Stage 40. Whitstable to Herne Bay to Birchington

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.

Whitstable beach huts, morning in Kent. Ruth walking round the coast.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.

naturism warning, Kent coast. Ruth's walking.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.

father and son fishing, near Whitstable, Kent. Ruths coastal walk.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.

beach huts, Herne Bay - Ruth in KentI 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.
Sign for Herne Bay - Kent, Ruth's coastal walkmobility scooter - Herne Bay, Kent, Ruths coastal walkSigns 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.

Herne Bay Pier - Kent - Ruths coastal walkAhead I see a bustling resort with a stubby pier. I notice a structure out to sea. Is it the disconnected end of a long pier, now destroyed?

The pier itself is disappointing; a box like structure. I feel no temptation to walk along it.

sailing boats, Herne Bay, Kent, Ruth's coastal walk

long straight path to Bishopstone, Ruths coastal walk

warning sign, Bishopstone - ruths coastal walk
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.

path through wooded gully, Ruth's coastal walkThe tide is in and there is no way round by the shore today.

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.

approach to ReculverAt the top of the cliff, I come across a car park and see – to the east, ahead of me – the enigmatic twin towers of some sort of ruined structure, perched on top of the cliff, towering above the sea.

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.

Reculver, Kent, Ruth's coastal walk
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.

longest bike track in the world - maybe. Kent. Ruth on her coastal walk.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.

bike death memorial - seen on ruth's walk round the coast of KentA 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.

old bike - laughing - ruth's walk around the coastLater, 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.

Minnis Bay, Birchington, nice sign - ruth's coastal walkI am in Minnis Bay. Finally, the shingle has given way to sand and Minnis Bay is a fine, traditional, sea-side resort. Even the sign is cheerful and welcoming.

(From here onwards, the signage at each resort becomes tremendously improved – no more fierce prohibitions on stark signs – but friendly warnings with explanations instead.)

approaching Birchington, Ruths coastal walkThe promenade continues and, ahead, beyond the buildings at the end, I can see white cliffs.

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.
Cliffs towards Margate, Kent, Ruth's coastal walk
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.

Birchington station, Kent. Ruth's coastal walk.Following this, I find myself on a road that runs down the hill, directly to the train station at Birchington.

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:


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.
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16 Responses to Stage 40. Whitstable to Herne Bay to Birchington

  1. John Smith says:

    Know this route like the back of my hand

    Was in Herne Bay last night on coastal path and along to Swalecliffe, saw all the sights

    Haven’t been to Reculver for a while as it gets dark early and there’s no public transport

    It was a good time

  2. Hi John, You must live locally. I very much enjoyed this walk, despite not having a decent camera. Reculver is an amazing place. Herne bay and Whitstable are lovely. Thanks for your comments, Ruth

    • William O'Brien says:

      I live in Birchington and the sunsets this week have been amazing, but very rapid, best place to be is down at Minnis Bay as you have the best view, but you will get some ‘idiots’ about some time after dark and I prefer to stay up further back towards the Green Road area where it’s more pleasant and you can still see some good views

      It’s not like it used to be, the town has become a degenerate area thanks in no small part to kids or morons with nothing to do of an evening, but these events are not every day, worse places to be most definitely

      We go to Herne Bay every fortnight and go along from the Hampton Inn area all the way to Swalecliffe and beyond, It’s actually better at night as you can see Southend in the distance and the lights and bars of Leysdown on the Isle Of Sheppey, only about 20 miles
      away or a bit further, it’s very quiet usually and nice for a bit of peace and quiet

      We don;t usually go into whitstable as there isin’t time and it’s not really safe at night, we keep to our comfort zone and keep our wits about us, but there’s never been any trouble, the trailer park at swalecliffe will soon be closing for the season, there’s been some noise from there before at weekends but it;s just kids with nothing to do

      People say there was a Loch Ness type monster seen off the coast around here in the 1930s and many people chased it but it got away, true story

  3. Hi William,
    I liked Birchington very much and can imagine how wonderful the sunsets are. Sorry to hear of some of the difficulties with trouble makers in the area. And thank you for telling me about the monster off the coast! I wonder if it will return …..
    Yours, Ruth

