I wake to see a glorious Whitstable sunrise through my hotel bedroom window – and fall back asleep, still feeling the effects of the hay fever tablets taken the day before (or possibly the large glass of wine I had with dinner – who knows?).
After a suitably hearty breakfast, and having driven my car to park closer to the railway station at Swalecliffe, I set off towards Herne Bay.
I am walking along a tarmac walkway, running alongside the shingle beach. The shoreline of Whitstable is lined with beach huts, with the town sitting above. In the morning sunlight it looks beautiful.
Stopping to take photographs, I realise, to my horror, that my camera is still ‘on’ and the battery is flat. Shaking it, as if hoping for a miracle cure, does not work. I must have forgotten to turn it off and didn’t check, as I usually do, before going to bed. Damn the hay fever tablets and/or large glass of wine.
Ah, well, nothing I can do about it now. I shall resort to using my iPhone as a camera.
The path between Whitstable and Herne Bay crosses open green space – and is busy. This is a beautiful Saturday morning and I am not the only person out, enjoying the sea air and the shore walk. Joggers pass me, grimacing.
I walk along the gentle curving bay and, at a gate that marks the end of the green part of this walk, as I leave Swalecliffe, I stop to look back the way I have come. Whitstable is vanishing in the haze across an expanse of shining water. On the gate, Canterbury City Council cannot resist an opportunity to assail me with warnings and instructions. I gather, among other things, I should keep my clothes on.
Between Swalecliffe and Herne Bay the shore is shingled and groynes stretch across shingle and mud, pointing out to the open sea.
I see a father and son, fishing, standing on the shingle at the edge of the waves. The boy is about 12 years old. They have just caught a fish. The father is unhooking the fish and holding it, with difficulty in one hand while the fish wriggles and thrashes.
“Let’s throw it back now,” he says.
“Noooo!” wails the boy.
As I pass them, they are still arguing. I guess they should have decided what to do with caught fish in advance of the expedition.
I pass a small concrete pier, running out to sea, and a pub. Beyond this the beach curves towards Herne Bay. The shore is lined with beach huts and I walk on a path, behind the huts.
Signs welcome me to Herne Bay.
I am nearly run down by people on mobility scooters.
There are few people on the beach itself; that remains covered in large shingle stones and looks uncomfortable for walking or sitting. There promenade becomes more crowded.
The pier itself is disappointing; a box like structure. I feel no temptation to walk along it.
The path from Herne Bay to Reculver stretches out before me, in a long straight line along the promenade, encompassing both a cycle route and a pedestrian walkway. I sit and have a snack, watching sailing boats on the wind-less sea, at the beginning of this long, long walk. To begin with, I pass a few dog walkers and families out for a stroll, but the further I get from Herne Bay, the fewer people I see. Eventually, I arrive at Bishopstone, where a road slopes steeply down to join the promenade. Beyond this, the promenade itself comes to an end and a sign warns me of dangers ahead.
So I climb the steep slope and follow footpath signs towards Reculver. To my delight, I find I am walking on an easy pathway through a pleasant forest area.
Crossing over a deep gully, the path winds between trees, down and then up again, until it emerges on the cliff top.
There are great views towards Herne Bay, but I am unable to take decent photographs – what with the hazy light and my tiny iPhone as my only camera.
From here, paths snake through the open green spaces of a ‘country park’, across the cliff top, leading towards the towers. I enjoy this walk. The views are great. More importantly, my map indicates the white building at the base of the towers is likely to be a pub – and I have grown exceedingly hungry. The towers act as beacons, encouraging me forwards.
As I descend, along the path, I notice there is a busy car park ahead in Reculver and there seem to be a great number of walkers out. Perhaps it is hunger, but I begin to have paranoid fancies. I imagine the pub full and no space to sit down. I imagine it has stopped serving food (it is now nearly 3pm). Or maybe it doesn’t serve food? I imagine there are signs saying ‘no boots allowed’.
In the end, my fears are unnecessary. The pub is mainly empty. There is plenty of food. Nobody seems to mind my boots.
I have something I have never eaten before – skate wing (tasty but full of bones) – with salad, chips and a pint of cider.
After lunch, and feeling much better, I look around Reculver. The twin towers are the remains of a church (St Mary’s), allowed to fall into ruin in the 1800s as the sea encroached, with the towers remaining as navigational beacons. The church itself was built on the remains of an old monastery, which was itself built on the remains of an old Roman fort, dating from 200 AD.
