The Isle of Thanet
The 'Isle' of Thanet - known affectionately as 'Planet Thanet' by residents - is the region on the easternmost tip of Kent, incorporating the seaside resorts of Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs. It is so called because it was once separated from the mainland by the Wantsum channel. However, this channel has grown narrower over time so that Thanet is joined to the mainland by marshland.
Thanet was a favourite landing ground for the Vikings during their incursions in the so-called 'Dark Ages'. This was commemorated by the building of a replica Viking Ship, 'Hugin', which stands on the cliffs at Cliffsend. Later, it was the landing ground for St. Augustine in 597 A.D. during his missionary visit to Britain commissioned by the Pope of that time, Gregory. In the 19th century, Thanet was known as an area of seaside towns, and Charles Dickens even had a house in Broadstairs, named Bleak House. Throughout the 20th century, Thanet remained a popular destination for weekend retreats for Londoners. Margate was, in the 1970's, the scene of pitched battles between the Mods and Rockers. In the late 20th century, Thanet suffered something of an economic decline, with more tourists being able to afford trips abroad lessening the isle's popularity as a destination.
Thanet, as mentioned before, is basically marshland. It is, therefore, extremely flat, and, some would say, uninteresting. Pegwell Bay, near Cliffsend, is however home to many forms of marine wildlife attracted by the marshy beach. It was recently recognised as a conservation area because of the birdlife which frequents its shores. Thanet's soil is very chalky and silty, and this makes it ideal for farmers growing the isle's premier export: cauliflowers.
As mentioned before, Thanet is no longer the hive of tourist activity it once was. Ramsgate used to be an active sea-port, with regular passenger crossings to Dunkirk and cargo crossings to many destinations across the channel. However, the main ferry operator has moved out due to lack of interest. Thankfully for Ramsgate, European money is attempting to heal this atrophy with its funding for a council-run ferry service and the improvement of the town's leisure marina facilities. The airport at Manston has recently been moved out of by the RAF, allowing an external group called 'Wiggins' to develop it as a civil airport.
The largest single employer in Thanet is Pfizer plc., an American pharmaceuticals company, whose biggest plant in the UK is close to Sandwich, on the Thanet side of the Wantsum channel. Tourist jobs also constitute a large sector of the employment spectrum, although this has diminished for reasons outlined above. Despite Pfizer's contribution, Thanet has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country
Thanet's schools follow the usual five-to-one ratio of primary schools to secondary schools, with two private preparatory schools and one 'public' school. Two of the secondary schools are church-funded, three are grammar schools, and the rest are comprehensive. Thanet boasts its own college, which is renowned for its cookery courses - TV chef Gary Rhodes trained there. Canterbury's Christ Church College has recently built a Thanet campus offering diplomas and elementary degrees in technological fields.
Thanet's town centres have suffered as a result of the development of 'Westwood', an area between Margate and Broadstairs, as a commercial centre. However, they will remain in use as utility shopping centres, especially considering the large percentage of elderly people living in Thanet. The major supermarket chains are all represented: Sainsbury's is in Westwood, Tesco is in Manston, soon to move to Westwood, Asda is in Broadstairs, and Somerfield is in Margate.
Towns and villages
As stated before, Thanet has a number of medium-sized towns. However, in the gaps between these remain rural villages and hamlets. The following is a guide to the major exponents of each category.
Birchington has recently acheived town status due to its expanding High Street which boasts many specialist shops. It is known as a popular retirement area and has one of the nicest beaches - Minnis Bay. On its outskirts is Quex Park and the Powell-Cotton museum - worth a visit.
Margate is probably Thanet's most famous town, due to its popularity with Londoners. It houses the district council's offices, and boasts the attractions of Dreamland, the Shell Grotto, and the Margate Caves. Its sands are notorious, if not the best beach in the area. For that, look to Botany Bay, about a mile east of the town.
Broadstairs is well known in the area for its 'Folk Week' and Dickens Festival. It is one of Thanet's more salubrious areas, and the one where the comedian Ronnie Corbett chose to retire. It boasts many attractions, although its beaches are the most visited. Bleak House is also an interesting visit.
On the promenade at Ramsgate, there is a monument to commemorate the visit of King George the Sixth, who is said to have quite liked the town. However, it has declined considerably since his visit, although the marina remains a picturesque spot, as do the East Cliffs. Attractions include a car museum and King George the Sixth park, which joins Ramsgate to Broadstairs.
Westgate is a rather small town with little of note but two excellent beaches - West Bay and St. Mildred's Bay. It is also the best place to stay if you intend to spend a lot of time in Margate.
Minster is Thanet's largest village and has won the 'Best Kept Village in Kent' award more than once. It is well known for its Flower Show - one of the few surviving agricultural shows in the area. It also boasts a rather nice village church.
Monkton is a rather secluded village with little in the way of interest. It does, however, contain Foxhunter Park - a rather prestigious caravan park, and what I believe is the oldest church in Thanet.
Cliffsend is the area incorporating Pegwell Bay near Ramsgate. There used to be a hoverport operating here, but it has closed down and fallen into disuse. On its cliffs stands a replica of a Viking Ship.
There are other little vilages and hamlets in the area, but they are beyond the scope of this writeup.