Main route: 14km (8.7 miles). 5 hours. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.
West extension (Whistable) : add 7km / 4 miles
East extension (Margate) : add 4.5km / 3.8 miles
OS Landranger Map 179, Explorer Map 150
1 out of 10
This is an easy coastal walk - it is entirely flat - along the north Kent coast. It passes the dramatic landmark of Recluver, the remains of the twin towers of a 12th C church set amongst the ruins of a Roman Fort (free entry, English Hertitage, Wikipedia).
In summer there are opportunities for sea swimming throughout (see notes below), and though the walk is almost entirely on tarmac or concrete paths, with only a 1km section beyond Reculver that is on grassy clifftops, there are still plenty of rural delights.
After an initial section on the seafront promenade (or cliff top park) of Birchington-on-Sea, a quiet seaside town, you follow the raised sea wall over remote flat marshland (a sea channel until the 12th century: see Points of Interest below), along an unspoilt shingle beach which has interesting wildflowers (in summer) and seabirds: also fine views of distant shipping and windfarms, and the ruins of Reculver church as an aiming point on the horizon.
Beyond Reculver your path takes you along the top (or bottom) of a very pleasant grassy slope facing the sea, which again has interesting wildflowers in summer, to the charming, if slightly faded, seaside resort of Herne Bay, complete with pier, beach huts, cafes and bars.
Incidentally, while one may think of this as a perfect summer walk, it makes a nice winter outing too, if the weather is fine. The low sunlight on the sea and marshes can be quite entrancing, and at this time of year the birdlife is more numerous, particularly at low tide when they feed on the shallow shingle and mudflats. Best of all this is a walk almost entirely without mud. Note that there is no shelter, however, so in rain it can be fairly wretched. If the winds are blowing strongly from the west, consider reversing the walk (see Walk Options below.)
This walk can be extended to the east or west to link up with our other coast walks (Margate to Ramsgate, and Faversham to Whitstable) if you want to walk the entire coastline. Just choose one, doing both at about 16 miles on pavement is a bit too long. We did look at splitting this walk into 2 shorter 8 miles walks, but the stations just weren't in the right place...
West Extension : Herne Bay to/from Swalecliff and Whitstable
You can continue along the coast past Herne Bay for 4km to Hampton (pub) and Swalecliff (Long Rock headland / nature reserve), then head inland for its station,
Its a further 3 km (i.e. 7km / 4 miles total) to Whitstable, a large seaside town with some historic buildings.
The beaches are shingle, there is a good flat promenade, with occasional lines of beach huts and beach cafes, backed by quiet residential neighbourhoods until the outskirsts of Whitstable. Both stations are closer to London on the same line, so your return ticket is valid.
East Extension : Birchington to/from Westgate and Margate
In the reverse direction, you can carry on past Birchington for 2km (1.2 miles) to Westgate-on-Sea which has a popular and busy seafront cafe in season and a station just inland of its main bay.
Another 2.5km (1.6 miles) (so 3.8 miles total) brings you to Margate, whose station is clearly visible from the seafront just at the start of its main beach.
All of this walk is on seafront promenades or quiet residential clifftops, with short headlands seperating small towns with quiet beaches.
If extending the walk in this way you will need to buy a day return to whichever town you end up in.
It is quite possible and easy to do this walk in reverse - indeed, if the wind is blowing strongly from the west, this is a good idea as there is otherwise no shelter on this walk. The only disadvantage to doing the walk in this direction is that the flatlands of the marshes between Reculver and Birchington might be a bit of an anticlimax after the scenically more dramatic section around Herne Bay. (You also do not have the towers of Reculver church as your aiming point as you walk across them). Birchington is a fairly quiet place to finish and does not have the charm of Herne Bay: but it does have some tea options: see below. Walk directions for this option are below.
The initial section of promenade, from Birchington to Reculuver, is wide, flat, and car free - it's suitable for cycling with young children or nervous beginners.
Trains go once an hour each from London Victoria or St Pancras, to Birchington on Sea with a journey time one hour 38 minutes from Victoria and one hour 26 minutes from St Pancras. Slightly cheaper fares can be obtained on the Victoria trains, and you can also use tickets from London travelcard zone boundaries on these trains, which you cannot on the St Pancras ones. Herne Bay is one stop before Birchington on Sea, so buy a day return to Birchington on Sea. Trains are 2/hour Mon-Sat, and 1/hour on Sunday. Margate, about 1hr 30mins, has a better service.
