Tuesday August 6th 2013
Herne Bay- Faversham
The summer holidays had arrived and we headed back to the seaside to continue walking west along the North Kent coast.
We left Aldershot at 6.30 in the morning and by 8 were on a train out of Victoria enjoying breakfast as we rolled through the suburbs of London and into Kent. A smooth journey and a short walk, via Morrisons to buy lunch, found us under the clock tower at Herne Bay at 10 o’clock.
We set off along the concrete prom, admiring the beautifully kept gardens where a man was washing the white stone on top of the low walls. We walked through a bandstand and performance area to discover the pier. As we have a policy of walking down every pier we pass, we set off along it.
Three minutes later we came to the end. The pier is so short because it was destroyed by a storm in 1978 and has never been rebuilt. This is the third pier in the same spot the first being built in 1899 to accommodate pleasure steamers from London. Way out to sea is the landing stage end which survived, but the two have so far, not been reconnected. On the pier was a rather incongruous and very large sculpture of a urinal, part of a sculpture festival taking place here this month.
The pier conquered, we set off again, stopping briefly at one of the cleverest fundraising ideas we have ever found. It was run by the local rotary club and consisted of a stall full of canisters, inside which were dolls from television cartoon series from all eras. When you put a coin in a box at the front, one of the canisters opened, music played and the dolls did a little dance. Very simple but quite intriguing and even at this hour there were a lot a people having a go and then another go so that they could get their favourite character.
Having spent a couple of pounds on that and not getting The Gruffalo once, we continued on our way. The prom continued past all the usual seaside amenities, slowly giving way to larger houses, many now hotels or holidays apartments.
After a couple of miles, we came to the end of Herne Bay and turned the corner into Hampton. Here there is a rowing club and a public slipway which was busy with people waiting to launch their small boats. Hampton has an unusual history as the village, which was originally a fishing hamlet, was abandoned to the sea at the beginning of the twentieth century and was completely lost underwater by the 1920s. It had been developed as an oyster fishing centre and had a pier and a tramway which joined the main London railway line about a mile inland. The cause of the loss of the village was the pier which meant that the land to the west was slowly eroded by the sea, leaving the bay that is there today. The line of the old tramway is now a road facing the sea with huge boulders protecting it with a small promenade. We took the chance of a drinks break in the shade of a shelter as it was already becoming very warm.
Just around the bay we had a welcome break from all the concrete with a small nature reserve then it was back onto a new promenade at the beginning of Tankerton. The prom runs along the back of the stony beach and to the left are steep grassy slopes with the village at the top. Perched on these slopes are a fantastic set of beach huts, all painted in different bright colours and all obviously much loved and used by their owners. We were undecided whether we liked the bright purple or the candy striped one best! We agreed that they are much more appealing than the uniform décor demanded in places like Bournemouth.
As we walked along appreciating the huts, a small boy hurtled down one of the diagonal paths across the grassy slopes on his scooter. He misjudged the speed completely and came off onto the concrete at the bottom with a nasty crunch. Amazingly, he appeared to be unhurt though rather shaken but we offered the use of our first aid box anyway. As he and his friend wandered off to paddle, we began talking to the adults with him and they asked about our walk, then produced a business card for the B&B they run further west along the Kent coast! Such enterprise!
We finally said goodbye and continued on to the beginning of Whitstable. We have been to Whitstable many times as we have friends there and visited every summer when the children were younger for a day by the sea. So the route through the town was familiar and we knew the way around the harbour. The harbour was just as fishy as we remembered and the quayside was very busy with craft and other stalls and plenty of places to try the famous Whitstable oysters.
We paused here for an ice cream which was very welcome before wandering slowly on among the crowds along the seafront. Towards the end of the sea wall we found a seat in the shade so decided this could be a good lunch spot and we enjoyed a rest and some refuelling for half an hour. We stopped quickly for the loo on the way back to the sea wall and, as we sauntered on, we left most of the crowds behind. We admired the beautiful wooden boarded houses along the seafront here and smiled at some children being put through their paces at a tennis summer school.
The next section was very familiar from our summer visits as we climbed down from the sea wall and located the footpath across the golf course and over the railway. The house we used to visit is at the end of a tiny private road and the footpath runs right beside it, up to the main road, Joy Lane. Here we turned right and followed the road uphill. It was a busy road and we found this stretch very hard work as we both struggled with the heat of the sun and the muggy atmosphere.
