Category Archives: Kent

Ramsgate

Ramsgate, used under Creative Commons, by Adrian Baxter. Click Pic for Link.

Ramsgate, used under Creative Commons, by Adrian Baxter. Click Pic for Link.

“Thanet is an island in the Ocean in the Gallic channel, separated from Britannia by a narrow estuary, with fruitful fields and rich soil. It is name Thanet (tanatos) from the death of serpents. Although the island itself is unacquainted with serpents, if soil from it is carried away and brought to any other nation, it kills snakes there.”

That’s flipping brilliant that is. Imagine the soil where you live being capable of killing snakes. It beggars belief and fairly so, being the fanciful suggestion of one St Isidore of Seville. In fact, the whole description falls short these days: the Isle of Thanet (home to Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs) is in fact no such thing, the river Wantsum having receded in the last 500 years or so. Slightly more recently, the area was hamlets and villages and arable land, characterised by “people dirty, poor-looking, but particularly dirty” (so said William Cobbett). That all changed starting in 1749 when construction began on Britain’s only Royal Harbour – being the closest port to Europe, Ramsgate became a favoured departure point for grand tours and the like, and became particularly prominent when Napoleon was sticking his diddy French head above the parapet. When the Harbour was finally completed in 1850 the whole Northern Kent coastline became the great Victorian coastal destination, whether for convalescence (as in the huge sea-bathing hospital in Margate) or general tourism. Ramsgate’s beaches, harbour and railway became a magnet for hotels, magnificent Regency crescents and well-to-do Victorian types.

Today, the town is less select than once it was, though by no means run down. We stayed overnight looking out over the harbour at a disneyfied pirate ship and tinkling pleasure cruisers, then attacked the charity shops in the morning. The shopping district has taken on a less impressive air than the rest of the town would seem to suggest: while the backstreets are quaint, winding, narrow harbourside affairs with windowboxes and difficult parking, the pedestrianised high street is dominated by a windswept market and big, red-brick Wilkinsons-type shops.

Nevertheless: charity shops are here in abundance, and the first evidence is in the market itself, where a raggedy Cats in Crisis stall stands cheerfully between Debra and a large British Red Cross shop. These are located just off the central crossroads of Harbour, High, King and Queen Streets – on Harbour you’ll also find a small-ish Kidney Research Trust shop (when we entered, Dark Side of the Moon was bursting out of the little stereo – it’s fairly disconcerting to be greeted by the wobbly psychedelia of On The Run) and a vast British Heart Foundation that the wife had spotted the night before, filled with all sorts of tat over two shops worth of stuff. We got a shoe expander thing which looks like a medieval torture device.

Head up Queen Street, meanwhile, and you’ll find a Cancer Research discount store, no less (sadly, lacking in anything worth buying), then as you progress up the hill a plethora of tatty little shops: Sense, Shelter, an actual, physical Cats in Crisis shop which is the most hilariously tatty place in the town, and a big RSPCA. That’s… nine and a market stall? Not bad going.

Find: Ramsgate @ Google Maps
Get there: Ramsgate station
Consume with: pie and chips from Pete’s Fish Factory
Visit: a wander around the Harbour or to the beach is a good idea, or get out to Tracy Emin territory – Margate’s just up the road.
Overall rating: four wee teapots

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Filed under 4/5, Kent

Herne Bay

Herne bay kent by karen cb, under creative commons. Click pic for link.

Herne bay kent by karen cb, under creative commons. Click pic for link.

This part of Kent is absolutely lovely, as has already been established just down the coast. Sun-kissed grassy banks leading down to the most hospitable part of the North Sea span between pretty coastal towns with oyster shacks and narrow alleys. Whitstable, Margate, Ramsgate, Deal, Sandwich, Dover, all with their charms, and Herne Bay right in the midst of them, as good as attached (via Tankerton) to Whitstable.

Sadly, Herne Bay lets the side down a little. True, we probably judged it unfairly: arriving on a Bank Holiday weekend Saturday we wound through the busy (and charming) residential streets into the town centre to be faced by several of those nervous tic-inducing circuits around the narrow, crowded streets looking for somewhere to park. We were not successful, so our return visit was later in the afternoon when the crowds had departed, the sun had peaked and the late afternoon heat was less unbearable. Our excursion around the town’s charity shops was less amenable – most had closed, the few that remained open offered up little if anything worth purchasing. So, our opinion tainted, we poked around anyway.

Before the Victorians swooped in with their grandiose villas and the world’s first freestanding purpose-built clock tower, this was a little shipping village, on the goods route between London and Canterbury. Then the builders came in and built up a holiday destination to rival any their peers built. Its trade declining since the advent of package holidays, Herne Bay today is a seaside strip of sea-walls, ice-cream stands, tatty arcades and overweight, tattooed, shirtless men with tinnies.