In 2016 and 2017, Southeastern had £10 return special offers.
Suggested Train: Take the train nearest to 9.30am.
By Car: This is a long quiet seafront. Everywhere outside the town centres has free parking.
A Tesco Metro on the seafront road, about 200m west of the station, or The Mechanical Elephant, a Wetherspoons about 200m east of the station
Westgate on Sea
The West Bay seafront cafe on the promenade
If reversing the walk, and finishing here, if you carry on over the railway bridge when you get to the station, you come to Birchington's town centre: in 60 metres on the right is a pub called Christie's.
The Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie, a sea front pub at the head of Birchington's main beach.
King Ethelbert Inn, Reculver Lane CT6 6SU, (tel 01227 374368) Located 8km from the start of the walk. This is a friendly and cheap pub which is popular with locals and users of the adjacent caravan park. It has a varied menu of meals and serves large portions: very good value. This is the suggested pub on the main walk
About 80 metres inland from the King Ethelbert along the road there is a seasonal cafe attached to the caravan park. 200 metres beyond the King Ethelbert The Dolphin Bar & Restaurant (tel 01227 504 987) may also be worth checking out.
Macari's is the name to look out for in Herne Bay. They run a cafe on the corner on the seafront 100 metres before the clock tower, but better is to carry on for 100 metres of so beyond the clock tower to the old bandstand inside of which you will find another Macari's which has both inside and outside tables and is altogether a pleasanter place to sit if the weather is fine.
Herne Bay has several pubs: just beyond the clock tower on the left the Saxon Shore is a very pleasant Weatherspoons outlet.
The Heron, Station Road, Herne Bay, CT6 5QJ (tel 01227- 657818). is another pub, located just outside Herne Bay station.
There is a pleasent eating area on the pier with seating shared between several eateries
The Hampton Inn, a sea front pub
Several sea front cafes and the Hotel Continental cafe/bar.
Many places in the town centre.
Almost the whole coast you follow on this walk is suitable for swimming but note that at low tide the sea retreats some way across a flat sandy (at Birchington and Herne Bay) or shingle bottom. At such times you have to wade out a long way to get enough depth of water for swimming (and if you wade too far there may be sticky mud underfoot). When the tide is at the mid level, however, this means that there is a large expanse of not too deep water to swim in, and at high tide the waters can be delightfully sheltered. Given all this, where you swim will probably be determined by at what point on the walk the tide is highest, but from a scenic point of view the nicest swimming spot is probably the long beach running into Herne Bay, which is backed by green slopes. Incidentally the sea hereabouts is a bit brown, but this is due to sediment from the muddy bottom, not pollution: North Kent beaches generally display certificates these days showing they achieve or exceed European bathing water standards.
|Points of interest||
The Isle of Thanet was once a real island and was separated from the rest of Kent by the Wantsum Channel, which stetched from Reculver to Richborough, just outside Sandwich. The Romans had a fort at either end of this sea channel, and it is on the ruins of the Reculver one that a Saxon monastery was built, whose ruined church is such a feature on this walk. The Wantsum Channel started to silt up in the 12th century and was soon reclaimed for farmland, but even today you can see the broad swathe of flat land where it used to be.
Offshore windfarms divide opinion, but for many they provide a point of interest on this walk. The one that is most obvious is the Kentish Flats array just north of Herne Bay: this has 30 turbines, with plans for 15 more. Further out to sea, on the far horizon to the north east (so over your right shoulder if walking from Birchington or ahead left if you are coming from Herne Bay) you can also see on clear days the massive 100 turbine London Array. Finally due eastwards towards Margate you can glimpse the Thanet Offshore windfarm which is off the coast of Ramsgate.