Eventually we located the turn off the main road, back over the railway and onto Admiralty Walk. This road runs on the top of the cliff through a private estate and, although there is a public right of way along the road, the lower paths and the beach are private. But it was pleasant enough walking along the road, slowly descending to beach level and emerging at Seasalter.
Seasalter beach has a large caravan park and lots of small wooden houses opening onto the beach. Most appeared to be occupied but whether they are all year round is questionable. We began walking along the quiet lane between the caravan park and the houses until a track appeared onto a sea wall. This was much nicer on the feet and we caught a bit of a breeze on the top. As the wall climbed higher there were steps up from the road over the wall and down onto the beach at intervals. Soon we came across a very old fashioned and very useful seaside shop.
It was on the edge of the caravan park and obviously was part of it, as the man in front of us was buying a gas cylinder for his caravan. We bought postcards, drinks and a sun-hat for me as I was feeling the heat somewhat and had not brought mine with me. The area was busy, although it is not a particularly spectacular beach, being rather steep and shingly, but the parking is free and it is within easy reach of many towns, so maybe that is the attraction. It does have a very traditional air about it; quaint almost and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
We set off again and very soon came to the crunch place. The embankment path and Seasalter itself ended at a pub. Here the road turned inland and with it the last chance of picking up a bus route. We were running quite a lot later than we should have been and had come to the conclusion that the mileage in the guide book was wrong. It should have been 11 miles from Herne Bay to Faversham but we reckoned by pedometer reading and timings that we had already done that much. So the question was – stop here or go on?
We decided to push on into Faversham, for two reasons. Firstly the path was clear and easy and secondly it would make the next walk work in terms of length and accessibility. Sometimes you make the wrong decision. We just did!
The next section saw us saying goodbye to the sea, possibly for a very long time. Our plan from here is to walk all the way into London from the north coast of Kent, following first The Swale, then crossing the Medway and along the south bank of the Thames. Once we get to Hungerford Bridge in central London, we will return to Gravesend, cross to Tilbury and pick up the walk along the Essex coastline.
So with The Swale on our right, we set off. The path was lovely, grassy, high and flat and very easy to follow, if a little dull. Several miles in front of us was the entrance to Faversham Creek, which runs from The Swale into Faversham town centre. We had to follow this to find the first crossing and had planned to make this the end of the walk for today. We stopped for a break next to a rather odd little nature reserve over the wall on the sea side. I guess if you knew what you were looking for there were probably some interesting things to see, but all we spotted was copious amounts of cow parsley. We were more interested in something we had just noticed on the map – a footpath which ran from the one we were on to join it again further along the banks of Faversham Creek and which would cut off a huge corner. Tempting. We decided that when we got to it, if it looked like a proper well signed path we would use it, if not we would carry on round the long way. Bearing in mind, we had planned to catch the 6 o’clock train from Faversham and it was now almost five, saving a bit of time seemed like a good plan.
We found the footpath; it was signed, wide and well-kept so we headed off down it. It ran through a pea field which was quite fun and the farmer had done a great job of flattening a path through, presumably with a tractor as it was about the right width. We happily trudged along through the field totally missing a tiny footpath sign pointing us to the right down a single path track through a different field.
When we got to the end of the wide path, it curved left, which was strange as we had expected to turn right. But we also expected to come out behind some houses which we could see in the right place beside the path. But there was no sign of the creek and the promised view of the church spire promised at this point. We walked a bit further, then looked closely at the map but could find nothing on the ground that would be marked on the map apart from the houses. All we could see were peas. So we carried on a bit more but it all felt wrong. Round the next bend we could see the land in front of us rising and a line of pylons and from those we worked out where we were. In completely the wrong place. It was now getting very late, we were tired and decided that the safest thing to do was to retrace our steps back to the sea wall and pick up the known path again. As we did so, we suddenly spotted the turn off we had missed over an hour earlier.
So finally we set our steps in the right direction, passed the right row of houses, and picked up the creek-side path again. From there it was a short walk into Faversham through a wonderful boatyard, which we would have enjoyed much more earlier in the day, and into the town centre. We stopped at Tesco’s to buy supper for the train and to phone Glyn to let him know what had happened. Luckily it is only a short walk to the station and we were in good time for the 19:52 train to London. We changed at Gillingham onto a Charing Cross train which took us to Waterloo East and a short walk over to Waterloo. We finally rolled off the train at Ash Vale at quarter to eleven, having walked a total of 18 miles in the course of the day. Quite a day!
Running total 589.7