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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Walk 2 Westgate on Sea to Herne Bay

Walk 2  Westgate on Sea to Herne Bay (Kent)

Map: L/R 179
Distance: 9 miles approx
Difficulty: quite easy, a few hills
Terrain: quite easy, mostly paths with some earth trackway and a few slopes
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Good train links

Continuing on the Thanet Coastal Path which passes through Epple Bay, Birchington on Sea and Gresham Bay. It’s a half mile or so inland to Birchington village (it feels more like a town). The artist Dante Rossetti is buried in the local church yard and the Powell Cotton Museum contains several displays of stuffed animals acquired by Major Cotton on his trips to Asia and Africa in the 19th century.

Minnis Bay is a popular spot especially for surfers. It can be cold and windy on this coast and loud bangs can often be heard from the military areas opposite on the Essex coast.

Look out for the strangely named Plum Pudding Island and Coldharbour once the site of an ancient harbour. The two towers of Reculver can be seen clearly from here.

It is worth spending a short time at Reculver. This contains the remains of a Roman fort within which are the ruins of a medieval church. The fort was built to guard the River Wantsum which was much wider in Roman times and separated the Isle of Thanet from the rest of Kent. The church, like the fort, has suffered from erosion and was abandoned in the 18th century to be rebuilt a few miles inland. It has a certain eeriness when darker and legend has it that babies can be heard crying.......excavations in the 1960s resulted in the find of infant skeletons!

The visitor centre in the nearby country park offers plenty of information about Reculver including its use as a testing area for the bouncing bombs of Barnes Wallis.

A walk across the cliff-top to Herne Bay reveals further examples of erosion. On the outskirts of Herne Bay is the Kings Hall Theatre looking out to sea. Parts of Herne Bay were used for the filming of BBC's Little Britain including the sea front and The Bun Penny Pub.

Herne Bay is not really a bay at all but a straight pebble beach. The end of the pier has been separated from the rest since 1978 when the middle section was destroyed by a storm. The seafront is at risk from flooding at times.

The resort, originally a farming and fishing community, grew in the 19th century when investors built the promenade and pier – the coming of the railway and the London steamships, which used to stop at the end of the old pier, also helped its growth. Look out for the seafront sculptures, the north pole sign on the Divers Arms and the impressive clock tower.

Snaps show: Minnis Bay; Westgate Bay; Herne Bay front; Reculver Towers.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Walk 1 Broadstairs to Westgate on Sea

Walk 1 Broadstairs to Westgate on Sea (Kent)

Map: L/R 179
Distance: 7 miles approx
Difficulty: quite easy, a few hills
Terrain: easy
Access: car parking at both ends
Access: Good train and bus links.

The south side cliff promenade offers a good view of the attractive front at Broadstairs. Variety of buildings, sandy beaches and harbour.

Morrellis is a famous ice cream/coffee cafĂ© with an interior redolent of the fifties/sixties – on the road parallel with the cliff top.

Dickens spent many holidays here and a few plaques around the town show where he wrote parts of various novels. One wag in York Street has put up a sign saying that: “Dickens did not live here”. The Dickens Museum is further down from Morrellis. Dickens got the inspiration for Betsy Trotwood in David Copperfield from Mary Pearson who lived here. She is said to have insisted on her right to stop the passage of donkeys in front of her cottage.

Up on the east cliff is a large grey bricked building looking out to sea. Dickens stayed here for longer periods when it was known as Fort House (now Bleak House). When you walk past the house you will see the room he worked in jutting out overlooking the treacherous Goodwin Sands (known by sailors as the ship swallower and widow maker). Many wrecks here, infact the largest concentration of wrecks in the world, and an inspiration to some of the sea tragedies and rescues in Dicken’s books. It was a tradition to play cricket on the sands once a year, revived in 2006 by the Coast TV programme - who had to be rescued by the local lifeboat! Some roads and businesses in Broadstairs are named after Dicken’s characters. There used to be a shoe shop (oddly) called Smike’s. There is a Dickens Festival every summer.

Edward Heath (bust in the local library) and Oliver Postgate of Clangers fame are both associated with the town. A blue plaque showing where the Bagpuss creator lived is in Chandos Square off the seafront. The town is also host to a large folk festival every August.

Further along is Harbour Street with its 16th century stone arch. This used to have wooden doors on it to protect the town from the sea. On the right, before the arch, is one of the smallest cinemas in England, holding just 100 people.

John Buchan wrote The Thirty Nine Steps when living on the East Cliff at Broadstairs. The steps that inspired the title were here.

At North Foreland is one of the last manned lighthouses in the UK. Closed in 1998 it is open to the public at times.

Joss Bay is named after a local smuggler - Joss Snelling who was active in the area.

Kingsgate Bay has interesting rock erosion including an arch. On one side is the Captain Digby Pub, on the other, Kingsgate Castle (now flats) the home of Lord Avebury (died 1913) – he instigated bank holidays so hooray for him!

Botany Bay has further erosion features including stacks.

The walk to Palm Bay on the cliff tops is pleasant although the smell of seaweed and the sewage works can detract at times.

Cliftonville used to be a major holiday resort. Now it is in sad decline, as are parts of Margate. At Fort Hill on the cliff top you can see Napoleonic cannons originally used to repel French and Spanish raiders. Further along is the Walpole Bay Hotel – you can visit the living museum here at times. The Grand Hotel is now apartments and some of the ex B and Bs look rather scruffy. Take a little detour from the front to the Eastern Esplanade and you can find the Tom Thumb Theatre which has the smallest stage for public performance in the world.

Past the Lido (no longer used) is the controversial costly Turner Gallery part of the regeneration of Margate. The nearby main sands are still attractive - the light from the sky was admired by Turner. Tracey Emin was brought up and lived in Margate; she still visits and has produced a neon pink message attached to Droit House near the sea front.

Margate was well known as a fashionable watering place for pursuing medicinal cures. No longer as popular. There was once a pier at Margate which was the drop off point for London eastenders who arrived on hoys (cargo ships). There are still some interesting buildings including the iconic clock tower but others are in sad neglect. The classic bathing machine was designed in Margate.

Dreamland, once a major ride attraction, was severely damaged by fire although it was already in decline. It has recently been revived with mixed success.

On the way out of the town the lifeboat statue commemorates the loss of life on the Goodwin Sands. Nearby the Nayland Rock Hotel (in better times) accommodated the wedding of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

At Westbrook, near the cliff edge, the old Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, has been turned into flats. On the sea front is Strokes mini golf - home to the British Open of this (sport?) in 2007 and 2008. St Mildred’s Bay and Westgate Bay are overlooked by apartments and houses. Pleasant without being stunning (in my view).

Snaps show: Broadstairs; Clock Tower, Margate; Bleak House, Broadstairs; Royal Bathing Hospital (now apartments), Margate; Lifeboat memorial, Margate.