May we suggest these seaside towns for an easy outing from London.
Although it has sandy beaches, Ramsgate’s heart is the charming Georgian harbour, making it a good poor weather option. Even if a gale is blowing, the walk along the harbour wall to the Royal Harbour Brasserie is worth it. Open all day for meals, snacks and drinks, in summer you may glimpse France from the terrace, but foul weather brings a dash of drama. On the front, the Ramsgate Tunnels is a subterranean network that makes use of a disused trainline which once deposited holiday-makers directly onto the front. They were further developed for use as air raid shelters during World War Two. Only recently re-opened, the tunnels have become a popular attraction which means that booking is recommended. At the town’s eastern reaches (only 15 minutes or so from its centre) is Petticoat Lane, an indoor antique market, which can yield good finds. Vintage shoppers are also advised to try Arch 16, a pleasingly haphazard collection of items for those with a taste for the hunt. Paraphernalia on Addington Street is a reliable source for furniture, paintings and ephemera from the previous century, all in excellent condition and fairly priced. Vintage Ramsgate postcards make an inexpensive and lightweight souvenir. On the same street is Vinylhead, café, second-hand record shop and they also serve the town’s best ice cream. The Queen Charlotte at the other end of the street is a jolly pub that offers proof, if it were needed, of the coast’s allure to eccentrics. For the best beer in town and a small, simple yet very satisfying food offering, The Ravensgate Arms on unprepossessing King Street is unbeatable. It’s dog-friendly too, ideal if you’ve just given Bonzo a beach workout.
St Pancras International to Ramsgate; total journey time: 75 mins
A town so pretty it will have you peering into estate agents’ windows within minutes of arrival. In truth there’s no single destination that makes it worth visiting, rather a combination of things. Wonderful, varied architecture – including many timber-framed medieval buildings – charity shops, junk shops and antique shops are very well represented, dotted around the centre of town with another clump in Standard Quay, down by the creek, where boats are still repaired. This is also hometown of Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewer, whose pretty pubs dominate, best being The Bear Inn, with its polar bear painting in the public bar and a cosy snug. As an alternative, The Phoenix Tavern has a wider range of beer, shareable food and two open fires — only a slightly charmless garden lets it down. Market days are the best time to visit, and there are a lot of them, all held in the medieval Market Place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with a vintage and antiques market on the first Sunday of the month.
St Pancras International to Faversham; total journey time: 65 minutes
When looking at the sea seems like a better idea than wading in it, this historic little town at the north-eastern tip of Essex may be a good option. There’s plenty to see, including the Redoubt Fort, a circular Napoleonic-era fortress, several museums devoted to aspects of the town’s maritime history, the tiny Halfpenny Pier jutting into the sea and Light Vessel LV18, a former floating lighthouse, that’s now a memorial to Pirate Radio. If the weather turns, the Electric Palace is one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas in the UK, complete with glorious exterior, and there are several pubs to warm up, among them The New Bell and The Alma Inn.
Liverpool Street to Harwich Town (change at Manningtree); total journey time: 85 minutes
Hastings, East Sussex
Small enough to feel manageable and large enough to be interesting, there’s more than enough to keep a visitor occupied, no matter the weather. We are unable to resist a funicular railway, and Hastings has two – the East Hill Lift and West Hill Lift. The west has in its favour original wooden Victorian carriages, but the east has a more spectacular ascent — the steepest in the country — and from the summit are wonderful views across town and out sea. If the weather is inclement, explore the Jerwood Gallery‘s permanent collection, with its focus on British art of the early and mid 20th century. Fish and chips are excellent here thanks to a genuine fishing industry, Maggie’s, the Blue Dolphin and The Neptune are all exemplary in every way, and if the opportunity arises, try Tush & Pat’s Fishermen’s Rolls. Stop in at A G Hendy & Co Home Store takes the understandable yearning for a pre-digital era to an extreme that lies somewhere between art, commerce and parody. Enamelware, candles, brushes, soap and other such items, all of which are exquisitely displayed across three floors. For genuine old stuff, wander the Old Town, an area rewarding for the seeker of curios, antiques and bric a brac, as well as containing a remarkable array of 16th and 17th-century architecture. For records (and coffee too), try Wow And Flutter, and if later you feel in need of refreshment, either (or perhaps both) The Dolphin Inn and First In Last Out will meet your requirements.
Charing Cross to Hastings; total journey time: 95 minutes