Thanet Uncovered

Sharing all of our discoveries of the beautiful area of Thanet in Kent. An insider’s view on Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Things to see in Thanet, Things to do in Thanet, Where to eat in Thanet, what to drink in Thanet.

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Hidden within the white chalk cliffs towering over Ramsgate Sands is a network of tunnels extending approximately 3 and 1/4 miles under the town. There are 11 entrances at strategic points around the town providing easy access to safety within a 5 minute walk of most areas. If the siren was to go off, you and your family could be safe within a five minute’s walk.

Ramsgate Tunnels town entrance

Martin, our guide for the 1 and 1/2 hour tour is born and bred in Ramsgate and his grandparents used the tunnels during the war. He has many fascinating anecdotes to share.

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Ramsgate Tunnels entrance

I would advise you book your tickets online as the tours fill quickly and arriving at the door, hoping to squeeze on a tour may leave you disappointed.

The Ramsgate Tunnels Tour starts in the large entrance tunnel with a short film which takes you back to the days of World War II. Martin then introduces himself and runs you through the history, starting at the beginning when the tunnel was made to join Ramsgate Sands to the existing train line that then ended at Broadstairs. It proved to be a great success and Ramsgate enjoyed a booming tourist industry.

Ramsgate Tunnels vintage sign

As the Second World War approached, the tunnels had fallen into disuse and it was the brains of Mr Brimmell and Mr ABC Kemp, the mayor of Ramsgate, that came up with the ambitious plan to extend the tunnels into a network of deep shelter areas that would provide refuge for 60,000 people.

The Duke of Kent opened the completed tunnels in 1939 and on August 28th 1940 they proved their worth when Ramsgate received more than 500 bombs from a squadron of German pilots who dumped their load rather than carry it home. No lives were lost but the town was left badly damaged.

Ramsgate Tunnels toilets

The toilets of the time

The tunnels were equipped with chemical toilets, bunk beds, seating, lighting and a public addressing system. As homes were damaged above ground, life carried on underneath. Some people even took up residence down there.

Construction of the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels tour

The tunnels were made 6 feet wide and 7 feet high. They were constructed at a depth of 50-75 feet to provide protection from bombs. If the tunnels rose closer to the surface and were deemed unsafe, they were coated with reinforced concrete.

Life in the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Two babies are said to have been born in the tunnels. Dances were held, Christmas dinners enjoyed, a barber, whose shop had been bombed, started to work down there. Life carried on and the children of the time, unaware of the enormity of the situation, had a great time living their underground adventure.

Fortunately, nobody died in the tunnels. The closet Ramsgate came was a man nicknamed ‘Shell’ which is a very sweet story but I’ll let Martin tell you that one, he tells it so much better than I could.

Tickets

Can be bought online

Adults – £6.50
Seniors – £5.00
Child – £4.00

Top Tips

Wear warm clothes. You will need a jacket as the tunnels are cold.

Wear trainers or flat closed shoes, it’s a dusty uneven surface down there.

Young children aren’t going to enjoy this. We had a 2 year old in our group, he screamed and cried all the way round which echoed in the small space. Poor child, he was cold, bored and would much rather be on the beach. It was a shame he was so noisy as he interrupted Martin’s fascinating stories and made it difficult for the group to hear.

Ramsgate Tunnels memoirs

shell grotto margate

If like me, you are attracted to mystery and you enjoy being wowed by unexplainable facts then the Shell Grotto in Margate has to be high on your bucket list. Trust me and read on, you are going to love it.

Hidden away in the back streets of an unsuspecting residential area of Margate, within walking distance of the centre, is a curiosity that will hold your wonder for days after your visit. In fact, it is so insignificant you would be forgiven for passing it by or for even not finding it all! It is said it was discovered by mistake in 1835, when James Newlove was digging a duck pond in the ground and came across a hole. Like any loving father, he lowered his son into it to explore and his son returned, thankfully, describing a labyrinth of tunnels covered in shells below ground.

shell grotto margate

Well, that’s one story of how it was discovered but there are a number of stories out there and after 180 years of exaggeration and embellishment there’s not a lot of chance finding out the truth!

Anyway, in 1838, three years later, James opened the Shell Grotto to the public and now, almost 200 years to the day, it hasn’t lost its ability to draw the curious in. It remains a hugely popular place to visit when in Margate.

“My brother found out about the underground place sometime before it was known. He never dared to tell father. He found the chalk loose at one end of the passage next to the cottage, which was built afterwards, and he opened it up by taking the stuff away, as it were in rough blocks. Then when the opening was wide enough, he crawled through and got into the Grotto. And so did I. Yes, and two or three other young girls too. We crept in through the opening, and had to scrub ourselves right through the dirty chalk, and lor, we did make a mess of ourselves. But we got in and saw it all; we had to take a candle in a lantern round somebody’s neck.

“Once, when we were in, father shouted for us, and we were in a fine hurry to get out. “Where are those girls?” The reason he wanted us then was because a new governess, a clergyman’s daughter, had just arrived, and we were to be introduced. So we got out as quick as might be, and we were all white and dirty from the chalk and the dust. We needed some brushing, I can tell you; and we had to do it quick too.

