147. St Margaret’s at Cliffe to Sandwich

May 2006

I was looking forward to returning to St Margaret’s at Cliffe having found just how beautiful it was last time. I’d also bought myself a new camera. My previous camera, a Canon Powershot A80 had died a few weeks ago. This time I’d bought a Fuji Finepix E900. With more than double the resolution of my previous camera I was looking forward to a similar boost in quality but in the end I was a little disappointed by it (it turns out the phyiscal sensor size, rather than number of pixels from it, is more important for quality). It didn’t help that the first one I bought soon developed a fault and had to be replaced (it would badly over-expose images, as can be seen in some of the photos below, which even setting a lower ISO or faster shutter speed did not cure).

It was now quite a long drive, almost 2 hours, to get from home to St Maragaret’s at Cliffe. It had been fine sunshine all the way so I was looking forward to walking along the coast in similar fine sunshine. So I was rather disappointed to find the coast was covered in a sea mist. I really hate a sea mist, since it is so localised it can be sunny until you are just a hundred or so metres from the coast and suddenly you are in a cold mist!

The beach at St Margaret's at Cliffe

I drove down the zig-zag road and parked at the car park at the back of the beach. This time it was very quiet, particularly for May. The mist had put everyone off I suspect and I wondered how far it stretched along the coast. I walked more or less the end of the promenade in this beautiful little bay but then the only way was up, since it is surrounded by high cliffs.

St Margaret's at Cliffe

At the top of the cliffs the far cliff was almost invisible due to the mist. A shame.

St Margaret's at Cliffe

The path was a nice path over the short grass on top of the cliffs and passing in front of the back gardens of the large houses of St Margaret’s at Cliffe – clearly a wealthy place. I passed a sign indicating the path along the cliff top was also part of the “Front Line Britain Trail” which turns out to be a 4 mile circular walk from the village. I soon passed the War Memorial – a reminder of the impact on “front line Britain”. The top of it had almost disappeared in the mist!

War memorial at St Margaret's at Cliffe

I was soon out of St Margert’s at Cliffe, as it is not a large place and now had a fine path along the tops of the beautiful white cliffs. I had hints that I was passing a very beautiful scene. The bright yellow flowers of oil seed rape in a field to my left contrasting with the white cliffs to my right, but it was mostly lost in mist.

White cliffs near St Margaret's at Cliffe

White cliffs near St Margaret's at Cliffe

As a result of the mist I couldn’t see much and so made quick progress and was soon reaching the edge of Walmer.

Approaching Walmer

Below the cliffs was another area of man-made land that reminded me of Samphire Hoe. But this one is not a country park and I’ve no idea how it came into being. At the far end the concrete sea wall protecting it had crumbled and the sea was encroaching on the reclaimed land again.

Walmer

This mist was now beginning to lift a bit as I could see a fair way ahead to the shingle beach beyond.

Walmer

Soon the path descended to the beach and I followed the promenade along the back. The white chalk cliffs were now much lower and Walmer marked the end of them for a while, as they soon reduced in height to nothing.

The beach at Walmer

It was high tide and and the sea was in places splashing against the sea wall. To my left another area of beach was lined with beach huts, it seemed odd how the beach seemed to have been split by the sea wall, normally the sea wall marks the end of the beach.

Walmer

As I neared the town centre the shingle seemed to be increasing since the back of the beach was being taken over a bit by plants, rather like at Dungeness.

The beach at Walmer

Soon I passed Walmer Castle on the left. It had quite low walls and looked like it had become more a stately home than defensive castle.

Walmer Castle

On the shingle some kit surfers were just setting up. I passed a sign indicating I’d now covered 4 1/4 miles with another 7 to go to Sandwich. Walmer struck me as another wealthy town. There were large houses just behind the beach and some grand buildings which I suspected were once hotels, now mostly flats.

Walmer

Walmer

There was also a large green separating them from the road. It reminded me a bit of Hove.

Walmer

Even the lifeboat station was posh, made of stone with a little bell tower on the top it looked more like a church! Beyond this the beach was lined with beach-launched fishing boats, clearly something of a feature of East Sussex and Kent.

Walmer

Somewhere Walmer had ended and Deal started but it was hard to tell where since the towns merge together now. I only realised this when I was passing Deal castle. Another low walled round castle this one looked more like a proper castle rather than a stately home, but it was a reminder of how well this coast has been defended over the years.

Deal Castle

I walked up to the castle for a closer look. I was pleased to see it even still had it’s moat, albeit now grassed over. In hindsight I should have taken a look inside – it looked quite interesting, but I didn’t.

Deal Castle moat

There were more beach launched fishing boats and then the Time Ball Tower museum.

The beach at Deal

Deal Timeball Tower

There is a similar place in Greenwich (in fact, this one was connected to it) and it was when it was very important for navigation for ships to have an accurate clock. Therefore they would wait in the bay and watch the tower where, shortly before 1pm a ball would rise up the mast on top of the building. At exactly 1pm it would then drop down so the ships could adjust their clocks before setting off. It was triggered by a signal from the national observatory in Greenwich.

There was also a quite nice art-deco Cinema (the Regent), though it was looking a bit tired and had been converted to a bingo hall (which closed 3 years after I did this walk).

The former Regent Cinema, Deal

Deal was clearly quite an historic place with some nice looking buildings and pubs. Quite a few people were sitting out now that the mist had cleared.

Deal

Soon I reached the pier. This had a rather odd frontage, looking very 1970s to me.

Deal Pier

I walked along the pier but I did not really like it for once. The place seemed to have been re-developed (or rebuilt) in the 1970s. It was looking very dated and tired – the restaurant looked more like a public toilet to me, but it did offer some nice views.

Deal Pier cafe

Still the pier was quite long and so the town looked quite distant from the end of it.

