149. Broadstairs to Birchington-on-Sea

June 2006

A walk along a beautiful stretch of coast on a perfect English summers day is how I remember this walk. This stretch of the Kent coast, known as the Isle of Thanet is the main resort part of Kent and includes Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Margate as well as smaller towns and villages. So although I knew this was a built up coast I had been to some of the places before and knew that they had lovely scenery too. It was also good to be following a proper coast path again, this time the Thanet Coast Path.

I set off from home this time taking the A2, M2 and A299 rather than the M20 I had so far used to get to Kent. Birchington-on-Sea where I drove to is basically the last (or first) part of the built up part of Thanet and was also the closest place to home on this walk. Knowing parking could be difficult in Broadstairs, I parked at the station where there was a small car park. Unusually there wasn’t a pay machine in the car park so instead I had to buy it from the ticket office. I decided to buy a return to Broadstairs rather than a single (the difference is only about 10p) to avoid any debate as to how I’d get back or whether it was still OK to park here.

I’d got a bit lost in finding the station on the residential streets and as a result I had just missed a train. So I had about half an hour to wait for the next one. I used the time by walking down to the sea front to see what lay in store, since I’d never been here before. I was surprised to see that the beach was deserted though much of it was walk from the eroded away cliffs, so perhaps it was no surprise. It seemed a peaceful sort of place and a pleasant place to live.

Birchington-on-Sea

Returning to the station I took the train to Broadstairs to resume from where I left off last time. It was about a 15 minute walk from the station to the beach which was busy, though not crowded. It was a lovely warm June day and people were setting up for the day on the beach.

The beach at Broadstairs

The beach at Broadstairs

I admit I was tempted to join them and spend the day here for a while but decided that I’d be passing plenty of beaches on the way if I wanted a break.

I headed down onto the fine sands of the beach itself and went for a quick paddle before setting off. As the tide was out I could walk right up to the harbour wall with the boats now resting on the sand.

The harbour at Broadstairs

Broadstairs

It was only a tiny harbour and did not look to offer much protection. The route onwards was along the road or more specifically the East Cliff Promenade. However with the tide being out I headed down onto the beach, which is covered at high tide. Here I was fascinated by the bits of chalk remaining on the beach from where the cliffs had been eroded away leaving just their base in the sand.

The coast north of Broadstairs

The coast north of Broadstairs

I could already see the cliffs beginning and was puzzled as to why a bit seemed to have been cut away causing the road to have to be suspended. Perhaps there had been a previous landslip? Soon the beach route became difficult so I followed the pavement beside the road above the beach. It was surprising to see just a few minutes walk from the centre of Broadstairs and here was a beach almost as good but with hardly anyone on it!

East Cliff, Broadstairs

Sadly I could only follow the cliff top road for a short distance because ahead was an area of large houses whose gardens ran right down to the cliff edge. So I had to divert a few hundred metres inland along the B2052 away from the coast. However that did allow me to get up close to the North Foreland lighthouse. It looked in good condition and the cottages around it are now holiday cottages but it was a shame about this mast in the way (not sure why I seemingly couldn’t find somewhere better to take a photo from, though).

North Foreland Lighthouse

Just past this I could turn back to the coast and rounded the corner to see the most lovely bay. This is Joss Bay. Another beautiful sheltered sandy beach backed by chalk cliffs.

Joss Bay, Thanet

It was quite busy with people enjoying the beach. I headed down onto the sands to join them. At the far end a concrete sea wall had been built too reminding me of similar structures on the south coast in Sussex.

Joss Bay, Thanet

This was good because the coast path went inland of some buildings again along the road. So I decided to stick to the beach knowing I could walk on top of the wall if I couldn’t get round. But I could get round. This took me to an even more beautiful beach, Kingsgate Bay.

Kingsgate Bay

From here the road above seemed a world away. There were beautiful white cliffs with an arch worn by the sea at the far end.

Kingsgate Bay

The white cliffs were reflecting in the wet sand. It was beautiful with the exception of one part where an ugly sea wall had been built presumably to protect the road above. But looking out to sea I couldn’t see that.

