Ramsgate International Hoverport

Hovercrafts exist in the British postwar imagination alongside Concorde and the Post Office Tower as avatars of the rapidly arriving future.

These ludicrous metal beasts, dreamed up by some archetypal crackpot inventor, brought Europe closer, but were also a symbol of British exceptionalism. Sure, the French have some nice wines, but do they have planes that can take off vertically or enormous air cushion based cross channel vehicles? Of course they don’t [1].

Space for up to 30 cars!

Sadly, hovercrafts haven’t made it into the modern age as a viable form of mass transit. They consume vast quantities of kerosene, passengers remember the noise and the vomit, and hover stewardesses recall slapping panicking passengers in the face. The service from Pegwell Bay was wound up by the early eighties, and today the only passenger service in Britain is from Southsea to the Isle of Wight.

Armed with that other postwar symbol of modernity and freedom – the car – my household took a trip down to the bay to walk among the concrete ruins.

At the time of writing, the border with France was closed, due to a scary new Covid variant. One couldn’t escape Brexit island even by ferry. Our route took us past Manston airport, which was packed with many hundreds of lorries unable to make the journey from Dover.

After parking up, we made our way down past what would once have been the foot passenger entrance, which came down past the Viking ship – a gift from the Danish government – via a bridge over the now abandoned service road.

It is now a bridge to nowhere. The modernist terminal building – which can be glimpsed in this Pathé clip of Prince Philip opening the hoverport – mouldered, collapsed and was finally demolished.

A cafe, a bar and a viewing platform were all available for the modern traveller.

Looking out across what would have been the car park from my overgrown footbridge, you get a good sense of the scale of the operation. Pegwell Bay was once some Gerry Anderson set made real; you can almost hear the triumphal Thunderbirds music as you look across the weeds, moss and crumbling concrete.

We walked away from Ramsgate, towards the first of the two hovercraft “landing” strips. You can still see the approach markings, and enjoy the smooth concrete emerging from the calm waters, or even pretend to be an arriving hovercraft yourself if you’re in the mood for it.

What’s sad is the terminal building was relatively intact until the nineties. It would have been great for it to be salvaged, and perhaps reopened as a combined birdwatching and community centre, with cafe and hovercraft museum. This could have been connected up with Ramsgate town centre via a monorail operating along the old service road.

Until then, this remains a wonderful spot for watching the birds and wandering the remnants of Britain’s postwar optimism. There’s even a roundabout that has been reclaimed by nature, which struck me as an oddly reassuring monument to a better future.

It also reminded me of Chernobyl.

[1] The hovercrafts were run by a Swedish company.

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