This is not my idea of a holiday destination, I have to be honest. The more people, the less good a place is a rule that works in almost situation, and there’s plenty of people being all there at Herne Bay, at least at the sea front. As we disappear into the wide Victorian shopping streets the people disperse, but the experience hardly improves. As I mentioned, most places were closed, and the various attempts at redesign and modification has led to a slightly bleak, new-town look. There’s a problem I have when places are half-closed – there’s little to tempt me to come back and visit another time to find out what I’m missing. Which might be a shame: there’s actually a reasonable number of charity shops here: two Demelza shops, Action for Children, Cancer Research, Dogs Trust, an olde-style Oxfam, and a couple of new ones on me: Seaside Charity Shop and Strode Park Foundation. I’ll be honest here: I can’t remember which ones I went into: there was only a maybe three open (I know Oxfam and Cancer Research were available).

Anyway, the whole experience was hardly overwhelming, but at least the sun was shining and we got to sit on the beach with an ice cream. I shouldn’t think I’ll return, but, y’know, any afternoon spent pootling in the charity shops isn’t half bad.

Find: Herne Bay @ Google Maps
Consume with: ice cream on the seafront, what else?
Visit: Roman ruins at Reculver
Overall rating: two Stephen Kings

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Filed under 2/5, Kent

Whitstable

 

Oyster shop Whitstable, under Creative Commons from fast eddie 42s Flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

Oyster shop Whitstable, under Creative Commons from fast eddie 42's Flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

The Pearl of Kent set on the coast of the Garden of England, Whitstable is a small town that thrives on assignations such as these. A traditional English seaside town in every sense, the town actually has every right to be proud of itself – it’s one of those classic destinations of yore that is again experiencing a resurgence in its own trademark industry (oysters) as well as benefitting from the homegrown tourism of the last year or two. At about 90 minutes drive from me, Whitstable is a destination well worth taking the day out to, and is near a whole stack of pleasant towns ripe for wandering, munching and charity shop ransacking. 

 

We ended up entering the town from the East coming through the small suburb of Tankerton (relatives of mine had a family home here, I’ve recently discovered – I should get in touch with Heir Hunters) after a disastrous attempt at finding parking in the next town along, Herne Bay) and ended up driving right through the centre of town. It should be pointed out that Tankerton itself hosts a fair number of charity shops, and while it’s hardly a destination in itself, it would be a good stop if you had half an hour spare in the locality. The town of Whitstable though, is quite the destination and after a drive-by perusal, we stopped in a charity car park and headed off.

First stop was British Red Cross, right at the southernmost end of the high street. A small shop this, but with four rooms which keep revealing themselves: women’s clothes, mens clothes, odds’n’ends, books. Nothing purchased this time, but there’s plenty here. Wandering up the main road into the town centre itself, it’s possible to begin to get a feel for the place. We pass fish restaurants, mostly tarted up pubs or chippies; we pass numerous small alleys leading off towards the seafront; we pass refreshingly few fancy sailor type clothes shops – I may have forgotten, but I can’t remember seeing any sign of White Stuff or Fat Face, even.

Next up was Demelza House, a new one on me, a children’s home in Sittingbourne. Their shop was fairly charming, featuring a little snug for books and pepper plants for sale along with the promise that tomato plants would be ready soon. Next up was Sense, again well stocked but a pretty standard shop – the same could be said for Cancer Research. It’s nice to see these attractive, friendly little shops though: they’re all clearly part of the community and as important to some as the chippie, the caf, the pub.

That leaves just two more, the first of which is plain old The Hospice Shop. A small shop this, but some interesting things, most notably a tray full of some nice looking packets of seeds, and one of my purchases for the day, Mason & Dixon which looks to be typically in the near-impenetrable style of its author, Thomas Pynchon. I’ve just started reading this: we’ll see if it’s worth it, or whether it’s just going to make the bookshelf look impressive.

Finally, the jewel here is Relate. This is a massive shop, more like a hoarder’s fantasy than any sort of organised sales room, but nevertheless with it’s baby clothes (plus a very tempting caterpillar-themed play mat), books, cd’s, cheap clothes and baskets pouring out onto the High Street, you wouldn’t want to miss out this shop. It’s also conveniently located opposite Wheeler’s Oyster Bar and around a number of the other more popular restaurants, boutiques and shops: there’s a second hand bookshop here that’s ostensibly something charity-related, but I can’t find evidence for it.

If you’ve the time, which you really should make, your final move should be through one of the wending alleyways to the seafront. You’ve a large, groyne-strafed shingle beach and a working harbour, full of rowing boats and quaint beach huts. There’s places to drink and eat, including a lovely little coffee cart, and you’ll certainly find places to eat your fish and chips lunch looking out into the North Sea (look out for the massive windfarm, and on a clear day, the fascinating Shivering Sands. It’s a very English bit of England, and well worth your visit.

Find: Whitstable @ Google Maps
Consume with: If the queue onto the street at Wheelers is too much for you, fish and chips on the front is perfect for this sort of town. Otherwise, the street-side menu promising Granny’s Steak and Kidney Pudding (In Cloth) was mighty tempting.
Visit: There’s plenty to do in and around Whitstable, but if you want a really bizarre experience, go back up the A2 and cross the looping bridge to the Isle of Sheppey – a bizarre amalgamation of heavy industry and shipping, huge sea walls and industrial views, and spooky, unnerving nothingness.
Overall rating: four Penguin paperbacks

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Filed under 4/5, Kent