150. Birchington-on-Sea to Whitstable

June 2006

On this walk I leave the coast of Thanet behind but continue along good paths along the North Kent coast heading further up the Thames estuary towards London. I started from home and drove to Whitstable and parked at the station there.  I then took the train on to Birchington-on-Sea so that I could then walk back to Whitstable.

Once again I had struck lucky with the weather as I was walking under a clear blue summer sky. From Birchington-on-Sea I made my way down from the station to the coast, following the same route as I did last time. This took me down to the beach which was not looking very appealing. The tide was out, revealing lots of sea weed and chalk rocks but not much in the way of beach.

The coast at Birchington-on-Sea

However beyond the beach the water was busy with numerous yachts. I wondered if it was a race or just that lots of people had headed out at the same time.

The coast at Birchington-on-Sea

I followed the path down to the lower path below the last of the chalk cliffs along a concrete sea wall. This concrete wall is not pretty having been built into all of the indentations of the cliffs where the sea has eroded the chalk. It protects the town though I guess.

Nearing the end of the town the cliffs soon ended and the path now continued more as a promenade, with the road behind it. After a couple of groynes there was soon a beach again rather than rocks. It was a mixture of sand and shingle which seemed to be partly washing over the promenade.

The coast west of Birchington-on-Sea

I had now reached the end of the town and now had a surprisingly remote stretch of coast ahead. It was several miles to the next town and the landscape inland was now extremely flat. I had left the cliffs behind and the land was now marshes I suspect reclaimed land, since I was now following a path marked as “Northern Sea Wall” on the map. Oddly in a couple of places the path went inland of a little pond that had formed at the back of the shingle beach, in front of the sea wall.

The coast west of Birchington-on-Sea

It was a rather featureless landscape and I soon became bored with the sea wall path. The tide was going out so I headed down to the shore where I had a mixture of compacted shingle and firm sand near the shore to walk on. Much better.

The coast west of Birchington-on-Sea

The coast west of Birchington-on-Sea

Out to sea I could soon see masses of shells on the sands (or mud flats) further out. These are in fact mussel beds and the mussels are I believe still harvested.

The coast west of Birchington-on-Sea

Ahead I could see some odd towers and was not sure what this was. It looked almost industrial, but I could not see anything obvious marked on my map. Soon I reached the end of the Thanet coast path as I left the borough of Thanet behind. The path ahead continued though, now adopting the name Wantsum Walk rather than Thanet Coast path. I was glad there was a good path, whatever it was called. The Wantsum Walk is named after the Wantsum Channel which once separated the Isle of Thanet from the rest of Kent but has long since silted up (hence why it’s no longer an island).

As I got closer I soon realised the towers I had seen ahead wern’t industrial. They are in fact the remains of St Mary’s Church, Reculver.

The remains of St Mary's Church, Reculver

The architecture of the church was quite different from usual and it turned out that the structure in fact dates from the 7th Century and was once a Minster or or monastery. Reculver itself was once an important town but declined partly as a result of the silting up of the Wantsum Channel and partly as coastal erosion destroyed many of the buildings. The village was largely abandoned in the 18th Century and most of the church was subsequently demolished but the towers were kept as they were a useful aid for navigation. It’s a beautiful place though.

The remains of St Mary's Church, Reculver

The remains of St Mary's Church, Reculver

I stopped here for lunch, enjoying the views over the sea to the still out of sight Essex coast. A plaque here indicated that the remains of the church were purchased by Trinity House (the organisation responsible for lighthouses) as it was a useful aid for navigation in 1810. The area around the church is now protected by a concrete sea wall and rock armour defences. Reculver has become a small village again with the creation of several caravan parks. Beyond the church there was a small car park and soon after this the concrete sea wall ended and I was back to low cliffs. Now sandstone rather than chalk.

The beach west of Reculver

Thankfully there was still a long distance path along the cliffs, this time the Saxon Shore Way, another familiar path. These showed quite considerable evidence of erosion with large areas of slumped cliff below the path though this was now mostly grassed suggesting the erosion is not that frequent.

The coast east of Herne Bay

Below this was now a nice sandy beach though I could see groynes ahead. The cliffs got gradually higher offering ever better views.

The coast east of Herne Bay

I had now reached Bishopstone, the eastern edge of Herne Bay. The path soon descended down through a small valley. It was rather beautiful and reminded me of some of the Chines on the south coast of the Isle of Wight.

Coastal valley at Herne Bay

The path here headed a little inland to cross the stream that had formed the valley, heading through a brief but lovely wooded stretch.

Wooded path near Herne Bay

Soon the path from the wooded valley emerged onto a concrete path heading down onto the sea wall that was built at the base of the cliffs presumably to protect the town from erosion.

The beach at Herne Bay

The path continued passing Herne Bay Yacht Club where there were indeed many yachts to be seen.

Herne Bay

Just past that I came to the grand Victorian Kings Hall. I liked the architecture of this with it’s attractive wrought iron arches.

Herne Bay

Beyond this the beach was now becoming busy as I neared the centre of the town, most of which had so far been out of sight at the top of the cliffs, but these were now ending. Water sports seemed popular in Herne Bay but most of them seemed to be jet skis. Many were parked up but similar numbers were whizzing about in the bay making quite a noise.