Kingsgate Bay

I stopped here for lunch, it was such a peaceful spot. The beach seemed to building up as dunes were forming at the back below the cliffs. I loved it down here. Sadly I could see that the beach at the far end of the bay became rocks so if it was possible to get round it would not be easy. So I took the steps back up from the beach to the cliff top since the coast path had resumed along the cliff top.

Kingsgate Bay

Here I had another surprise a castle-like pub called the Captain Digby. It looked rather nice and with seats outside too I rather regretted having bought lunch with me rather than eat here.

Captain Digby, Kingsgate Bay

I kept this beach in mind as somewhere to return to, but I never have. I must go back! From here I could look back over towards Joss Bay and the large Kingsgate Castle. This was built for Lord Holland (no, never heard of him either) but has since been converted to flats.

View back to Kingsgate Bay

The coast path was easy to follow, a tarmac path right along the cliff top. This presumably meant it was also popular with families going for a short stroll from the nearby car park so the Health and Safety brigade had been out in force erecting warning notices. I was amused by the bottom sign here warning “Danger Unfenced Cliff” because right in front of it was … a fence!

Unfenced cliff warning. Behind a fence.

Rounding the corner this marked the point where I stopped heading north for a while and begun heading west. I was now heading up the Thames estuary towards London, but it is so wide here I don’t think the Essex shore can be seen unless it is very clear. Out to sea I could see some large ships, though.

Botany Bay, Thanet

Ahead the coast continued to be magnificent, fine sandy bays backed by chalk cliffs. I soon came a to a place called Botany Bay. It seemed a rather odd name it is hardly remote, but here there was a chalk stack too. Stunning.

Botany Bay, Thanet

I headed down to the beach eager to explore further. I realised I had been lucky with this walk. Not only was the weather perfect, but the tide being out meant I was able to explore all these interesting beaches.

Cliftonville, Thanet

I walked for a while along the beach and came up a slope further up as I was not sure how far it would be possible to walk along the beach.

Cliftonville, Thanet

Palm Bay Cliftonville

The excellent coast path continued along the cliff top. I was now in Cliftonville, a suburb of Margate.

My mum and her family used to holiday here most years when she was growing up. She enjoyed it very much but I do recall tales of the land ladies of their guest house, who like many of the day essentially threw you out after breakfast with strict instructions not to return until the evening, no matter what the weather! I can’t imagine people putting up with that now. But back then Margate was in high demand I think you had to take whatever accommodation you could find.

Palm Bay Cliftonville

The beach below had more areas were dunes were forming too suggesting the coast is building up here. I had reached Palm Bay and soon the lure of the sea bought me back down to beach level.

Palm Bay Cliftonville

Palm Bay Cliftonville

There were fine sands so I walked along the beach at the water line with my feet in the shallow water. It is a lovely and very refreshing way to walk.

The coast at Cliftonville

The tide was coming in now so the rocks at low water were covered. It was narrow in places because there was now a sea wall and only a thin stretch of sand between me and the sea.

The coast at Cliftonville

Rounding the corner things began to deteriorate. I headed up to the cliff top past a derelict and graffiti covered old toilet block. I was now nearing Margate and ahead I could see a wall which turned out to be for a tidal bathing pool. It was also noisy now as a group were launching jet skis, which are very noisy things.

Cliftonville

Cliftonville

Cliftonville

So I headed up to the cliff top again. I could get a good view of the tidal bathing pool. I was a bit puzzled by it because loads of people were walking around it along the top of the wall but no one was swimming in it!

Bathing pall near Margate

Perhaps it was unsafe or perhaps it was just not deep enough at this state of the tide. I continued along the cliff top path which was tarmac and the surroundings were increasingly built up. Ahead I came to a sad sight, the derelict Margate Lido. Now it was mostly full of sand.

Margate Lido

I remembered back to the wonderful restoration of the Lido at Plymouth, which showed what could be done with a bit of money. Reaching the harbour there were more buzzy jet skis around. I’m afraid I was not enjoying Margate.

Soon I reached the old harbour wall and a lovely building with a clock tower which had the name Margate Pier and Harbour company.

