One of the pleasures of a seaside holiday at the Beach House is not driving. This is an ideal place to put that into practice because you can do so much here by bicycle.
So bring your bicycles if you can. If you can’t, you can rent from Downland Cycles for £20 per day. Phone 01227 479 643 or downlandcycles.co.uk. Pick them up at Canterbury West Station and cycle back to Whitstable along the historic Crab & Winkle Line, which was previously Britain’s first passenger railway. Alternatively call Ken's Bikes in Margate on 01843 221 422 and he can deliver what you need at £17 per day.
Cycling is the way to get about in Whitstable town centre because parking can be horrendous, especially at weekends, so the best place for your car is off-street at your seaside holiday home here, where there is also a secured alley beside the house for keeping cycles.
Fortunately, Whitstable’s High Street is the only one through road and as that often becomes a chicane of parked vehicles, so traffic normally moves slowly.
Indeed Whitstable is so bicycle-friendly that it has two long distance national cycle routes for adults and a dedicated BMX/Skateboard Park for youngsters. That is eastwards along the beach at Swalecliffe.
Here are several cycle rides of varying length, based on side roads, quiet Kentish country lanes or parts of the Sustrans National Cycle Network, with as few steep climbs as possible.
* indicates a public house.
Leave West Beach westwards along Island Wall. It peters out into a path between beach huts and ends along the top of the seawall. Now comes the first hard part because you have to push two hundred yards along the shingle beach before finding a little track that slopes back up to the road. At the top of this, you follow the coastline westwards again, through a private estate, until it meets the coast road again at Seasalter Cross*. Now it continues flat behind the seawall, with views of the Seasalter marshes. If you are keen bird-watchers, this is the place to dismount and make a one-mile detour to the bird sanctuary. The road then turns inland * winding south through Graveney village along the western edge of the marsh, where you will see the first of many fine traditional houses owned by farmers and merchants who made their fortunes in wool, which was exported from Faversham.
When you reach the motorway bridge you have a choice. For those already tired, continue west into Faversham town centre. The old pedestrianised High Street will provide a wide range of watering holes ***, but your objective is the train station, which provides two services an hour back to Whitstable.
However the energetic should turn east crossing the motorway. Ignore various side roads and continue straight on until you reach Mount Ephraim. This is a stately home whose beautiful gardens are open to the public. Fans of Kentish villages might wish to take a detour through Boughton, which is once again delightful, now that the A2 has been diverted.
Regrettably one steep hill is unavoidable because this is a Roman road and they did not believe in corners. It was their expressway from one service station at Durovernum to the next at Durobrivæ (i.e. Canterbury to Rochester). However the climb is well worth while because, once you turn left at the radio mast on top of the Dunkirk hill, it is virtually all downhill back to Whitstable.
The route now takes you gently downwards across the open downs which offer glimpses of the sea, past isolated farms and cottages till you reach the A290 Canterbury to Whitstable road. Happily for cyclists this is now all subject to 40 MPH restriction, but unhappily there are a few small climbs till you reach the motorway.
Continue along the main road down the steep Borstal Hill*, under the railway bridge, second left down Nelson Road, left again into Island Wall. Now it is only 200 yards back home.
My recommendation is to do this excursion clockwise for a reason that will become apparent. Leaving
the Beach House Island Wall, cycle eastwards along West Beach, passing the harbour that Telford built, then turn left back to the beach, past the Continental Hotel * and along the seafront promenade. Archaeological excavations have revealed that this was the centre of England’s copperas industry at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Note that no-one notes the No Cycling notices, but everyone is respectful of pedestrians.
Alternatively you can cycle along the top of Tankerton Slopes*, where there are fabulous views across the estuary, especially from the flagpole, which was an obvious site for an Armada beacon. The view includes the Thames Forts, WWII anti-aircraft defences, and the new Kentish Flats wind farm. If the tide is out you can also see “The Street” going nowhere a mile out to sea. At the Tankerton Sailing Club, you need to rejoin the main road going inland, unless you want to check out the youngster’s athletic antics at the BMX / Skateboard Park, a detour of a two hundred yards further east along the beach.
At the railway bridge is the first opportunity for the faint of heart to bail out because here is the Chestfield railway station. Those who continue have little to fear because the road meanders most of the way to Canterbury without significant climbs. It passes through mock Tudor Chestfield * with its prestigious golf course, which used to be the smartest part of Whitstable till Island Wall was ‘discovered’.
It continues through Thornden Wood, where there is another chance to turn back by taking the track eastwards through Clowes Wood till it meets the Crab and Winkle Line, which goes straight back to Whitstable – gently downhill.
For those that continue, Tyler Hill presents a steep climb. This is where Wat Tyler gathered his revolting peasants in 1381 to march on London in the first organised attempt to exercise worker’s power. He came back minus his head, which adorned Canterbury’s West Gate to encourage the others.
