Viking Coastal Trail; Kent.
The Viking Coastal Trail is a circular route on the 'Isle of Thanet' in Kent, focusing on a costal course from 'Cliffsend' right through to 'Reculver' taking in the popular resorts of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate; with a cross country section to make this a circular route of approximately 32 miles. Most of the cycling is on well signposted paths, many right next to the sea and although it takes you through the main resorts which can be busy, much of the path connecting each were often very quiet; even on what was a glorious sunny September day.
I live in the neighbouring county of Surrey and I spent many a happy summer holiday in Kent during my childhood but oddly I have not visited that much since. A warm sunny September weather forecast coincided with some annual leave, so on the spur of the moment I booked a four night stay at the excellent Foxhunter Caravan Park in Monkton; conveniently on the route of the trail. Now Caravans were another of my fond childhood memories, the hiss and smell of Calor gas lighting and stove, condensation coating the walls, bathroom facilities in a freezing cold 'block' several light years walk away and bed linen made of sandpaper! As much as I was up for this trip down memory lane I confess I was somewhat relieved to say modern offerings by comparison have none of those errrrr qualities, they are amazing; a real home from home.
Leaving Margate the paths were right on the beach
My intention was to take my time, stop for lunch and later for an ice-cream (must be a '99' with a flake on holiday right?) and use this as a day out to soak in the views and embrace one of those late summer September sunny days before the cooler autumnal season would be with us, especially as we'd had what seemed like no summer this particular year so I was keen to squeeze in some 'feel good' sunbeams while I could!
As so much of the route was on shared coastal promenades and paths I knew today wasn't going to be about chasing a high average speed; if anything it was the polar opposite, this was a far more about 'chilling out' than 'working out'. I for one enjoy both kinds of cycling in equal measure so I was more than happy to stop frequently to admire yet another view worthy of a 'power pause' to my ride. A far as I'm concerned even a slow cycle ride warrants a treat or three along the way and there was ample opportunities along the coast to take a breather and buy something indulgent to enjoy.
Much of the route was literally right next to the sea
From my start point in Monkton I rode through the village of Minster then along quiet lanes to the coast at Cliffsend. As you'd expect the larger resorts of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate were busy so care is needed on the shared path, although all three are well worth visiting. The Margate to Reculver stretch is much quieter and I often stopped simply to take in the beauty of just what I was cycling through. There are still a few touristy spots, like Westgate, Westbrook and Minnis Bay, note some of these you can't cycle through between 1st May and 30th September, hardly a deal breaker as these stretches' didn't last more than a few minutes walking time for each. To be honest I really didn't mind these brief interruptions to my ride as I am a bit of a people watcher, all human life can often be seen at a waterfront; age groups from old couples in deckchairs reading a newspaper to youngsters laughing and screaming with pleasure as they play in the sea, watching everyone respectively enjoy and share the seaside was rather wonderful, I love it.
Sections between Margate and Reculver were very quiet
What did take me pleasantly by surprise was just how quiet and wide some sections of the path were especially in the less populated areas. This translates to moments where you can just switch off without having to concentrate on either running anyone over or wobbling into the sea! It was lovely to just waft along carefree embracing the pleasure of gentle cycling along the seafront, sometimes it's the simple things in life that can be rather life affirming, I had a slight tail wind, it was sunny and warm, the view was stunning and I knew that an ice-cream was just a few minutes cycle away; not going to deny it, I was a happy boy!
Dropping down to 'Epple Bay'
You do have to make sure you come off the path on the odd occasion where it can lead to a dead end; it may take you along side a meandering cliff but then stop abruptly at some of the more sticky-out bits for example (to use the technical geographical term). Even though I had plotted the course on my Garmin 810 GPS I had mentally switched off to the extent that more than once I got caught out and then either had to turn round, retrace the route to get back on course only to see a clear warning that it was in effect a dead end; or instead hoik my bike up numerous steps to the road above, much to the amusement of those I passed walking down who normally piped up with a cheery "good luck with that" as I struggled and puffed my way to the top! I was far to busy looking at the view to bother doing anything as mundane as reading a warning sign obviously!
As you approach Reculver the surrounding area becomes much quieter and far more open, seaside hamlets, cliffs and bays replaced with open flood plains and marshland as part of the 'Reculver Country Park' nature reserve, taking on a much different 'feel' to the earlier sections of the ride; different but just as spectacular none the less. The imposing Reculver Towers can be seen from quite a distance; gradually focusing and dominating your attention the closer you get.
The obligatory I've been to Reculver picture
After Reculver I turned away from the coast effectively back to my personal start of 'Monkton', note there is not much by way of refreshment options on the cross country section linking the coast, you may well have to wait until Minster unless a pub stop was on your radar. I enjoyed this section in part as the route takes you on a pretty cycle track along side the busy A299, which for me highlights one of the attractions of cycling, here I was riding along a lovely track right next to a busy carriage way; this contrast highlights for me just one of the many joys that cycling brings me.
The route runs safely along side the busy A299
Now yes I am a keen cyclist and I have quite a few bikes, including 'one' for 'work out' rides and 'another' for longer distances and tours, but my bicycle of choice for this ride was a thirty year old hybrid that I had literally made up of recycled and repaired broken bits, it was perfect for this ride, you really don't need to have anything expensive for this ride; there are plenty of modern equivalents of similar type and quality, the Trek FX range to name just one; most bike brands have something along these lines.
Cycle Track, I had it all to myself
Even an occasional cyclist with an average level of health and fitness should find this ride achievable, cycling can be as hard or as easy as you want it be after all, hills and headwind aside most of the time you can just bimble along with little effort, perfect for sight seeing and arguably you get to see more than walking. If you are new to cycling and don't want to ride the whole route; my suggestion would be from Ramsgate or Margate through to Reculver.
Most of the route is clearly marked
For those who want to follow my route for free on their smartphone the 'GPX Viewer app' is popular and has a 'free option'. Click on my route above; 'download map' - 'GPX Track', then email and download it to your phone, when you try to open it there should be a prompt to open in GPX Viewer. Note I would never use this as your solitary means of navigation, I simply based mine on the Viking Coastal Trail 'PDF' so it may not be a 100% replication; Ideally print off that PDF so you have another source of reference.