The beach at Deal

Deal viewed from the pier

Back on the promenade I enjoyed the historic buildings all along the sea front. It was a nice town and another that was well kept. I briefly headed a bit inland to take a look at the main shopping street, which was also very pleasant.

Deal

Deal

Deal

Deal

I liked this shop with the old car parked outside it. Deal was certainly worth an explore and I had enjoyed wandering it’s historic streets.

Deal

Back on the coast path I continued on the promenade until Deal ended. What lay ahead was a rather featureless shingle beach stretching off into the mist as far as I could see.

The beach north of Deal

The famous white cliffs had ended now (though I knew I would see more once at Thanet). There was still a path behind the beach though, running alongside the very posh looking Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club. The British Open Golf championship has been held here a few times, so it is clearly a good course, though  I hardly saw anyone on it. I imagine it’s very expensive.

The beach north of Deal

Soon I got caught in a brief but very heavy rain shower which also had thunder and out here there was nowhere to shelter. I was glad when it was over. Perhaps that’s why there was no one playing golf (it can be very dangerous in a thunder storm).

I soon came across a private estate of very large houses, the Sandwich Bay Estate. The houses were large and I suspect connected in some way with the golf course. It all seemed a bit eery though. There was no one about, no traffic, no noise, it felt deserted.

The Sandwich Bay Estate

The Sandwich Bay Estate

Past this there were more golf courses to my left. First, the Royal St Georges Golf Club then the Prince’s Golf Club. It was not so interesting walking next to these on the tarmac track so I headed down onto the beach where there was now some sand, making walking easier.

The beach at Sandwich

I soon had a decision to make. Sandwich was over to my left and ahead was a thin peninsula of marshy land, between the coast and the river Stour (that flows through Sandwich). The Stour Valley Walk ran right to the end of this spit, but it was a dead-end I would have to come back (since then the England Coast Path has opened here and there is now a right of way all around it, but there wasn’t then). Rather than walk there and back again I decided to leave this part and cut in land to Sandwich along another path just north of the Stour Valley Walk. This took me passed a derelict boarded up house that seemed oddly out of place in the golf course.

I crossed the low-lying marshy land, grazed with sheep, and then reach the banks of the Stour. It a pretty river, lined with boats initially then wild flowers and trees.

The River Stour near Sandwich

The River Stour near Sandwich

It is a nice walk along the banks of the river and although there is industry nearby, you wouldn’t know it from the path. Nearing the centre of town I’m passing through a park where the river is lined with willow trees.

The River Stour near Sandwich

Soon I reach the town itself. It is very pretty with old buildings, cobbled streets and part of the old town wall still remaining.

Sandwich

Sandwich

Sandwich

Sandwich

Yes I liked Sandwich a lot. To my amusement, Kent also has a village called Ham, though I don’t think Ham and Sandwich ever appear on the same road sign – a shame! I liked the old table of tolls on the bridge and the town generally has the feel of a place that has changed very little with numerous half timbered and old brick houses.

Sandwich

Sandwich

Sandwich

Sandwich

It is a real mix and a very characterful little town. I liked it very much and was amused to come across this street sign. Surely they could have come up with a name before putting up this sign?!

No Name Street, Sandwich

I liked Sandwich very much, just as I had liked Deal and had a nice time wandering it’s pretty streets. It was now a warm sunny day and it had that “lazy days of summer” feel to the place. A sort of laid-back timelessness of long summer days with time to relax.

Sandwich

Sandwich

Having enjoyed my explore it was time to find the bus stop and head back to St Margert’s at Cliffe. The bus went past a pretty windmill, still with the sails, just outside of Walmer. The bus dropped me at the top of the hill at St Margert’s at Cliffe where I just had to walk back down the hill to my car (I’m not surprised the bus doesn’t attempts the zig-zag road down to the beach!).

It was nice to now see the beach in the sunshine rather than the mist. It is a lovely little bay.

St Margaret's at Cliffe

I sat and watched the waves for a few minutes before setting off for home. It is a lovely spot and coming to places like this, which I otherwise would likely never have found, that make this walk so enjoyable.

This walk was unusual for me in that I had enjoyed walking through the towns as much as the coast itself. I had not seen the white cliffs at the start of the walk at their best due to the mist, but Walmer, Deal and Sandwich had all been attractive and historic towns packed with interest and far more to see than I had expected. It is nice when you don’t know much about a town and find out that it is so nice. I enjoyed the walk a lot.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. It is necessary to change buses in Deal.

Stagecoach Bus routes 13 and 14 : Canterbury – Sandwich – Deal – Walmer. 3 times an hour Monday – Saturday. Hourly on Sundays. It takes about 30 minutes between Sandwich and Deal.

Stagecoach Bus route 15/15B/15X : Deal – Walmer – St Margaret’s Bay (Cliffe) – Dover – Canterbury. Hourly Monday – Saturday. Once every 2 hours on Sundays.

In addition there are also trains between Sandwich, Deal and Walmer, operated by South Eastern. These typically run hourly and take 5 minutes between Sandwich and Deal and an extra 5 minutes to Walmer. They run from St Pancras International via Stratford, Ashford, Folkestone and Dover with some additional services to and from London Charing Cross at peak times.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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One Response to 147. St Margaret’s at Cliffe to Sandwich

  1. Sorry to hear about your camera troubles. And shame about the mist, although I do think that photo with the white cliffs and the rape field in the mist is absolutely fabulous.
    Can’t remember much about Deal. Think I just put my head down and walked through it. But Sandwich is very pretty. That weird estate by the golf courses is quite spooky, isn’t it. A mad man on a bicycle told me it was owned by Lady Astor – Sam Cameron’s mother. Couldn’t find out anything about it on the internet.

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