UK Travel

A taste of the high life

The picturesque harbour at Ramsgate

Ramsgate by Bill McCarthy


Crashing a Spitfire on landing is not my finest hour. Luckily it was in a flight simulator at an aircraft museum and I was so agonisingly near the the perfect flight after an extraordinary few days in Kent, but more on that later. 

Ramsgate may not trip from the lips as a must seaside destination for Midlanders, but it a fascinating place with a history of famous sons and daughters as evidenced by a plethora of blue plaques and somewhere to seriously consider once the pandemic has subsided. 

The celebrities who have lived or worked in the Kent town include Elizabeth Fry, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, John Le Mesurier, and artist Vincent Van Gogh, who taught in the town. 

It was also significant during the Second World War and has the only royal harbour in the country (a status granted by George IV in 1821) and some of the finest hotels and dining. 

One of these, the Royal Harbour Hotel, proved the perfect base for all things Ramsgate, a town also famous for the part it played in in the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. 

The hotel is divided across three Georgian-style buildings with 27 individually styled rooms, most with spectacular sea views and easy access to all amenities. The hotel is a mix of quaint and modern with quirky old furniture melded with ultra-modern bathrooms. 

An iconic wartime Spitfire at the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum 

Memorabilia is everywhere, celebrating the town’s seafaring heritage. Our bedroom, with a view over the harbour, featured a four poster bed, complimentary bottles of water and biscuits.

For extra comfort, there were also couple of armchairs and even a TV above the bath. 

In the main hotel, there are a couple of sitting rooms one, with honesty bar, roaring fires and an eclectic mix of vinyl records to play on the vintage record player. 

A truly relaxing atmosphere in a superbly comfortable environment. 

Fine dining is offered in the hotel’s two restaurants, the Empire Room, which is in a basement part of the complex and The Little Ships, just a short walk down the seafront. Having eaten in both, it is fair to say that one is excellent and the other outstanding. You will need to visit to make your own mind up. 

The men behind them are hotelier James Thomas and Michelin-trained chef Craig Mather who have put together imaginative and competitively priced menus for both venues, whether the more expensive a la carte or cheaper set menus. 

The Empire Room is decorated with red walls and furnished with Victorian and Georgian wooden tables and chairs, original Empire magazine covers on the walls and history books on library shelves. 

Down the road The Little Ships is a more contemporary affair, a kind of continental restaurant come bistro/cafe, with modern furnishings and open plan kitchen. 

Both offer varied menus, with the Little Ships seafood a particular delight. Having chosen squid, admittedly not something I would eat on a regular basis, it was by far the best I have ever tasted, while the seafood linguini was nearly as good.

My wife, in customary fashion, went with the meat and got stuck into a pork chop the size of a dinner plate. I know that doesn’t sound exotic, (there are more exotic dishes), but the food is truly exceptional and served imaginatively. Incidentally, both restaurants score highly with Tripadvisor. 

The award-winning Empire Room offers a slightly different menu and the Kentish loin of beef proved a real winner for me in what is a charming and atmospheric dining experience, while the other half went for a meal I thought she would have at the other place, shoulder of lamb. 

You could wax lyrical about both restaurants, suffice to say both offer fantastic food with first class service. Out and about, the Ramsgate Tunnels are really a must visit.  A labyrinth of tunnels criss-crossing the town, built during the war, that became shelters for many and home for some. 

A guided tour gives an understanding of what life was like during the the Blitz, while Margate and Broadstairs are just a few miles away 

Down the road is the RAF Manston History Museum, where you can lose yourself with the history of ancient and modern aircraft and get an understanding of the 100-year plus history of the RAF with some fantastic exhibits. 

Just across the car park is the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum, which concentrates on the iconic aircraft that won the Battle of Britain and, returning to the beginning, where you can take a virtual flight, or crash a Spitfire, in an exhilarating flying experience. Worth every penny of the £30 on a special few days 

Fact file 

Visitors at the extensive wartime tunnels complex at Ramsgate

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