Eastern Kent’s Thanet region (Note: Than-it as in granite and definitely not Than-ay) is an excellent place for a side trip from London – well outside the commute belt and the farthest southeast point of the UK, facing the English Channel as it flows into the North Sea. You can see France when the weather’s clear and if you happen to be going to or from the Continent, you can do so via Ramsgate on this itinerary, or at other nearby ports like Dover and Folkestone. Most of these towns are rail accessible, given they were established destinations in the 19th century. Some towns were originally developed as medieval ports – Sandwich, on this itinerary, was one of the five Cinque Ports developed to provide naval defense against the French and other potential invaders. The coastline has dramatic cloud formations and great color -described by JMW Turner as “the loveliest in all Europe”, so it’s worth going to see some Turner paintings before you head out.
One itinerary that covers 2 or so days in the Thanet area is Margate – Broadstairs-Ramsgate-Sandwich-Deal. If you are going to stay overnight, Broadstairs or Ramsgate are good choices and have plenty of accommodation and food options – plus you can walk between them along a coastal path in 40 minutes, so can pretty much cover both places easily.
On the way in, Faversham, to the west of our area, is worth a stop. Faversham grew as a trading port in the medieval era but has since lost Faversham Creek as a working waterway. It’s good for a wander round and it’s largest employer is probably the Shepheard Neame Brewery. They have a store on Court Street and can arrange brewery tours.
Check out the painted columns dating from around 1306 in St Mary’s church near the center. I like how 700-year old art quietly sits around.
Margate has some faded Victorian seaside atmosphere and is also the home to the Turner Gallery, which has a series of exhibitions, and some permanent Turner paintings, as well as Tracey Emins’ “My Bed.” You can see many of Turner’s paintings at the National and Tate galleries in London, but getting out along the blustery beaches will hopefully show why he came back to the area to paint.
A kind of JMW Turner vibe here I like to think.
Broadstairs was Charles Dickens’ favorite seaside respite from Victorian London and is very well preserved – in part because it sits on a hill emerging from the small Vikings Bay and it may not have been straightforward to put a major road across the seafront.
The town tends to go back from Viking’s Bay and doesn’t have a long waterfront spread. It is however very easy to walk along the coastal paths.
Broadstairs is a small but lively town and worth a visit. The train station is about a 10-15 minute walk from the seafront so you can travel like a Victorian if you like. There are plenty of fresh Kent beer options, including the Four Candles micro pub which brews onsite, and further east along High Street, the Mind the Gap micro pub.
Down off waterfront, the Chapel is a good craft beer/real ale pub, with a large Brewdog selection and books against the wall if you feel like a read with your beer.
A fresh Kent pasty is just the thing for a cold day’s seaside walk – from Rook & Sons Butchers on the High Street by the waterfront.
A pasty is essentially a lamb or beef stew with potatoes and carrots, in a flaky pastry hand portable pie. Sort of a British burrito.
You can then walk along the Viking coast trail two miles south to Ramsgate, which has the largest port in the immediate area and ferries to Boulogne if you are looking to head to France. Ramsgate is a larger more developed town, with plenty of accommodation options, whose Victorian waterfront is mostly intact with beaches below the white cliffs north of the Royal Harbour.
Moving south from Ramsgate, stop off at Sandwich. One of the fortified medieval Cinque Ports, it’s river is now silted up so that the only sea access is by light craft. It has a well-preserved medieval center and it’s easterly location has meant that the heavy hand of 20th century development hasn’t reached as far.
Sandwich was an important medieval military and trading port, however the River Stour no longer has major sea access. This retired US Navy patrol boat, which patrolled the Rhine, was re-flagged to appear in the movie Dunkirk – the Thanet is close to France and it’s seafarers joined in the evacuations.
Finally, Deal. Deal has experienced a resurgence in recent years, in part owing to people fleeing London and picking a smaller town to gentrify. It has a busy center just behind the waterfront. In 1801, Nelson stayed at the Royal Hotel on the seafront after an unsuccessful raid on Boulogne during the Napoleonic Wars.
Deal Castle is worth a look as an example of Elizabethan-era defenses (although built by Henry VIII).
Roman Thanet. The Romans are believed to have landed near Richborough during the Claudian invasions (43 AD), given that the coastline is reasonably sheltered, and their fortifications remain. Check out the Richborough fort and amphitheater near Sandwich. Further north, on the coast west of Margate, there is another fort at Reculver, co-located with the impressive towers of a 12th-century monastic church.
Logistics. I stayed at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate, which did the job for an overnight stay. The railway stations usually offer decent walking access to these towns, although a car is useful to visit some of the outlying attractions.