and featuring many original artefacts, it explains the background to the campaign and looks into the some of the personal stories of people involved.
And while you’re there, take the opportunity to explore the Ramsgate Tunnels themselves. Opened to the public just over a year ago, the fascinating labyrinth of tunnels beneath the town are now open for group tours several times a week and well worth a visit.
Partly an old railway tunnel from the 1860s but mostly tunnels excavated in 1939 as deep shelters for up to 60,000 residents of one of the country’s most vulnerable areas, they had been abandoned since the end of the war.
After a long and passionate campaign by the Ramsgate Tunnels Heritage Group to reopen them as an attraction, they finally opened to the public in May last year.
Since then thousands of visitors have been impressed by the hour-long tours, guided by enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. Explore the tunnels for yourself and experience how people sheltered and lived in ‘the town below the town’. The entrance is on Ramsgate Marina Esplanade (CT11 8NA), but do book in advance at www.ramsgatetunnels.org
Shopping and eating
With a relaxed café culture and plenty of great places to eat, it’s easy to chill. Cafés to note are McBride & Valentine’s new coffee house (CT11 9LP, 01843 599455), Caboose (CT11 9DR, 01843 570984), Arch Bar (CT11 9LG, 07768 838362) and The Daily Grind (CT11 8HA, 01843 588158).
Top restaurants include Bon Appetite (CT11 8LH, 01843 852750), the Royal Harbour Brasserie (CT11 9RN, 01843 599059) and The Empire Room (CT11 9JF, 01843 582511). Good bars are also plentiful with offerings such as new tapas/wine bar The Bench (CT11 8LP, 01843 588063) and more traditional watering holes like Mariners Bar (CT11 9DS, 01843 582792).
Shopping is diverse with a mix of high street brands, independents and weekly markets. Vintage and antiques shops are popular and our top picks are the new Petticoat Lane Emporium (CT11 8AD) – a vast space, once a skating rink, that holds more than 100 small stalls, two shops and a vintage tea room – and Showtime Retro (CT11 9LG), an Aladdin’s cave of vintage treasures under the arches in Military Road.
While you’re there, explore other businesses making their homes in the arches. Harbour Chocolate Lounge (CT11 9LG) is a very good (and tasty) place to start.
Ramsgate Week: 26-31 July
Recognised as the friendly alternative to Cowes Week, Ramsgate Week is the Royal Temple Yacht Club annual regatta. With a full programme of racing, people flock to watch competitors from Belgium, Holland, France and the UK take part off the coast of Ramsgate. With so many visitors and a feeling of celebration in the air, the town puts on special shore side events including live music, food and drink promotions and family events. Visit: www.ramsgateweek.com for details.
Ramsgate Festival: 29-31 August
The Ramsgate Festival, formerly known as the Summer Squall, is an increasingly popular, family friendly arts festival set against the spectacular backdrop of Ramsgate’s Royal Harbour. Musical highlights will include an acoustic set by Alabama 3, as well as a performance by Nell Bryden, fresh from supporting Gary Barlow. For children, there will be workshops, a funfair and family friendly shows, while for classical music lovers there will be recitals of music from the Regency period, commemorating the anniversary of Waterloo.
Visit: www.ramsgatearts.org for details.
Mike Samson, artist and owner of York Street Gallery
Tell us a bit about you
I was born in Ramsgate and have been painting since I was a teenager. Three years ago, following a career in the army and subsequently the paper industry, my passion for the Kent land and seascapes was rekindled.
Tell us about your gallery
My wife and I set up York Street Gallery as a ‘not-for-profit’ gallery for local artists. We were passionate about supporting and encouraging all local art, be it professional or novice. The gallery has been fully booked since opening and has bookings through to 2016. Until York Street Gallery opened, Ramsgate did not have an art gallery in the town serving the local community, despite there being many outstanding artists working from their studios locally. At the time of opening there wasn’t even a gallery in the Isle of Thanet for locals, despite the Turner Contemporary Gallery being in Margate.
Why do you enjoy painting Ramsgate?
Ramsgate is a beautiful, unspoilt coastal town. Being on a peninsular the light is amazing. The town itself has wonderful Georgian and Victorian architecture but the Royal Harbour is my favourite piece of Ramsgate. I could sit there every day painting the views and the bustle of the fishing boats and the working harbour.
Alongside the harbour is the Sailors Church, The Smack Boys Home and Military Road, all built in red brick with arches for local nautical businesses and cafés.
Some of your favourite shops?
York Street is like a mini High Street, fortunately! I often use York Street Flowers (CT11 9DS), the local florist, for fresh flowers in the gallery and another little shop called The Saltworks (CT11 8HE) for special gifts. Whenever I can I try to use all our local shops rather than the out-of-town supermarkets.
Favourite pubs and restaurants?
The Bohemian centre of Ramsgate has to be the famous Belgian Café (CT11 8LP); it always has an amazing range of beers and great food. On a daily basis I enjoy my coffee and the occasional breakfast from Corby’s Tea Rooms (CT11 9DS), also in York Street. My local would be the Hovelling Boat Inn (CT11 9DS) just a few doors away from the gallery; a traditional real ale house, but with table service.
How do we find you?
The gallery is just a few steps from the harbour and seafront at 22 York Street (CT11 9DS) and visit www.yorkstreetgallery.co.uk
Ramsgate is one of the few places where you can still pick up a one-bedroom flat for £65,000. Two-bedroom terraced houses can cost around £135,000 and three-bedroom semis are between £160,000 and £260,000. At the top end of the market, a four-bedroom detached house can cost around £365,000 and there are many large detached Victorian properties in the town with six or seven bedrooms, priced between £500,000 and £700,000.
The A299 connects Ramsgate to the M2/A2 which leads to the M25.
Sat nav code for town centre: CT11 8LS