“But it was really discovered in 1837, and my brother was dropped down the Dome with a light. He had been through it before, but had not told father.”

— Fanny Newlove

The Shell Grotto

Shell Grotto Margate

The Shell Grotto measures 104ft long and the walls are covered in 4.6 million shells mosaiced into intricate panels each depicting a separate design and meaning. There is the Turtle Panel, the Aries Panel, the Skeleton Panel and the Ankh-Isis Panel amongst the 20 that have been named since the discovery.

shell grotto margate

To date no documents have come to light mentioning the Grotto, no correspondence, no maps and no plans of construction, so nobody knows really with any certainty what it was built for. All we have to work on are theories.

  • Those who believe the Shell Grotto was a place of worship
  • Those who think the Shell Grotto was a rich man’s folly.
  • Those who are certain the Shell Grotto was a smuggler’s cave.

Who knows?

What we do know is 99% of the shells used are all locally found but in the corners of the Altar Room, there are queen conches from the Caribbean which adds an exotic touch to the mystery.

shell grotto margate

When to visit and how much does it cost

The Shell Grotto is open daily from 10am – 5pm from the beginning of the Easter holidays to the end of October half term and in winter at the weekends.

Tickets cost £4.00 for adults, £3.50 for concessionaries, £1.50 for children and a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) £8

shell grotto margate

What else is there to do?

There is a wonderful shop selling all sorts of shell related products and precious stones plus a cafe where you can get a drink and a bite to eat. Read up more on the Shell Grotto website and if you are in the area go and see it for yourself.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

Picking up from our walk around Thanet our next section to explore was to be Ramsgate Royal Harbour.

We parked in the residential area at the top of the slope leading into the centre of Ramsgate and walked along the cliff top down into the harbour. The weather was mild and sunny and the harbour held a peaceful Sunday atmosphere. You could feel it was a day off, a fun day and it excited us.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

One of my favourite things to do when strolling around a harbour is to look at the boats, check out the most expensive one and wonder who it could belong to. Ramsgate was no different and offered some splendid examples that are way out of my wage packet.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

Ramsgate Royal Harbour

Ramsgate Harbour is the only harbour in the United Kingdom awarded the right to call itself a Royal Harbour. This was bestowed by King George IV after he was taken by the hospitality shown by the people of Ramsgate when he used the harbour to depart and return with the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1821.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

On the quayside there is a Clock House which is home to the Ramsgate meridian, 5 minutes and 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich meantime. The Clock House is also home to Ramsgate Maritime Museum which gives an introduction to the town’s important maritime past.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-museum

We didn’t call in this time as the weather was so nice, we chose to walk along the seafront and see if we could find anything else for future visits.

Ramsgate fresh seafood

We passed by Peter’s Fish Factory and spotted this wonderful Fresh Seafood van offering all sorts of delicious food.

Further on we came to the coast where there is a lovely beach with a park and amusements for children.

Ramsgate beach

Along the promenade there are paintings on the wall, each of us had fun choosing our favourites and the girls stopped to read some as they passed by.

Walking along a little bit further threw up two fantastic surprises, the first, a colourful Rainbow staircase painted by a local school to brighten up the huge concrete wall…

Ramsgate rainbow stairs

and then, hidden in that concrete wall are the Ramsgate Tunnels!

We did venture into the tunnels a bit and I found out that there are tours of the tunnels which is better to book yourself on, especially in high season. We all promised to return another time to explore.

In a nutshell the Ramsgate tunnels were created to house people during the war. 60,000 people could find shelter here and there were over 1000 permanent residents at one time.

Ramsgate tunnels

The Ramsgate Arches

We started to make our way back to the car and walked alongside the harbour taking in the fabulous Ramsgate Arches which are now homes to restaurants, art shops and vintage stores. The arches start off quite small as you can see from the first photo.

Ramsgate arches

Ramsgate arches

Ramsgate arches

You can also see the emblem of the Cinque Ports of which Ramsgate is considered to be a Limb of one of the ports.

Ramsgate-Cinque-Ports-symbol

Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys

Another place of interest we noted on our walk was the Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys which in a first instance can give off some distressing ideas of what this could possibly be but a little investigation proved that the smack boys were apprentices to the fishing smack skippers of Ramsgate.

Ramsgate-home-for-smack-boys

Lastly was the pretty and peaceful Sailor’s Church.

The Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission was built in 1878 by Canon Eustace Brenan, vicar of the nearby Christ Church. He was aware how hard and dangerous the Smack Boys work was and their need for physical help and spiritual guidance. He built the church so when the Smack Boys came ashore they could find comfort in the rooms above the church.

Ramsgate sailors church

I loved the look of this old building on the harbour but haven’t been able to find out yet what it once was. A nightclub? An amusement arcade? The statues are still in almost perfect condition and although the building needs a lot of restoring I hope somebody does take the project on.

Ramsgate old building

One last spot was on the wall of a home where our car was parked. A blue plaque informing us that Charles Darwin had visited Ramsgate and stayed in this house. The twins have heard and talked about Charles Darwin at school so were excited to find he’d been here too.