Herne Bay

Out in the estuary, beyond all the jet skis was another odd structure (you can see it in the distance above). This it turns out is the end of Herne Bay Pier. This large pier was once over 1km long. Sadly it was destroyed in a storm in 1978 and demolished in 1980. All that was left is a small stub at the landward end and the old landing stage at the far end now creating a man-made island.

The abandonded pier head at Herne Bay

I zoomed in on the structure with my camera, to reveal a derelict building that was in a bad state of decay with a “Danger Keep Off” warning. I puzzled over why it had not been demolished. It must surely be a hazard to shipping and a magnet for those jet skis and the like for people to go out and try to get onto it. (I later read it was too solid for demolition, but I imagine at some point it will collapse).

It was all rather odd. I continued along the beach which was now packed with people enjoying the fine summers day.

Herne Bay

I continued past a lovely clock tower and a large bandstand where a concert was being performed to an audience of mostly pensioners. The town had a nice atmosphere to it.

Herne Bay

Herne Bay bandstand

Beyond this I came to the landward stub of Herne Bay pier. I think it would be hard to imagine a more ugly building.

Herne Bay Pier

It was built at as a replacement for the original pavillion which burned down in 1970 and was opened by Edward Heath in 1976. It is hard to imagine what they were thinking. It is truly hideous and a blot on the landscape. Despite this I did walk part way out onto it for a view back over the beach. But really with the derelict old pier head and this hideous building I think the town would be better off without the pier.

Herne Bay

The promenade continued behind the beach but the beach got gradually quieter as I headed away from the facilities of the town centre, though there were still plenty of people about. I had quite liked Herne Bay.

Herne Bay

About a mile beyond the pier I came to Hampton Pier. This is not a pier in the traditional sense, more a breakwater and past this the coast ahead is about 400 metres further inland! So I’m briefly heading south! This takes me past the suburbs of Hampton and Studd Hill with the houses soon getting further back from the shore until eventually there are low grass covered cliffs above the sea wall.

Hampton near Herne Bay

When I reached the edge of the town a sign warns “Naturism is not condoned on this beach”. I therefore remain clothed!

Inland I am passing another large caravan park and then a little headland made of shingle with a couple of streams flowing inland from it. The tide seems to go out further here and I assume it is the mouth of a river washing material from inland to the beach.

The coast near Swalecliffe

Passing this it’s back to the concrete sea wall as I reached the eastern edge of Whitstable.

The coast near Swalecliffe

Here most of the town is again hidden from view at the top of the low grassy cliffs as I continue on the sea wall below it. There are numerous beach huts lining the shore. Whitstable has become a fashionable (and expensive) place to live in recent years as people move here to live by the sea but still in commuting distance of London.

Tankerton, Whitstable

Soon I reached the end of the promenade and the small port of Whitstable. Whitstable is known for it’s Oysters which are harvested from the coast nearby and the harbour was surrounded by fish stalls and shops.

Whitstable

I decided to end the walk here though it was a little disappointing to be ending in an area that felt a little industrial.

Whitstable Harbour

I headed inland a little over half a mile to reach the railway station from where I drove home.

I had enjoyed this walk as it was another fine day of weather and the coast had proved more interesting than I had expected from the map. The beautiful towers of the church at Reculver were an unexpected delight as were the sand stone cliffs beyond. Herne Bay too was nice (pier aside) and Whistable seemed to be a characterful and prosperous town.

Postscript: One thing I was aware of on this walk is the Shivering Sands and Red Sands forts which were built way out in the estuary roughly midway between Kent and Essex. They were built during World War II and are a series of metal forts that were once connected together by metal walkways (long since rusted away). Along with other forts they were collectively known as the Maunsell Forts. They were abandoned in 1958 and were later occupied by a pirate radio station during the 1960s, Radio Sutch set up by Screaming Lord Sutch of Monster Raving Loony part fame! The similar Red Sands Forts are also now derelict. Boat trips operated out of Herne Bay at the time and I now regret not going on them at the time since they stopped running. However trips resumed last year and there are also some trips this year to view the forts all along the Kent coast. Details can be found here. I may yet go on one of these trips and see these interesting structures up close. The forts are visible from both the Kent and Essex sides of the estuary on a clear day, though I could not see them on this walk.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

South Eastern Trains London to Ramsgate trains run twice per hour between Whitstable and Birchington-on-Sea, seven days a week taking around 15 minutes. The trains run the following route. St Pancras International – Stratford International – Ebbsfleet International – Gravesend – Strood – Rochester – Chatham – Gillingham – Rainham – Sittinbourne – Faversham – WhitstableHerne BayBirchington-on-Sea – Margate – Broadstairs – Ramsgate.  These 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 route above at Rochester. This also runs hourly giving two trains per hour between Whitstable and Birchington-on-Sea. The trains from London St Pancras are faster and more expensive if you are travelling from London.

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

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One Response to 150. Birchington-on-Sea to Whitstable

  1. snowgood says:

    Nice to see Reculver, I have a friend who’s just moved there after finding Whitstable too busy.

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