That is where you can return your rented bikes and take the bus back to Whitstable, if you have had enough of cycling for one holiday. Canterbury is pedestrian-size and provides an excellent break to your journey to visit the old High Street, Cathedral, Museum, Kings School, or any number of watering holes ***. For those into experiences, visit Canterbury Tales in the High Street to see how people lived BC (Before Cycles), when the most popular leisure activity was a walking holiday i.e. pilgrimage.
Here you can pick up an official cycle route back to Whitstable. It follows the A2 flat from Rheims Way, which provides a parting telephoto shot of the Cathedral, then climbs steeply up a lane to the right until rejoining the A290 to Whitstable. Two private schools, Kent College and St. Edmund’s mark the end of your exertions, because the route now runs flat north, bypassing Blean* before joining the track of the old Crab and Winkle Line (1830-1953). crabandwinkle.org.ukThis was specially designed to slope gently downwards because “Invicta”, Stephenson’s first passenger engine, was not strong enough to pull its train up any steeper incline. That now means you can freewheel to the outskirts of Whitstable*, which is why my tip was to take it clockwise, so saving the easiest part for last.
Turning east from the
Beach House, cycle on Island Wall or along the seafront, passing the harbour that Telford built, then turn left back to the beach, past the Continental Hotel* and along the seafront promenade. Archaeological excavations have revealed that this was the centre of England’s copperas industry at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Note that no-one notes the No Cycling notices, but everyone is respectful of pedestrians.
Alternatively you can cycle along the top of Tankerton Slopes*, where there are fabulous views across the estuary, especially from the flagpole, and which is also the obvious site for an Armada beacon. The view includes the Thames Forts, WWII anti-aircraft defences, and the new Kentish Flats wind farm. If the tide is out you can also see “The Street” going nowhere a mile out to sea.
After the Tankerton Sailing Club, the promenade continues to the BMX/Skateboard Park where you can see the youngster’s up to their athletic antics. It briefly curves inland a discrete distance round what used to be a nudist colony at Long Rock before continuing along the shore line, where there are more colonies of beach huts.
These give way to unremarkable estates of seaside homes stretching all the way to Hampton. Here a small pier offers panoramic views. You then climb a small hill before descending gently through an eclectic collection of suburban style houses.
Whereas Whitstable started life centuries ago as a working maritime town, Herne Bay was the result of a Victorian invention, the paddle steamer, which first made mass tourism possible by landing armies of tourists at its pier, without which it would never have become a destination resort. While lacking the faded grandeur of more famous seaside resorts, it nevertheless retains a representative sample of the usual attractions*. A modern breakwater acts as a useful turning point for this excursion.
The ambitious can continue cycling eastwards to Reculver, whose twin towers still mark the skyline and where the Romans built a fort to guard the entrance to the Wantsum Channel – a short cut for ships to bypass the Isle of Thanet.
However this is the sensible place to turn back, because there are no more train stations past Herne Bay till Birchington. Indeed the inland return route is pleasant but unremarkable, so there is much to be said for letting the train take the strain back to Whitstable as it does twice an hour.
Nevertheless for the dedicated, the route turns south, through the town centre, over the motorway and on to Herne Village, which has a beautiful little church. Follow the A291 south west till you reach a turning to the right, where the road bends, now heading back towards the sea, till you reach the motorway. Here a lane runs parallel to it. The fields are pleasant, but the noise is not.
At Chestfield, turn briefly south towards the motorway again. Just before reaching it, another lane forks off to the right through countryside till you join the official cycle route of the Crab and Winkle Line which takes you back into Whitstable.
This is the most energetic of all the routes if you start and finish from your seaside holiday home on Whitstable’s West Beach. It starts westward with the outward part of the Marshes & Down route (Pink), loops further south and then rejoins the History Trail (Green) at Canterbury for the return leg. There are few opportunities to bail out en route, so this should only be considered by the seriously fit.
Where the Marshes & Downs route reaches the motorway, initially turn west towards Faversham but take the first country lane to the left i.e. south. This meanders gently up and down first past the 11th Century Boughton Church, then through farms till reaching Selling Station, where one can catch trains to Canterbury, if it seems that this excursion was over-ambitious.
Continue along flat country lanes south east to Chilham*. The Tudor village square retains its original character, if one is lucky enough to find it empty of cars and the Norman village church is worth a visit as are the gardens designed by Capability Brown for the Inigo Jones house, if they are open.
After leaving the village square by the south east corner, it is worth taking a small detour past the garage on the A28 over a level crossing to see the old mill and fishing ponds.
Now you can cycle down the valley of the Stour, which is here bigger than a stream but smaller than a navigable river and pass a series of lakes, which are tastefully reclaimed gravel pits and now full of wild life. After a short spell on the A28, a country lane turns left and passes over a small bridge before zigzagging along the southern side of the valley, climbing slowly towards Chartham Street.
Here you join another official cycle route towards Canterbury in pleasant countryside, with good views of the river but without serious climbs. It enters Canterbury over the motorway from the south west and meets the city walls at Canterbury East station, where trains from Selling and all stations from London arrive.Here the route takes up the History Trail described elsewhere