Ramsgate Charles Darwin

What better than to eat fish and chips on a visit to the coast?

peters fish factory ramsgate

On one of our recent family trips around Ramsgate we popped into Peter’s Fish Factory on Harbour Road at around lunch time, curious to try for ourselves the infamous fish and chips from this award winning restaurant.

You can choose to eat inside or outside on the bistro style tables. We had Baxter with us who wasn’t allowed inside but seeing it was a lovely day, we sat at a small wooden table and waited for our fresh food to be cooked to order.

We ordered 2 small codling and chips and a portion of fish goujons and chips for the girls to share as it was a large portion, I also indulged on a portion of mushy peas. With a couple of soft drinks our bill came to around £12. (Summer 2016)

The meals were served in takeaway boxes and you could add salt and vinegar at the counter. There were small wooden forks and serviettes on offer plus a table of condiments to pimp your fish and chips to however you wished.

Peter’s Fish Factory fish and chips

fish and chips Peters fish factory

We all agreed that the fish and chips were delicious, very good portions and cooked perfectly – in our opinion. The girls managed to eat most of the box leaving only a few chips which dad helpfully polished off for them.

It was a bit windy sitting outside and we had to be careful of the polystyrene cups blowing about and serviettes taking off across the harbour but it was a lovely spot with no through traffic.

If queues are anything to go by on deciding whether a fish and chip shop is good or not, Peter’s Fish Factory in Ramsgate had a queue for the entire time we were there and lots of happy faces coming out.

Let us know if you agree.

NB This post first appeared on another blog I set up called Thanet Uncovered in 2016. It quickly became apparent that with work, family, home and life in general I wouldn’t have the time to run two blogs so I am in the process of closing down Thanet Uncovered and transferring the content onto Mari’s World where I shall have a category for Thanet to store all of our fun times there.

 Pegwell Bay thanet

Pegwell Bay

When looking at a map of Thanet it becomes immediately apparent that there is a hell of a lot to do and see but we had to make a decision to start somewhere. Although we are both familiar with the area we wanted to start with something new to us and so we decided that Pegwell Bay in Ramsgate would be our starting point.

We woke early one Sunday morning and as it wasn’t raining and the sky was promising a clear morning we headed off from our base in Birchington Vale for our first adventure.

Pegwell Bay - Thanet

Pegwell Bay sits on the estuary of the River Stour between Ramsgate and Sandwich and is home to a large nature reserve, many different species of wildlife live here or visit throughout the year. Families can visit the Pegwell Bay Country Park to discover more of the mudflats and salt marshes and take a closer look at the varied nature.

We parked in the residential area along the top of the cliffs and, with Baxter on a lead, walked down the slopes leading to the beach. The beach is rocky and sandy and is dog friendly although there may be a dog ban from 1st April – 30 September between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

Pegwell bay exploring

We were there before 10am and so let Baxter off his lead for a run and around the sandy beach and another failed attempt at catching a seagull. The girls enjoyed larking around on the sand too and we could see Ramsgate Royal harbour in the distance.

Pegwell bay

The Boating Pool Cafeteria

We walked back up one of the staircases to the top of the cliffs which was a good climb and strolled along the top back towards the car. There we came across The Boating Pool Cafeteria, there was a playground which caught the girl’s eyes and a welcome cup of tea which caught mine. Dogs are allowed on the terrace and so we sat down and enjoyed a cuppa in the sunshine whilst watching the men drive their boats on the lake.

The Boating Pool Cafeteria Pegwell Bay

I love the ‘Once upon a time’ look of the Boating Pool, reminiscent of times gone by but once inside you will be invited to a wonderful clean and fresh atmosphere with a fantastic chalkboard menu to choose from. I have a feeling we may be back here soon to try some of the food.

 

The Boating Pool cafeteria Pegwell BayIt did seem the perfect spot to enjoy a lunch or even an afternoon beer or glass of wine as the sun sets over the sea.

One last thing worth mentioning was the fabulous sculpture on the green along the cliff tops at West Cliff, Hands and Molecule by David Barnes. The sculpture was unveiled in 2000 to mark the opening of the National Cycle Network (Route 15) in Thanet.

Hands-and-Molecule-David-barnes-Pegwell-Bay

Things to see and do in Pegwell Bay

  • Visit Pegwell Bay Country Park
  • See Hugin, the full-size replica Scandinavian longboat complete with shields situated by the main road on the low clifftops above Pegwell Bay commemorating the first Anglo-Saxon landings in England in this area.
  • Take a look at St Augustine’s Cross, a stone memorial in a fenced enclosure on the south side of Cottington Road. The cross was erected in 1884 to commemorate the arrival of St Augustine in England in AD 597.

NB This post first appeared on another blog I set up called Thanet Uncovered in 2016. It quickly became apparent that with work, family, home and life in general I wouldn’t have the time to run two blogs so I am in the process of closing down Thanet Uncovered and transferring the content onto Mari’s World where I shall have a category for Thanet to store all of our fun times there.