A splendid example of recycling, I think to myself.
I was really looking forward to the next part of my walk today. On the map, this section of Thanet Coastal Path (and associated cycle route) runs along an isolated section of coast line, with no built up areas or development to spoil the view, until you get to Birchington.
In reality, the walk is long and somewhat monotonous, stretching out into the distance in a flat, straight line as far as the eye can see; marshes (Chislet Marshes and Wade Marsh) to the right, shingle and sea to the left.
I am passed by a few cyclists and the odd, lone, solitary, sweating jogger. A female walker, older than me, overtakes me. A couple of young lads on a moped (illegal on this path, I think to myself) pass me and then, turning back, ride past me again, heading back the way they have come. They have fishing rods sticking up from back backs, like strange antennae, and are searching for a route down into the fresh water marshes to my right.
I wonder if my husband would enjoy cycling along here? He would certainly be able to pick up speed with no distractions or traffic to slow him down.
A tiny plaque on a piece of kerb stone catches my attention. It is a memorial to a cyclist, Derek Hart, who died here in 2003. I catch my breath. It seems eerie – I was just thinking of my cyclist husband, and here is the spot where another cyclist met his death. Was it natural causes, maybe due to the exertion of cycling? Or an accident?
I see many birds; ducks, gulls and some strangely upright, black sea birds sitting on posts in the water. Without my camera’s telephoto zoom, I can’t get a good view. Cormorants? I resolve to try to learn more about sea birds.
Later, as I approach Birchington, walking through an area called Plumpudding Island on the map, for no obvious reason, I come across a rusted bike. Some person with a sense of humour has chalked a sign on the path – ‘bike’ – along with an arrow.
Next to it (not visible in the photo) was an abandoned beach chair, with a similar sign – ‘chair’. And a sign saying ‘poo’ – although the offending excrement had disappeared with time and weather.
For some reason, I found this all very humourous and am grateful to the unknown chalk sign writer for cheering up the end of a somewhat tedious walk.
(From here onwards, the signage at each resort becomes tremendously improved – no more fierce prohibitions on stark signs – but friendly warnings with explanations instead.)
My heart leaps.
Here, in sight, is the start of the chalk cliff sea front that will continue all the way to Dover and beyond. After miles of flat marshes, it is a welcome sight. And a reminder of what is to come – one day soon, I will be leaving the flatlands of the east behind and beginning new adventures along the rugged south coast.
I pass the beach front of Minnis Bay and Birchington. Now there is a choice. Turn into the town, as my map suggests, following the signed cycle route to the station; or continue along the sea front promenade, under the tall white cliffs, and delay making my way inland until after I get round the promontory?
Looking at my watch, I have 40 minutes to spare before the next train back to Swalecliffe and my car. I choose the longer and lower route, walking along a wide concrete walkway, with waves below and white cliffs above.
Suddenly, rounding a corner, I see the bay stretching away – a beautiful sight – in the low afternoon sun. And I can see Margate in the distance.
For a moment I am tempted to continue. Margate looks tantalizingly close. The sun is shining. There are many hours of daylight left.
Then reality sets in. It is late afternoon. I am tired and growing hungry again. I still need to find my way to a station, take a train back, collect my car and then I have a long drive home. Be sensible!
But, after this decision is made, for a few minutes it looks as if I will have little choice but to continue onwards. The cliffs are high and steep. Apart from the occasional glimpse of a roof, I can’t see any activity above and – most importantly – no steps upwards. I carry on walking. There is hardly anybody in sight.
Then I see a narrow path, leading off the promenade and heading upwards in a steep slope. I find myself on a pleasant road, with residential houses along the landward edge and green spaces between the road and sea edge. A footpath is signed, leading down a little alley to a road beyond.
Ahead of me are a couple of young men with rucksacks and a bag. They are obviously heading for the station, and they are in a hurry. I can’t keep up with them and begin to worry I will miss the train and face an hour’s wait until the next one. But they are hurrying to catch another train, the train that goes to Margate. In reality, I arrive early and have 15 minutes to spare.
Vital stats: 12 miles
Later I try to find out more about the dead cyclist, Derek Hart, but am unable to find any references on the Internet.
Route on Google Maps: