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RAMSGATE (PEGWELL BAY) HOVERPORT
All 2005 pictures matt@hhvferry.com
Ramsgate International Hoverport opened for business in April 1969, being opened formally by the Duke of Edinburgh in May. Located outside Ramsgate itself in Pegwell Bay, the new terminal was vast and was Hoverlloyd's exclusive home base. Hoverlloyd had begun operations in 1966, initially running trips around Ramsgate harbour before progressing onto international services between Ramsgate and Calais. These early excursions were however merely the precursor to the full-scale car-carrying operations which began with the arrival of the SRN4 craft Swift and Sure and the opening of the terminals themselves. Whereas previously operations had been based in Ramsgate harbour, the new Pegwell Bay location was considered perfect being easily accessible for cars driving to use the new services whilst also being free of the congestion and problematic sea conditions which were considered to be occasionally detrimental at Dover as well as in Ramsgate port itself. These advantages were such that initial agreement was actually made for both Seaspeed and Hoverlloyd to base themselves at Pegwell Bay but ultimately the former made their first home in Dover's Eastern Docks amongst the car ferries.

The process of getting the hoverport built was not a formality. Pegwell Bay was deemed an area of special scientific interest, with a bird sanctuary at the western end, whilst there was also an inevitable amount of NIMBYism from local residents. In the event, the combined efforts of conservationists and residents led to two public enquiries before consent was finally given. Construction continued apace and the opening came just nine months after work began. The hoverport was actually owned by Thanet District Council, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of Hoverlloyd, and was operated by a company called International Hoverports Limited, a Hoverlloyd subsidiary.

Pegwell Bay was thus home to Hoverlloyd right up until the merger with Seaspeed in 1981. One final Summer season followed under the new Hoverspeed name until services were concentrated on Dover, with Pegwell Bay closing to passengers in September 1982. Ramsgate became the technical and maintenance base and it was here that the
Sure was broken up in 1983, being deemed surplus to requirements. The hoverport itself did not fare much better and it fell into a vandalised and neglected state after the maintenance facilities transferred to Dover. By the end of the decade it had been demolished.
PEGWELL BAY HOVERPORT IN 2005
Above: Looking back towards the cliff face - the area visible here was mostly car parking and waiting areas in the hoverport days. In the background the footbridge crossing the hoverport access road can be seen - the bridge leads up to the main road adjacent to the Viking ship.
Above: The access road itself has in part succumbed to the slow creep of nature.
Above: Still discernible are the markings for the vehicle marshalling lanes.
Hoverlloyd Promotional Material - The World's Finest Hoverports (1970)

Hoverlloyd built the world's first international hoverport on the sands at Pegwell Bay, Ramsgate, Kent, with two possible targets - to make it the smoothest, quickest possible passenger handling port, and to give passengers a comfortable and enjoyable time. The result is a streamlined Hoverport which equals the standards of any international airport - with a little more besides.

Pegwell Bay is noted for its natural wild bird reserve and the migration of these wild birds, butterflies and dragonflies can be observed from armchair comfort, together with the panoramic views of Pegwell Bay and the surrounding countryside.

The Hoverport cost 1,500,000 to build and can handle 1,000,000 passengers each year; it has the fastest and most direct route of any Channel port to London via the M2 Motorway.

The long, low, handsome design of its all-in-one building fits snugly into the sheltered bay. Inside there is a shopping centre with an Exchange Bureau, a Bank and an automatic photograph machine for day passport photos.

Around the well of the Customs Hall runs a balcony where passengers and friends can eat quite cheaply at a large Cafeteria; there is also a first-class Cocktail Bar and Restaurant where diners can watch the spectacular sight of hovercraft approaching in a storm of spray to berth on the landing platform right outside the windows. It is fascinating to see 177 tons of hovercraft sit down as gently as a feather.

Passengers who have passed through Customs and Immigration controls have a comfortable departure lounge, with a licensed Snack Bar and a Duty Free Shop for the purchase of cigarettes, spirits and perfume.

To speed incoming passengers through the Customs, the Hoverport has been designed for cars and foot passengers to split into a red and green stream, for rapid examination. Green is for passengers bringing in only the amount of Duty Free goods allowed by Customs. Red is for those who wish to bring in more than the set concession.

The Hoverport beats traffic jams and travel delays so common to many ports by having the advantage of an arterial road (A299) and a motorway (M2) direct to London.

Express coach services from London connect up with hovercraft departures and buses connect the Hoverport with Ramsgate railway station and fast, frequent trains to London.
Above: The Viking Long ship at Pegwell Bay overlooked the hoverport (whose flags can be seen in the background with one of the two early Hoverlloyd SRN4s arriving. The Viking ship, a gift from Denmark, crossed the North Sea in 1949 before being permanently 'berthed' in this location - where it remains today. For thirteen years it provided a curious juxtaposition with the self-consciously, insistently modern hovercraft operation.
Above: Another overall view of the hoverport with the Swift and Sure alongside the main terminal building. Out of shot (to the left) were further extensive maintenance and overhaul facilities. On the top level of the hoverport was a viewing gallery where the arrivals and departures could be observed.
With the hoverport demolished, the Pegwell Bay site has slowly been reclaimed by nature - whereas at Boulogne a similar situation has the beach gradually creeping up the tarmac ramps, at Ramsgate the tarmac is slowly being submerged beneath lichen, weeds and undergrowth. The following pictures were all taken in June 2005 and show that, although the site is essentially derelict, much can still be found that relates to the brief period of time when this unlikely location was at the forefront of British technological achievement - before it modestly succumbed, in a very British way, back to nature and renewed obscurity.
Above: The eastern of the two ramps which led into the sea retains its painted markings, nearly 20 years after the departure of the last hovercraft.
Above & Below: Looking across the hoverpad with the cooling towers of Richborough Power Station (closed 1996) looming in the background.
Above & Below: All that remains of the hoverport building itself are the remains of a few walls (above)....

..... and piles of concrete rubble
(below).