Margate Harbour

The harbour at Margate

It looked to have been recently restored. Poor Margate was very much down at heel though. Once it seemed that if it was a sunny day the majority of the population of London and the Home Counties headed for one of Brighton, Southend or Margate. But whilst Brighton is still popular (and Southend to a lesser degree) Margate seems to have fallen of the radar and becomes increasingly run down.

Despite this the town was still busy but the beach not as packed as it would have been 40 or so years previously on a day like this. The buildings mostly seemed to be arcades, tanning centres or bargain shops. I stuck to the beach. Behind the beach though was a giant ferries wheel which brightened things up.

Margate

Margate

As it if to cement it’s place as a major resort Margate also once had a large sea side funfair, Dreamland. The site was first used for amusement rides from 1880 but the most famous ride was the Scenic Railway. This is a wooden roller coaster and the oldest in the UK. It is now listed. However the park had gone into a sharp decline and by 2003 it had closed. I’d have quite liked to have ridden on the Scenic Railway had it been open, but it was not to be though I did manage to ride on a similar ride, the Cyclone at Coney Island in New York. I remember the ride being incredibly bumpy, I’m sure the Scenic Railway would have been the same.

Down on the beach I was beginning to warm to Margate. The sea front still had some nice buildings, the beach was beautiful. The people here seemed happy. There was another of these tidal swimming pools here too. I crossed a slipway and was now coming to the edge of Margate. Looking back I could see where the Dramland lettering had been on the side of building. Now there was a picture of sad looking boy on the side below it. It seemed rather poignant.

Dremland and Margate

I continued on the beach as Margate receded into the distance. The town does seem to have been improving in recent years. Dreamland was eventually compulsory purchased by the Council and the park was re-devloped and re-opened in 2015. It has also gained an art gallery. Nice to see things seem to be improving for the town.

Margate

The coast path continued into Westbrook where I passed an interesting looking old building that looked to be about to be demolished. It was called the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital with a date of 1791. Thankfully a Google search confirms it was saved and converted to flats.

I continued along the coast path along the promenade through Westbrook where some beach huts were at the back of the promenade, though these were all of the same colour rather than showing any individual character.

The coast west of Margate

Westbrook, Margate

Soon I rounded the corner into St Mildreds Bay, another nice sandy beach and continued around the corner into Westgate Bay. This felt very much more like a resort again.

Westgate Bay, Westgate-on-Sea

The beach was crowded and there were more facilities here. Soon though as I headed west the crowds reduced and the beach was soon largely deserted again, though the incoming tide now meant there would soon not be any beach!

Westgate-on-Sea

I continued on the concrete sea wall at the base of the cliffs and soon there was no beach to see, just the cliffs, sea and sea wall.

Birchington-on-Sea

I followed this until I was back at Birchington-on-Sea and then followed the road I had walked earlier back inland to my car.

Birchington-on-Sea

What a lovely walk this had been. I really enjoyed Thanet with the coast between Broadstairs and Margate a particular highlight. There was also an excellent coast path and in places a choice of 3 routes (cliff top, sea wall or beach) which made for a varied walk too.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Two rail routes link Birchington-on-Sea and Broadstairs with trains running twice per hour between the two towns.

South Eastern Trains London to Medway, Faversham, Ramsgate and Dover : St Pancras International – Stratford International – Ebbsfleet International – Gravesend – Strood – Rochester – Chatham – Gillingham – Rainham – Sittinbourne – Faversham – Whitstable – Herne Bay – Birchington-on-Sea – Margate – Broadstairs – Ramsgate.  Trains run hourly seven days a week.  In addition there is also an hourly train from London Victoria, Bromley South, Longfield and Meopham which then joins the router above at Rochester. This also runs hourly giving two trains per hour between Birchington-on-Sea and Broadstairs. The trains from London St Pancras are faster and more expensive.

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

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One Response to 149. Broadstairs to Birchington-on-Sea

  1. Great to revisit this area via your text and photographs. I remember Joss Bay seemed particularly lovely. Yes, a nice part of the coast.

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