THE THANET COAST PATH
Stage 1: Reculver to Ramsgate
Wednesday, August 18th 2010
I walked this section of the Thanet Coast Path on Wednesday, August 18th 2010. There is no train station at Reculver, so I walked along the coast path from Herne Bay, which lies around five kilometres to the west, though there is also a bus from Herne Bay Station to Reculver. The last couple of kilometres follows a well-kept grassy track across the Reculver Country Park, giving superb views ahead to Reculver (picture 1). Along this track I was passed by quite a number of cyclists.
The Thanet Coast Path officially starts at St Mary's Church, Reculver. The twin towers at the front of the church are largely intact (picture 2), but all that remains of the rest of the church is ruins. On the grassy slope beside the church, I passed a number of the cyclists who had overtaken me earlier (picture 3).
As I set off from the church I noticed that the formerly sunny weather was rapidly turning to overcast as a large bank of dark clouds passed over from the west and blocked out the sun.
Behind the church, the path turns left and then almost immediately right, following a concrete footpath along the top of the Northern Sea Wall (picture 4), with the ocean to the left and the ponds of an oyster farm to the right.
The ponds soon give way to flat marshes and the path continues along the sea wall for around four kilometres of fairly monotonous walking, broken only by a brief diversion inland around a large pond (picture 5) at the half-way point.
Eventually the monotony ends as the path reaches Minnis Bay, where a series of groynes protects a beach backed by a long line of huts, with the sea-front apartment buildings of Birchington-on-Sea visible further along the coast (picture 6). On the sand, dozens of families were engaging in the peculiar English pasttime of spending a cold, cloudy day at the beach -- it was far too cold for any sane person to actually take a dip in the water.
At the end of the beach, the route follows the concrete path along the sea wall to the left, around a tidal wading pool (picture 7), and then to the right, around the foot of the low cliffs of the headland and into Grenham Bay (picture 8), where a wide expanse of mud flats was exposed by the low tide.
At several places along the cliffs, there are various brick and concrete structures built into the rock, such as the seemingly derelict building in picture 9. The town of Birchington-on-Sea sits on top of the low cliffs and there are several vehicle ramps along the way if you feel like going into the town.
The next bay is Epple Bay, at the far end of which the sea wall ends and the path climbs some stairs to the top of the cliff. From here, I was able to get a better look at the houses along the top of the cliffs and the sea wall I had just walked along (picture 10).
The route follows a road along the cliff top, soon rejoining the sea wall above the sandy beach of Westgate Bay (picture 11). Following the wide concrete path around the bay, the Thanet Coast Path passes another group of colourful beach huts before rounding Lodge Point (picture 12). Looking out to sea from Lodge Point, I counted no fewer than six large cargo ships on the horizon.
Around the point, the path continues past another sandy beach at St. Mildred's Bay and around the next point into Westbrook Bay, where the seafront of Margate stretches out ahead (picture 13). Part of the way around the bay, the path passes a rather grand looking crescent-shaped row of houses (picture 14).
A little further on is a statue of a man wearing an old-fashioned life-jacket (picture 15). The statue is a memorial to those lost when the Margate Surf Boat "Friend to All Nations" capsized in December 1897.
Further along the path, Westbrook Bay becomes simply The Bay, enclosed on the far side by a semi-circular concrete pier (picture 16). The beach here becomes gradually busier and more commercial, with a variety of jumping castles, trampolines and children's rides on the sand and a string of amusement arcades across the road from the beach.
The 1887 clock tower (picture 17) stands where the road forks next to the beach. The right fork leads into the commercial centre of Margate, while the Coast Path goes to the left, passing the end of the pier where the 1812 Margate Pier and Harbour Company office is topped by another clock tower (picture 18). Next to the pier was a construction site where signs indicated that a new multi-storey Turner art gallery was being built.
A little further along, the path passes the Lido. From here there is a choice of a low path along the sea wall of Walpole Bay or a higher path along the top of the low cliffs. Having taken the low path earlier in the day, I decided to take the high path this time.
Along the clifftop the path passes an imaginatively-designed playground (picture 19) and many nineteenth-century houses. Just before the point that separates Walpole Bay from Palm Bay, a lookout station stands atop the cliffs (picture 20) above a large bathing pool, though it was too windy and cold for anyone to take to the water.
On the other side of the point, a café shelters at the foot of the cliff (picture 21). The main road and the houses of Cliftonville gradually recede from the coastline, leaving a nice grassy expanse beside the path as it circles Palm Bay (picture 22). On the far side of Palm Bay, the Margate Wastewater Pumping Station sits alone atop the point, while the path turns to the right to pass Botany Bay as the coastline begins to bend around to the south.
Botany Bay's sandy beach features a large chunk of the chalk cliff that has been separated from the rest, dividing the beach into two (picture 23).
At the far point of Botany Bay, the path turns to the right around a squat stone fortress (picture 24). Next to the fortress a group of golfers were teeing off on the golf course that separates the houses of Cliftonville from those of the hamlet of Kingsgate.
Around the corner, there are a couple more large blocks of the cliff cut off from the mainland and a nice view across the sheltered Kingsgate Bay to Kingsgate Castle (picture 25).
The path now heads a little away from the edge of the cliffs, joining the main road near the unusual Captain Digby pub (picture 26) and then climbing uphill past Kingsgate Bay. Looking back across Kingsgate Bay, you can see an arch eroded in the chalk point (picture 27). As it climbs away from Kingsgate Bay the path leaves the road opposite the Kingsgate Castle and follows the edge of the golf course for a few hundred metres with the North Foreland Lighthouse coming into view uphill ahead (picture 28).
The path soon rejoins the road as it passes above Joss Bay, where the beach was full of people in spite of the bleak weather (picture 29). At the far side of Joss Bay, the Thanet Coast Path leaves the road and follows the clifftop for a few hundred metres until it reaches some houses, where it turns right along a lane to rejoin the main road next to the North Foreland Lighthouse (picture 30).
The path now follows the main road through the northern outskirts of Broadstairs for almost a kilometre until it turns left at a blue Viking Coast Trail sign and heads back to the cliffs above Stone Bay (picture 31). The path follows the road along the cliff-top until it reaches Bleak House (picture 32) at the far end of the bay.
Heading round the left side of Bleak House, the path descends to Viking Bay, the main beach of Broadstairs. Following the marked public footpath, the route soon climbs back up the cliffs above the beach. The beach itself is typical of a Victorian resort town, with the colourful beach huts, a promenade and children's amusements including trampolines, swings and a small merry-go-round. As I reached the far side of the bay, the sun came out for the first time since the start of the walk and I took picture 33 looking back over the bay.
Just before the path heads around the next point into Louisa Bay, it passes a rather ornate clock and weathervane (picture 34). The brief stretch of path around Louisa Bay is lined with apartment buildings, beyond which the path follows the grassy clifftop above Dumpton Bay (picture 35) and then onwards into the peaceful Memorial Park on the northern edge of Ramsgate (picture 36).
The tarmac path emerges at the top of the cliffs above Ramsgate's waterfront, with carparks below (picture 37).
Where the ramp from the carpark rises to meet Victoria Parade near an unusual fountain (picture 38), I left the Thanet Coast Path for the day, having covered around 26 kilometres of the trail (31km including the walk along the coast from Herne Bay to Reculver). From here, it was a 15 minute walk directly away from the coast to Ramsgate Station.