First stage in the adventure was catching the over-night sleeper from Dundee to London, then a train to Margate to start in the early afternoon with a half-day's walking round the peninsula to Ramsgate. Since crossing the Humber Estuary at Hull some months ago, I have been walking the coast of the flat counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and the early part of Kent from the Hoo Peninsula down to Margate. However, the profiles of the walk start to change here, initially low hills up to about fifty metres, rising up to one hundred and fifty metres as we move on to the South Downs and the cliffs round about Deal, Dover and Folkstone, including the famous 'Seven Sisters'. Saving grace is that we are travelling 'light' this time. With so many accommodation options on the South Coast we decided not to camp but to do it 'the tourist way', so we are using primarily Airbnb this trip.
Passing the harbour, we could see the gable end of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in the distance, situated on the site of the B&B where J. M. W. Turner used to stay when he visited the town. Designed by Sir David Chipperfield and opened in 2011, the gallery provides a varied programme of exhibitions and events. As usual, we did not have the time to visit on this occasion and it goes on to the long list of activities we want to come back to.
We were walking on a route called the Thanet Way or the Thanet Coastal Path. At around twenty miles, it goes from Reculver in the east to the beautiful Pegwell Bay in the west, following the longest stretch of chalk cliffs in Britain and passing through Birchington, Westgate on Sea, Margate and Ramsgate, before going on to Pegwell Bay itself. The route is, in places, also part of the longer, long-distance walking path the Viking Way, which runs from the Humber Bridge in North Lincolnshire to Oakham in Rutland, a distance of one hundred and forty-seven miles.
From our clifftop view, we could look down on the popular sandy beach at Botany Bay and its trademark white cliffs. If you look carefully at the photograph below (the first of the group of three), you will see two of the very large chalk stacks that are in this stretch of beach. Below where I am standing there is, apparently, a very nice arch, which we missed because we did not look back as we progressed round the bay. The shape of the cliffs, which surround the bay serves to reflect the sound of the sea back over the top of the sands, highlighting the sound of the breaking waves. With its own lifeguard station, it is a popular area for families. There is good access to the beach down an admittedly rickety set of stairs and the cliffs offer some protection from any wind there may be.
Along the way we could look across the arable land to the white North Foreland Lighthouse. The current structure was built in 1691, but there has been a light on the promontory since at least 1499, with the first proper lighthouse not built until 1636. The height of the tower is twenty-six metres.
Making our way back inland to take up the road, we had to make three-sides of a square of about an American 'block', before we could drop back down to the beach at the northern-end of Broadstairs. For much of the length of Broadstairs until we reached Viking Bay, we walked along a concrete promenade adjacent to the beach. For much of its distance it was lined on the cliff side by colourful and inventively decorated beach huts which we often stopped to admire. The parish here is Broadstairs and St Peter's and historically, St Peter's was the larger of the two and thought to have been established around 1080. In the 14thC History has it there was a shrine to Our Lady (come to be called Our Lady of Bradstowe) on the nearby cliffs and a fishing village grew up around the shrine, later to be called Broadstairs.
There are some lovely beaches here, that further back from the tideline are filled with soft golden sands that on the day we walked were being well used. As we walked by the water, just beneath the cliffs, more storm clouds gathered directly above us but just over the water the sun continued to break through and created some really beautiful light effects both on and over the water. Lovely aquamarine, blues and steely greys caught the eye. The cause of some of the colour effects is the slabs of chalk that lie under the waves. As well as forming the cliffs here, the chalks continue to run out underneath the sea and the play of light on them in the shallower waters helps to produce the many differeng shades in the water. Newly uncovered seaweed sparkled and glistened on the chunks of chalk lying on the beach, a contrast in colours and texture. The tangy salt air and the aroma of the seaweed, caught lightly and not unpleasantly at the back of the throat. It reminded Jo and I of the flat slabs of seaweed we used to buy in Inverness and used to make our salty, vegetarian lasagne.
Ramsgate was established as a farming and fishing community circa 13th C. It is first mentioned in official documents in 1274 - 75 in the Kent Hundreds Role. One of its claims to fame is as the landing point in England for the well-known Hengest and Horsa (circa 446), the legendary brothers said to have led the invasion of the Angles in to what was to become England and have eventually established the Royal House of Kent. Ramsgate is also thought to have been the landing site for St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 597AD.
We eventually decided to leave the beach just after where Memorial Park is located at the top of the cliff, to emerge by Winterstoke Gardens. We made our way along the main esplanade to Victoria Gardens, stopping along the route to admire the views over the rooftops and across Sandwich Bay to Sandwich and Deal in the distance. Crossing Victoria Gardens we had a short walk up Thanet Road to our hotel where we looked forward to the obligatory bath, Italian dinner and bed. Its tough sometimes being a Vagabond!