Ramsgate, where we are installed for the summer, owes much to Napoleon. Until 1800, it was a fishing village. Then came the wars, and the place was full of soldiers, embarking from the harbour that was under construction.
The Duke of Wellington stayed here: the Ramsgate Society has put up a plaque to say so. After 1815, the developers went into overdrive-witness such patriotic names to the terraces as the Plains of Waterloo. To the tyrant of Europe, the Channel had been a barrier-as it would become again in the 20th century, when the Little Ships left Ramsgate for Dunkirk.
A couple are still moored there. And yet, for most of human history, the Channel would have served to connect people, rather than separate them. It formed a great thoroughfare for travellers who found it easier to journey by water than land. Thanet-an island until it silted up-was the point at which it crossed another vital route, formed by the Rhine and the Thames.
All trace of the settlements that would have been around the coast have disappeared, because so much of the chalk landmass has been gobbled up by the sea. But the area is peppered with ancient burial sites, forming one of the highest concentrations in Europe.
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