RAMSGATE has an unglamorous reputation – people are quick to associate it with drunken Kentish folk hanging about its harbourside and, of course, it is distinctly not its cooler neighbours Margate (Tracey Emin’s hometown and home to a Turner Gallery), or ritzy Broadstairs, where Charles Dickens summered and where the well-heeled denizens of Kent go to take the sun.
Yet I found Ramsgate charming – beautiful, characterful and pleasantly free of tourists. My hotel, the Royal Harbour, seemed to epitomise the town’s quirky seaside appeal. Built in 1799, it sits on Nelson Crescent, overlooking the harbour, above which the sky glows wonderfully at sunset and from which various nautical trappings clink in the quiet night air, offering a curiously eerie touch. In the hotel, there are all sorts of boardgames in a cosy wood-floored games room with a fireplace, and lots of paintings depicting maritime history. My room was not strictly luxurious, but I preferred it to many a five-star boudoir. Up a creaking staircase, it was small, the bed very close to the large window, which looked out on neighbouring rooftops and gardens. I booked so late they were unable to provide a sea view. There were books – old-fashioned thrillers and romances – and biscuits to greet me. I have rarely slept so well or felt so like I was at home.
You get a lot of sea for your money in Ramsgate – indeed, the town has one of the largest marinas in England. There are lovely Georgian squares and Regency and Victorian houses lining a very long esplanade that takes you alongside the harbour, then along a more open stretch of ocean (channel ferries leave from here). You can walk all the way to Broadstairs, peer at Dickens’ house, amble around its gorgeous steep little alleyways and stop in at one of several cosy pubs on the waterfront, many with outdoor seating. Architecturally, Ramsgate is impressive, with 900 listed buildings, nearly a quarter of them near the marina.
You may not find Michelin-starred grub here, but you’ll find a host of characterful pubs, some with a surprisingly good selection of beer: the Belgian Cafe, for example, on the waterfront, has 100 Belgian beers and, often, a good band playing. Pleasantly warmed after a few super-strong ales here, we moved on back towards the Royal Harbour – the Crescent has its own smattering of lively pubs, also with live music.
For maritime history buffs, the Maritime History Museum is a must; or try the Pinball Parlour, which features an amazing selection of vintage games. Ramsgate is just an hour from London by train but it feels much, much further. Rooms at the Royal Harbour hotel from £78. www.royalharbourhotel.co.uk