Just as I was wondering where my next adventure should take me, Andy suggested that I accompany him to Ramsgate – a coastal town of 40,000 on the far eastern tip of Kent. He was slated to work all day, but I could while away the hours exploring the town and environs. The only catch was that I’d have to be up at 5.30am to catch the train with him.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to forego my accustomed sleep-in, but finally decided that an adventurer should never miss an opportunity to see somewhere new, and agreed to meet him before sunrise to catch the train.
Accordingly we found ourselves travelling east through the Kentish countryside, coffees in hand, keenly looking out for fishing opportunities (is it possible that fishing is genetic?).
Upon arrival, I took my leave and immediately headed for the seafront, where I received ample reward for my early wake up. The morning sun shone through the patchy cloud, sending fingers of light over the ocean. I could only marvel at the display before me, and wonder if 5.30 should henceforth be my time of rising.
I headed slowly along the esplanade towards the harbour, heading down Royal Parade with its red brick arches and keeping my eyes on the sea as the dramatic effects continued to develop.
Along the shore of the marina are a number of arches, which increased in size as I followed Military Road back the way I’d came. They provide a unique location to a number of businesses including a couple of cafés and a gallery. Military Road was constructed to provide an embarkation point for troops during the Napoleonic Wars, but the arches were only added when the Royal Parade road was built in 1893.
Many of the arches were refurbished between 2010 and 2014, partially paid for by a European Union fund. It’s not the only development project I’ve come across that’s been helped along by the EU (Dover Port also owes major improvements to the EU) so I have to wonder what else is endangered due to Britain’s sudden departure from the Union.
I headed back the other way toward the Maritime Museum. Nearby I found a striking obelisk, commemorating a visit by King George IV in 1821 during which he bestowed upon Ramsgate the unique honour of being known as a “Royal Harbour”.
I had a brief wander around the main town, grabbed an English breakfast, picked up a few books in the op shops (or charity stores as they are known here), and some fabric for my mum. Mundane necessities of food, reading material and souvenirs taken care of, I took a quick peek at St George the Martyr church, which at only 189 years old is probably one of the youngest churches I’ve seen in England. But that didn’t stop it from having some quite unique headstones in the yard.
With the rest of the morning still to kill, I decided to take a walk down the main sands (only the second sandy beach I’ve seen in Europe!) and was immediately impressed by the striking tall houses built into the arches beneath the road which runs along the top of the cliff.
Passing the last of the arch houses, I jealously observed a couple of anglers having a go from the concrete breakwater. I had to be content to see what interesting things I could kick up in the sand.
I found several small black shark egg sacks and a cuttlefish bone, as well as a fat-leaved plant I thought might be the famous samphire of Samphire Hoe and Shakespeare Cliff. I tried a cautious nibble of the mystery plant and it certainly wasn’t horrible although I’m not sure I’d want a whole plate full.
The coastline features the same sort of white chalk cliffs as Dover, glowing brightly in the sunlight as I passed below them. In front of me the sand was broken by an undulating layer of chalky stone, smoothed by the sea and accented by dark green seaweed. I noticed a lot of strange circular impressions on the soft rock and wondered how they possibly could have formed, before finally stumbling on the answer.
Passing the spooky “witches cave”, I came to Dumpton Bay, where some locals were searching for fossils amongst the rocks. I tried to look casual as I had my own poke around but couldn’t find anything. As it was now nearing noon I grabbed a coke at Sam’s Bar and sipped it in the sunshine while starting on one of my new books.
Then I slowly began my way back towards the centre of Ramsgate, this time taking the promenade along the top of the cliff. From here I could see that the tide had receded and the anglers had now gone home – hopefully with a good catch!
After passing through a park I reached a lookout point positioned above a disused and now closed tunnel through the cliff that used to bring holiday-makers by train directly to the beach. After closure of the line in 1926 the station became an amusement arcade, with a brief interlude as a naval station during World War II.
I was sidetracked by the presence of several large seagulls fighting over the remains of somebody’s fish and chips and spent some time trying to photograph them in mid-flight.
Once that amusement was over I turned my attention back to the empty lot below (the old station-turned-arcade burned down in 1998) and was startled to notice what appeared to be an odd-looking stray dog below.
As I watched the strange creature wander about the lot it slowly dawned on me that I had spotted my first ever fox. Not in the open woodland as I might have expected, but in the middle of a town. Only metres away pedestrians walked along beside the high fence that bordered the lot, completely unaware of the wild creatures chilling out nearby.
The fox trotted over to a pile of concrete slabs, and that’s when I notice that there was not one but two of the creatures hanging around. They seemed content to curl up in cat-like fashion and enjoy the warm day.
I spent quite some time observing the urban wildlife before returning to find a seat by the marina and continue my book. Eventually I got a call from Andy who had finished up and was ready for me to join him for the train ride home.
As we rattled back along the rails I considered the early morning well worth it. Ramsgate’s spectacular morning show, pleasant beach and surprising wildlife had charmed me enough that I’d happily do it again.
Plan to inject new life into harbour’s arches by This Is Kent
Ramsgate History by Barry James