The following guide was submitted by one of our customers, Christian, who spends a lot of time using his e-bike on the coast, where the e-assistance helps riders cut through the coastal headwinds.
Key facts: Reculver – Initially a Roman fort. Then in the 12th-century, monks built the church with its landmark towers. Kent CT6 6SS Google Maps says: 7.9 miles, 39 mins, “mostly flat”.
When I was a nipper, holidaying in Cliftonville, the mystical twin towers of Reculver were visible in the distance. They were supposed to be about to fall into the sea – or estuary, I think. The stuff of legends and childrens’ fantasies. Fifty-five years later with substantial sea protection in place, the towers of the 12th Century monastic church (see below), are still standing.
So, Reculver/Margate/Cliftonville has always had a special place in my heart.
Fast forwarding to now, it is the starting place for our favourite cycle ride – a ride made even more pleasant by our Bosch-powered Scott bikes. Basically nearly all of it is on sea walls, therefore fairly flat and, almost all, off road…
The Route From London take the A2/M2, onto the A299. After Herne Bay and Bettinge, turn left and follow signs to Reculver. Follow narrow winding roads, going past caravan sites to the pay-and-display car park (approx £2.50 – all day) by the side of the church towers. First tip: get there early as it fills early with cyclists, walkers and twitchers. It is an English Heritage site and there is a Kent Wildlife Centre so there is a shop, cafe and toilet. Cycle out of the car park, turn right and sharp left immediately after the pub (make a note). The path takes you round the pub and the monument onto the sea wall. The first part of the journey is all upon the sea wall with the shingle beach and sea on the left and Chislet Marshes with lots of bird life, to your right.
The route takes you to Minnis Bay, around Birchington, Westgate-on-Sea, Westbrook and into Margate itself. There are various places where you have to dismount because, during the summer the beach huts are buzzing. Weekenders and holidaymakers cooking gently on sun loungers and crazed kids and excited dogs zig zagging all over the place. Fair enough. So, a convenient time to use the conveniences and re-hydrate with a mug of builders’ strength seaside tea. There is one point – Epple Bay, where you have to come up onto the road because the path on the other side of the bay ends. The route turns right up a cobbled ramp, it’s got a narrow entry so watch your approach when it’s busy, as anyone trying to emulate a Paris-Roubaix climb would probably swing onto it with pace. When you reach the top, turn left onto Epple Bay road which swings around a green space and a golf course (on the right) and becomes Sea Road. It is a short distance with a cycle lane and soon you come down and around to Westgate Bay and back onto the sea wall. Even at Margate the pavement is meant to be shared with pedestrians But frankly it can be so busy, you may as well drop onto the road. We go round to the Turner Gallery overlooking the old harbour. Just beforehand there is Peter’s Fish Factory. We normally queue up and get fish n’ chips and the cycle round the harbour promontory and catch a bench to eat in the sunshine – if you’re lucky. If you want something more ‘elevating’ and healthy, there is the restaurant cafe in the gallery itself.
Google Maps says its 7.9 miles and 39 mins, “mostly flat”. My ‘on-board computer’ computed it at more like 11 miles and we took over an hour, possibly more. The journey is easy and straightforward enough for a ‘manual’ bike. The nice thing is on the way back there is invariably a head or cross wind. That is where you really appreciate the motor. A gentle nudge up to ‘touring’ or ‘sport’ and the return leg is nowhere near as arduous.
HISTORY – according to English Heritage Two thousand years ago the geography of this area was very different. The Wantsum, a sea channel up to 3 miles wide, cut off the Isle of Thanet from the mainland, and the Roman fort of Reculver stood on a promontory at the north end of the channel where it joined the Thames estuary. Today the Wantsum has silted up and become dry land.
ROMAN FORT The Romans conquered Britain under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43. Under Aulus Plautius the Roman armies landed unopposed, but there was debate as to the location of the invasion. A strong candidate was the Wantsum channel, and parts of fortifications of the Claudian period have been found both at Richborough and Reculver, located at opposite ends of the Wantsum. Both sites played a role in the earliest years of the conquest.
During the 1st and 2nd centuries a Roman settlement grew up at Reculver, probably around a harbour. The size of this settlement is unknown as coastal erosion has destroyed much of the evidence.
In the early 3rd century a fort was built. This was nearly square, with rounded corners, and measured 180 metres by 175 metres (590 feet by 574 feet). Its flint walls were backed with earth ramparts and surrounded by two ditches 10 metres (33 feet) wide. This was one of the very earliest of the forts of the Saxon Shore, built against Saxon raids, and was traditional in its plan.
Later Saxon Shore forts (Richborough, Pevensey, Portchester) were built to a new model with projecting bastions. The walls and two of the four gates (south and east) can still be seen.
RELIGIOUS SITE By the 5th century the Romans had abandoned their defence of Britain and the fort at Reculver had fallen into disuse.
An Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded on the site in 669, reusing the existing defences, and the church of St Mary was built near the centre of the earlier fort. Documentary evidence suggests that the site had ceased to function as a monastic house by the 10th century, after which time the church became the parish church of Reculver.
Remodelling of the church in the 12th century included the addition of tall twin towers.
The medieval church was partly demolished in 1805, when much of the stone was reused to construct a new church on higher ground at Hillborough, but the twin towers were left. They were bought, repaired and underpinned by Trinity House in 1809.