First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A huge wind from the north-west and a racing, bracing blue sky to greet us as our train came into Margate. The old Kentish seaside resort, once elegant, then raffishly ramshackle, now trendifying itself once more, hangs on the outermost lip of the River Thames where London’s river finally yields sovereignty to the North Sea.
Kite surfers leaped and twirled joyfully in the breakers, and dogs in ecstasies galloped the crescent of tan-coloured sand in front of the town. The wind giants had pummelled everything into life and motion. We bowled along the sea-level promenade under low chalk cliffs with faces fractured by wind and weather.
The sea boomed and shot up spray, each wave slapping back on its successor in rearing white horses. A flock of tiny, white-breasted sanderlings pattered this way and that, out to the tide-line after every wave to snatch whatever edible had been tossed ashore, back to the safety of the promenade wall as the next surge of foam hissed after them up the sand.
Out beyond all this activity and noise, big ships silently trudged the sea horizon, garishly lit in scarlet and white by shafts of intense sunlight. Already paired for the oncoming nesting season, a couple of fulmars contemplated the scene from a crevice high in the cliffs, while others planed the wind on wings stiffly out-held.
In Palm Bay a woman strode towards us, a length of green fishing net trailing from her fingers. ‘Beach-combed it,’ she said with pride, ‘I’ll train my runner beans up it. Recycling, you know!’
At Foreness Point the coast path swung more southerly, and the wind pushed at our backs. On the cliffs of Kingsgate Bay an enormous flint-built mock castle filled the headland, the cliffs below braced and buttressed to prevent them collapsing under its weight. The castle was built in Georgian times by Lord Holland for use as his stables. The only horses there today were the white ones that the jade-coloured sea sent prancing along the feet of the cliffs below.
We passed North Foreland’s stubbly white lighthouse, threaded a maze of fabulous clifftop villas, and came down into Broadstairs windblown, salt-spattered and ruddy-cheeked, our ears still full of the roar of wind and sea.
Start: Margate Station, Kent CT9 5AD (OS ref 347705)
Getting there: Rail to Margate. Road – Margate is on A28 (Canterbury)
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 150): From Margate station, walk to seafront; turn right along Viking Coastal Trail/VCT. In 2¾ miles, turn up slipway at Foreness Point (384716); follow VCT along cliffs. In 1¼ miles join B2052 at Kingsgate Bay (3957707). In 350m, take cycle-path on right of road. At Elmwood Avenue cross Joss Gap Road (399701); follow VCT along cliffs. In 500m VCT turns inland towards North Foreland lighthouse, but keep ahead here along Cliff Promenade. In ½ mile turn inland along Cliff Road (401690); left along North Foreland Road. In 250m, opposite Bishops Avenue, left down alley (397689, fingerpost); right along shore promenade to Viking Bay at Broadstairs (399678). Inland past Old Curiosity Shop; left along VCT. In 250m VCT turns inland (398677); right along Buckingham Road, left up High Street for 600m to Broadstairs station (391680). Rail to Margate.
Conditions: Some shore sections may be inaccessible at very high tide. Check tides at visitthanet.co.uk/weather
Lunch: Many cafés and pubs in Broadstairs.
Accommodation: Sands Hotel, 16 Marine Drive, Margate CT9 1DH (01843-228228; sandshotelmargate.co.uk) – stylish, comfortable seafront hotel.
‘The independently-owned Sands hotel in Margate has been included in the Sunday Times 8 Best UK Seaside Hotels for the past three years (No.1 in 2016). It sits on the Prom, overlooking the beach and arching bay, retro-theme park Dreamland and the Turner Contemporary (Turner painted more canvasses in Margate than anywhere else). Margate has taken the mantle as the coolest place to be seen by weekending Londoners and the boutique hotel is also just a two-minute stroll from the bijoux art galleries and quirky artisan shops in the revitalised old town, You might even be able to catch one of those fiery Turner sunsets with a cocktail from the open-terrace roof bar. A double room with breakfast costs from £130 per night.’ – (thanks to Paul Gogarty for these details)