Sunday August 11th 2012
We decided that as we are walking west and therefore towards home we could probably do this walk in a day. So we set off at the crack of dawn from Ash Vale to Clapham Junction and thence via Victoria onto a train to Margate. We arrived back on the seafront at 10.30 and emerged into beautiful sunshine and a cloudless sky. All the way through Kent, families had joined the train intent on a day by the sea and at Margate the train all but emptied with us. We let the rush for the ticket barriers die down by stopping for the loo, then made our way back onto the seafront once more. As the station is virtually on the seafront, this did not take long and we were soon picking up the prom once again and were back to ticking off bays.
The first bay we encountered was Westbrook Bay, which is really the western edge of Margate and its wide sandy beach was already thronged with people. The visitors are well looked after here with a lifeguard station, ice cream stand, loos and a rather impressive beach wheelchair. This is apparently used to give disabled visitors access to the beach, using its large wheels to move across the sand, as well as for the occasional casualty evacuation.
Here were beach huts too, many being opened up by their owners and folding chairs and tables erected ready for a long day by the sea. Further along the prom split into two with a wide concrete path half way down the cliff and another on the top. We opted for the lower level one which was possibly not so interesting as there was nothing to see apart from cliffs and the beach. The lack of visitor facilities here meant it was much quieter.
However, excitement lay over the next headland in St Mildred’s Bay which has a large car park, loos, cafes and other facilities and so was much busier. There was another of the enclosed paddling pools on the beach here and we were rather amused to see that the steps down from the prom lead into in the water!
Around another very prominent headland was Westgate Bay which had a quite different feel to it. The lower prom was lined with beach huts, most of which were occupied and once the beach huts ran out, there was a concrete ledge all along the back of the path in front of a steep grass slope up to the road. And something rather odd was happening here.
There were people sitting all along the ledge, leaning on the fence at the top of the slope and standing all over the beach. And they were all watching something put to sea. We were initially worried that something dreadful was happening and there was indeed a very strange commotion out in the bay. It is very hard to describe what we could see but it appeared to be a small speedboat with several others in attendance. Attached to the boat were two hosepipes blasting out jets of water and at the top of the water jets about 10 feet in the air was a person. Flying. A man lent us his binoculars so that we could have a closer look and we came to the conclusion they must be filming a new action movie; maybe a new James Bond. We tried to take some photos but it was moving very fast and was quite a long way out so they didn’t come out too well, but well enough to do some research when we got home. And we discovered that what we had seen was a new rich man’s plaything called a jetlev. It works by pushing water at huge speed through the hoses and thus propelling the rider into the air, rather like a jet-propulsion. It was developed in France and, according to its inventors, will become a commonplace attraction in all the fashionable resorts in the next few years, though maybe Margate will not be top of the list!
We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the jet man and continued our walk along the lower cliff path. Soon we reached a sign indicating that the path ahead was closed and directing us up some steps onto the higher path. Here we picked up a pavement on what looked like an ordinary suburban road behind the crowds of people looking out to sea. Soon we had rounded the headland and could see the lower path again at the bottom of another flight of steps. This was Epple Bay which had no facilities at all, just sand and rock pools and high chalk cliffs.
Before long we rounded another headland and arrived at Grenham Bay. We knew that somewhere around here was a parade of shops and we had planned to buy lunch there, so took the opportunity of a slope up onto the cliff top again in search of the shops. We didn’t quite come out where we had expected so we just walked along a road of beautiful houses which must back onto the cliffs. Soon we emerged onto another road with wide grass verges and even bigger and more spectacular houses. Most appeared to be lived in as houses but a few were hotels and small private nursing homes. At the end of this road we came across Minnis Bay and civilisation again.
A huge car park, pub, loos, beach huts, lifeguards again, even a bus route. A proper beach. And up a side road the small supermarket where we stocked up on food. Then we made use of the loos, bought an ice cream and had a short rest before leaving the urban area and heading out into open country at last.
A grassy area soon ended on a concrete path once more below the cliffs, which were lower and much more gentle now. Suddenly the path ended and so did the cliffs as we climbed a few steps onto a sea wall. And could see for miles. Inland were the marshlands and fields of a nature reserve criss-crossed by paths. On our right a stony beach, which looked none too clean, and ahead the concrete sea wall as far as we could see. In the distance, the twin towers of St Mary’s Church at Reculver looked tiny. All along the sea wall were cyclists and below in the grassland were people walking, cycling and riding horses. A tandem overtook us and pedalled away.
We set off along the path, looking for somewhere to stop for lunch. We had hoped there might be some seats but there was nothing and we could see nothing promising ahead. In the end we picked a piece of beach that looked reasonably clean and climbed down onto to it to have a picnic.
As we walked on the River Wantsum arrived on our left but it petered out after a few miles. For company we had two children on their bikes, who were out with their parents. Mum was riding her horse along the paths below us and Dad was pushing a baby in a buggy behind us. The two children would cycle past, stop at a point which was obviously a known waiting place where we would pass them. Once dad had caught up and they had checked in they went off past us again. It was not terribly interesting walking and being able to see the way forward for such a long distance is not always a good thing. But the church towers were getting bigger and it was a beautiful sunny day, with a soft breeze – perfect for walking. At the end of the nature reserve were the oyster hatcheries which supply the famous Whitstable oysters and which gave us something new to look at.
Finally we arrived at Reculver and found our way past the beautiful ruined church and into the village. Long ago Reculver was a thriving place; the Romans built a fort here, and the River Wantsum once flowed into the sea here. The village died once the river course silted up and the church fell into disrepair. The remaining distinctive towers of the church were used as markers during the testing of Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs during the Second World War. Now the village is quiet apart from the nature reserve and a caravan park. There is also a pub and visitor centre here and we were very glad of the chance to have a tea break and rest for a while.
The final stage of the walk took us up a grassy slope onto the cliff again then down a very smart metal staircase to the end of the prom at Herne Bay.
This was definitely the quiet end of the town with nothing here but the wide path at the base of a grassy cliff. In the distance we could see our final landmark for the day, Herne Bay clock tower, getting bigger as we approached.
Soon we passed the sailing club and emerged into the centre of Herne Bay itself. It was packed with people, sitting around eating ice cream, drinking, children running about. Here were amusement arcades and cafes and all the attractions required for a good day out by the sea. It was very loud and very warm and we decided escape was the best way forward. So we very quickly found our way through the backstreets to the railway station.
A train to Victoria was due and we were glad to find seats on it but it seemed to be full of people yelling and laughing; not in a bad way just very exuberant. As we approached Chatham the guard announced that there would be a connecting service here to Charing Cross via Waterloo East and we made an instant decision to change onto it. It had to be better than the one we were on. And it was. It was fairly empty and much quieter and we changed at Waterloo onto an Alton train which was about to leave, so it was much easier all round.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our eleven mile walk between the two seaside resorts and look forward to continuing our westward journey next year.
Start Margate 9.50
Finish Herne Bay 16.27
Running total 288