  4. William O'Brien says:

    Just thought I’d pass through again

    Now that the times have gone back and It gets dark earlier I can no longer be around Birchington in the evenings to watch any sunsets, some people I used to see when it was light after 6PM are in short supply or have left before, I miss the light evenings

    Went to Minster today and walked from Birchington,only took around an hour and a half , there is not much to see, no shops open in the evening and nothing to do, I was pleased to leave, they do have three public houses and a soccer field for kids though

    Was even in Herne Bay again the night before, they had buses running instead of trains, and the bus left early, good job I was there as otherwise it would of been a six hour wait for the next train

    Took in Swalecliffe, the trailer park , closed for season I think, back towards Herne Bay and waited for the coach home. It was a long night and a busy last 48 hours.

    There’s not much to do when the summer ends and the times go back, gets dark far too early 😦

  5. Jo Stphens says:

    Hi, I have to be in Dover next week and was looking for touring sites and when finding one in Birchington thought I would see what public transport there was to Whitstable, fond memories, and found your walk, so I will be doing that. Looking forward to it now, just hope that once I have walked there on a Sunday there will be public transport to get me back!!!

  6. Peter Moore says:

    I found something about Derek Hart.
    He was a Birchington man who wrote a history of the area…
    http://thanetonline.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/dangerous-coastline-1939-1945-wartime.html

  7. Patrick Ovenden says:

    I’ve just done this walk, starting from Swalecliffe (where I used to live), stopping off at Herne Bay record shop en route, lunching on panini, crisps and salad at the café near Reculver Towers – and continuing after a break in Birchington to Westgate where the West Bay Café serve a great Lasagne, staying open until 7pm. Your descriptions bring it alive for me again – although the Herne Bay pier ‘block’ has now been removed and replaced with a more open structure including a helter skelter on the end.

    The stretch from Beltinge to Reculver is delightful, I agree. A short burst of woodland walking makes a welcome change.

    The “stark” signs near Long Rock (Swalecliffe) prohibiting nudism date back to a decision on where to site a nudist beach. Long Rock was mooted as a possibility, but eventually rejected in favour of somewhere near Seasalter. I’m not sure where, but one walk there years ago took me by surprise!

    On another evening during last week’s nostalgic holiday I walked from Swalecliffe to Seasalter, but I didn’t attempt all the way to Faversham as I remember how easy it is to get a bit lost in the footpaths through the marshes. I still clocked up 8 miles as I then walked the road route back to Whitstable Station. (Faversham Road, Joy Lane, etc.) Good thing they keep trains running late into the night.

    ‘The Street’ shingle bank used to be accompanied by an amusing sign that read “It is dangerous to bathe off the street.” Above it on the Tankerton slopes are a mast and a beacon, and long-lived tea gardens with a thatched roofed hut.

    I don’t know anywhere else where it is so easy to walk from one town to another along the coast.

    • I have fond memories of this day because, after walking endlessly around muddy estuaries, I came to Whitstable and suddenly felt I was at the seaside again! It’s a shame my camera had flat batteries, because the iPhone photos don’t really do the place justice. Thank you for sharing your memories of your walks in the area.

  8. grahambenbow says:

    My wife and I walked Reculver to Birchington and back last Sunday, as there were no gains just a bus replacement service and my dog would not have been welcomed. There were some great sayings chalked on the path such as “I may not be the greatest, but I try to be great” or something like that. It was very fog so no views!
    U

  9. Ann Howlett says:

    I am greatly enjoying your blog which I came across a few weeks ago. Decided to start at the beginning so I hope to catch up with you “live” some time in the future.
    So nice to see you back on the real coast in North Kent. Estuary land seems a bit gruelling.
    You have convinced me that while I am fascinated watching the tide ebb and flow I would hate walking through all that mud.

    • Thank you Ann. Crikey, you’ve got a lot of reading ahead of you! When I look back at my earliest blog posts I’m a little embarrassed, I must confess, because I think I’ve improved with my blogging as the years have gone by. Also bought a much better camera around Portsmouth. Yes, estuaries aren’t the nicest of places to walk. I know mud and marshes are supposed to be teeming with wildlife, but they provide dismal views. I can remember the relief I felt when I reached Whitstable and saw proper beaches again! Best wishes.

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