If you are wondering what the odd wooden pavillion-like structure way out in the sea to the north of Herne Bay is, it is the original end of the town's pier, most of which was destroyed in a storm in 1978, though a shoreward stump that you can walk on still remains. The pier is actually the third on this site, the original opening 1832, with a very serious purpose. In those pre-railway days sea was often the quickest way to get around, and for thirty years paddlesteamers from London used to call at this pier carrying passengers not just for Kent but also for the continent (travellers carried on by road to Canterbury and Dover and then took boats across the English Channel). This original pier apparently had a wind-driven railway to carry passengers' luggage to and from boats (if there was no wind, the carts carrying the luggage had to be pushed by hand). The pier needed to be so long in order to provide sufficient depth for ships to anchor at all states of the tide (see the pier which still exists in Southend, which is 1.3 miles long for the same reason). After the coming of the railway in 1861 the pier was more of a embarkation point for pleasure trips. In the Second World War it was partly dismantled for fear it might be used by invasion forces. Restoration after the war was apparently not very well done, and the result was the loss of the pier in the 1978 storm. Only its far end still remains as a reminder of just how astonishingly long it once was.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
From East to West
Each section ends at a train station
A) Whitstable to Swalecliffe
- Old town and High Street route: From the station, left on Railway Avenue (100m), which becomes Cromwell Road (300m). Right on Oxford Steet which becomes the High Street. Join the seafront path, turn right, and walk!
- Short route: From the station, turn right on Railway Avenue, then first left on Westmeads Road. Cross the car park, cross the road, and veer left a bit down a service road to the left of the indoor Bowls Centre. At the sea, turn right, and walk!
- Pass the recommended Hotel Continental (bar / cafe on the ground floor), and The Bubble Cafe on the promenade.
- Continue along Tankerton beach, passing The Royal (pub), the Sea View cafe, and JoJo's restaurant.
- Just before the low headland jutting out into the sea, and before the skate park, turn inland on Brook Road, then turn left on Herne Bay Road for Chestfield and Swalecliff station
B) Swalecliffe to Herne Bay
- Cross the headland (Long Rock nature reserve), the only 'nature' section of this coastline. This is the quietest part of this coastline.
- Follow the promenade in front of a caravan park, then in front of Studd Hill, towards a headland with Hampton's short pier.
- Pass the Hampton Inn pub on the point. The pier has a free car park.
- Continue along the promenade, passing beach huts towards Herne Bay's pier
- For Herne Bay Station, take the first road inland (Station Road) after the pier (800m).
C) Herne Bay to Birchington-on-Sea
- Coming out of Herne Bay station, turn right to exit the car park at its right-hand end. Carry on down the road beyond, passing the Heron pub on your right. Follow this road for 800 metres to emerge on the seafront by the pier. At the pier, turn right on the seafront. (Alternatively after 200 metres on Station Road veer right into Memorial Park, cross it diagonally, and then turn left at its far end to walk down through the town to the sea. But doing this misses out the most interesting bit of Herne Bay's seafront.)
- Don't miss the pier, it has some nice eateries with shared seating.
- In 150 metres pass through the bandstand (which used to project out over the sea and have seaward terraces for sunbathing: it now has Macari's cafe in its centre) and in 100 metres more pass the clock tower and keep on along the seafront promenade.
- Just before the clock tower, is The Saxon Shore, a Wetherspoons. Continue along the promenade until the end of town.
- Promenade Option
- You can stay on this promenade along the beach for 2.5km if you wish. Eventually you are forced up onto the clifftop at a fixed staircase
- A more scenic option cliff top option
- Follow the road behind the promenade when it curves right uphill, with a green slope to its left, about 350 metres after the clock tower. 60 metres up the slope turn left along a car-wide tarmac path across the hillside, with sea parallel and downhill to your left. The car-wide path soon becomes a "clifftop" path (there is in fact no cliff, just a grassy slope: there are numerous opportunities to switch between this higher path and the seafront as you walk along, incidentally.)
- After about a kilometre the car-wide path starts to go sharply downhill, but you can stay on the clifftop by forking right onto a narrower tarmac path that runs in front of houses.
- After several hundred metres this path ends at a small grassy area, with bushes on its far side. Veer right here to the road and turn left along it (still parallel to the coast but now with houses between you and the view).
- In 250 metres, where the road ends, carry on downhill on a concrete track, with a car park to your right.
- [!] In 60 metres, at the end of the car park, turn right up a tarmac path.
- In 70 metres, at a T-junction with another tarmac path, turn left downhill to cross a footbridge. At its far end fork left to stay on the tarmac path.
