14km (8.7 miles). 5 hours. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.
OS Landranger Map 179, Explorer Map 150
1 out of 10
This is an easy coastal walk - it is entirely flat - and the directions are straightforward and consequently minimal. 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 you follow the raised sea wall over the 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.
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.)
It is quite possible and easy to do this walk backwards - 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 at the bottom of this page.
If walking from Birchington to Herne Bay you can extend the walk by contining along the coast past Herne Bay for 4km to Swalecliff (then head inland for its station), or a further 3 km (i.e. 7km / 4 miles total) to Whitstable, a large seaside town with some historic buildings. Both stations are closer to London on the same line, so your return ticket is valid.
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) 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 and suburban clifftops. If extending the walk in this way you will need to buy a day return to whichever town you end up in.
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.
Suggested Train: Take the train nearest to 9.30am.
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
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.
If reversing the walk, your best tea option is The Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie at the head of Birchington's main beach. Or 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.
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.
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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.
A) 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.
A) 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. (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.)
- At the pier, turn right on the seafront. 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.
- You can stay this promenade along the beach if you wish (eventually you are forced up onto the clifftop), but a more scenic route is to 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.
- 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 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 Saxon Church 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 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, but in another 200 metres, at the head of the next bay, follow the 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, it curves right inland to join the top of this ramp when it reaches a car road).
- At the top of the ramp, walk directly inland along Beach Road 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.