Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs
by Enza Ferreri
A comprehensive guide to the Isle of Thanet, Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, itineraries, attractions, hotels and other accommodation, with photos and reviews by other visitors, can also be found on TripAdvisor .
Isle of Thanet
The Isle of Thanet, the estreme eastern appendix of Kent, like the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset and the Isle of Dogs in London, is not an actual island but a peninsula, with the sea surrounding it on three sides while the fourth is attached to the land.
It used to be a real island - hence the name - in Romano-British times, separated from mainland Kent by what was once the Wantsum Channel, originally as wide as 2 miles in one point, protected by the Roman forts of Reculver at the north-western end and Richborough Castle at the other.
The Wantsum Channel was navigated by ships to and from London. The first bridge over it was built in 1485, and until as late as the mid 18th century there was a ferry from Sandwich to the Isle of Thanet.
Since Roman times a gradual rise in sea level has taken place, dramatically transforming the coastline of Kent in the last two thousand years. In the north, tidal erosions have destroyed hundreds of yards of coastline. Eastern Kent coast has changed even more: the Wantsum Channel gradually narrowed over the centuries until it has completely silted up with silt from the River Stour and shingle accumulating on the coast, connecting the Isle of Thanet to mainland Kent.
Kent International Airport is here in the Isle of Thanet, in Manston.
Following the North coast of Kent from London along the Thames estuary, the first resort you find on the Isle of Thanet is Margate, the classical family seaside resort.
A sign on the seafront proudly proclaims that Margate is England's earliest seaside resort, going back to 1736. Large sandy beaches for a bucket and spade, picture-postcard views, chips with everything, candyfloss, and no pretension.
With its landmark lighthouse dominating the harbour, old streets, traditional shops, quirky hotels-cum-museums, laid back pace, interesting architecture, this historical town will appeal to people who like something different from the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, modern places.
The Margate Sea Bathing Infirmary was founded in 1791 by a Quaker doctor "for the benefit of the Diseased Poor", at a time when it was believed that both drinking and bathing in salt water were good for health; the impressive hospital and original chapel have been designated Grade II listed buildings.
For accommodation, Margate has very few hotels and a handful of B&Bs. It has the advantage of being cheaper than many other, more fashionable seaside resorts: a hotel's double room with breakfast can cost £50 or £75.
After being highly popular in the past, Margate has gone through a period of decadence; it was famously (or rather infamously) described by the first Lonely Planet Guide to Britain in 1995 as "tacky" and making God depressed, which incensed the local mayor who answered: "Nonsense. There is lots to do, great sea air and little rain". The town is now in the process of being restored to its former glory due to new projects like the free-admission Turner Contemporary, an art gallery right on the sea poised to emulate the success of similar establishments like the Tate St Ives in the Cornish resort.
Margate Old Town is an area for the artistic-inclined of cobbled streets, galleries, niche shops, cafes, culminating in the old Market Place where markets and events are held.
In King Street, Margate has a Tudor House built around 1525, one of the oldest in Kent.
The next resort on the Isle of Thanet is Broadstairs, very different from Margate with its position on and around a cliff overlooking seven bays and beaches, and its delightful seafront sloping gardens, Victoria Gardens. Of Broadstairs Charles Dickens said: "You cannot think how delightful and fresh the place is and how good the walks".
Dickens spent his summer holidays with his children in Broadstairs from 1837 to 1859, and wrote much of David Copperfield in his holiday house on the Broadstairs cliff top above Viking Bay, since renamed "Bleak House" partly because of its exterior looks and partly after the title of one of Dickens' novels. Despite its name, the house interiors are splendid.
To honour its favourite guest, Broadstairs has a Dickens House Museum in Victoria Parade on the seafront, where Miss Mary Pearson Strong, on whom the novelist based his David Copperfield's character Miss Betsey Trotwood, lived. The Museum contains Dickens and Victorian memorabilia.
Broadstairs also holds a Dickens' Festival every year for a week in June, when Dickensian characters parade in the town's streets.
Overall Broadstairs is a quaint lovely place, not much touched by modernity and uniformity, preserving its past charm without falling into the trap of becoming a living museum.
Next comes Ramsgate, a harbour town with maritime heritage. The Marina and the Royal Harbour are pretty sites, and the waterside has many cafes, cosmopolitan eateries and venues.
There is also a sandy beach, the Ramsgate Main Sands, near the harbour and town.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian web author living in London, and former journalist.
Email: ehg89 at britaingallery dot com