- The beach level path rejoins here at a staircase
- After 2-300 metres among bushes this brings you out onto the open clifftop, at a T-junction: turn right here, uphill. When you get to the clifftop keep on along its edge, passing a parking area away to your right and going through a belt of shrubs. You finally emerge onto a grassy hilltop, which you follow for 1.5km gently downhill towards the towers of the ruined Saxon church at Reculver, which is visible ahead.
- Entering Reculver you see the Blue Dolphin Bar and Restaurant on your right at the start of the caravan park. Keep to the seafront and in 200 metres you see the King Ethelbert Arms, the lunchtime pub, on the right.
- After lunch go past the ruined church of Reculver and follow the sea wall beyond as it crosses the flat marshes, the former bed of the Wantsum Channel.
- After 5km/3 miles you are approaching the houses and flat blocks of Birchington-on-Sea. You can either follow the concrete promenade around its bay, or stick to the path on the top of the embankment. At the far end of the bay you pass Winshack Cafe on the beach, and The Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie (invisible from the promenade: you need to be on the upper level to see it), your best option for tea.
- Continue on around the headland beyond the bay (again you can follow the promenade or keep to park paths along the top of the chalk cliffs, which give nice views).
- Beyond the headland go round another substantial bay, Grensham Bay, and around another headland. If on the promenade, ignore a tarmac path leading inland from this second headland through a cleft in the cliffs.
- In another 200 metres, at the head of the bay, you come to a tarmac ramp as wide as a road which leads directly uphill from the head of the bay, signposted to Birchington station. (If on the clifftop path, the path curves right inland to join the top of this ramp when it reaches a car road). You can see the cliff edge ahead is blocked by housing
- At the top of the ramp, walk directly inland along Beach Avenue for 400 metres, until it comes to a T-junction. The rather well-concealed entrance to Birchington station is just to the left on the far side of the road. Or follow the road to the left and over the railway bridge to reach the centre of Birchington and Christie's pub, a possible late tea stop, in 60 metres on the right.
D) Birchington-on-Sea to Westgate-On-Sea
- Follow the beach level promenade (only) for 1km on a wide curvy concrete promenade at the bottom of low (but steep) chalk cliffs (there is no beach here). There is an access point after 500m. NB: The cliff edge above has private housing, one of the few places on this coastline, so there is no cliff top alternative, only inland roads.
- Join the cliff top path at Epple Bay where the promenade ends (there is no choice - the promenade ends), and follow the coast road for 500m (the only section of road walking on this coast). You can see more promenade below the road, but it doesn't link up - there is a small gap.
- Leave the road, and rejoin the beach at Westgate-on-Sea Bay. From here on, you can choose between wide sea level concrete promenade and cliff top path, all they way to Margate
- At the far end of Westgate's beach is the popular West Bay Cafe right on the promenade
- After the headland, turn inland on St Margaret's Road for Westgate-On-Sea station
E) Westgate-on-Sea to Margate
- Continue on the past quiet St Mildred's Bay (beach huts, but no cafe)
- Then, its quiet Westbrook Bay (large beach level car park) - either the wide beach level promenade, or the cliff top path above, which is seperated from a quiet housing by a wide grass lawn.
- Finally, you come to a headland with large appartment blocks. Follow the beach level path around it and you come to busy Margate's main beach.
- Where the promenade meets the road, cross the roundabout for Margate station.
- Or, continue for the Mechanical Elephant (Wethies pub), the town centre, The Turner Gallery (free entry), and the harbour arm (nice small pubs)
From West to East
Brief directions for the main section of the walk in reverse. Its pretty easy - just follow the coast
Birchington-on-Sea to Herne Bay
- Coming off the London train, go up the tarmac alleyway for 50 metres to cross over Lyell Road, and turn left for 10 metres to then turn right down Beach Avenue (which subsequently becomes Beresford Gap) in the direction of the sea, your direction 10°.
- On reaching the coast, you have the choice of walking along the low cliff edge or (depending on conditions) along the base of the cliff edge. Either way turn left to go along the coast towards Reculver, which later becomes clearly visible as you approach.
- After lunch at the King Ethelbert Inn (by Recluver's car park), continue along the coast into Herne Bay.
- To reach Herne Bay station: With the entrance to the Pier behind you, cross the coast road and then head south along Station Road (to the left of a large block of flats), to reach the station after 800 metres.