There’s a longish climb to get out of Folkestone, a short ride before you’re whizzing back down to sea level at Dover, through the port and up to the top of the famous White Cliffs, from which the views back to Dover Castle are spectacular.
First stop of the day was Deal where I dropped in on Valerie Owen, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects and a local practitioner who gave me a potted history of the town: Henry Vlll’s three castles at Deal, Walmer and Sandown built to keep out the French, the smugglers and the wreckers who plundered shipwrecks on the Goodwin Sands, and the strong community ties that exist in the historic town. I then enjoyed a ride around the older parts of Deal, the Marine Barracks and the pier but was somewhat miffed at all the No Cycling signs, particularly on the pier where you aren’t even allowed to take your bike onto the pier let alone ride it.
When I got to Sandwich the toll bridge across the River Stour was closed for maintenance. The bridge should have taken me on what looked like a pleasant ride across the Sandwich Estate, instead, I was forced to use the busy dual carriageway A256 to get to Ramsgate, passing Discovery Park, the former HQ of pharmaceutical company Pfizer who moved away in 2011 devastating the economy of the area. Discovery Park is now multi-occupied and rebranded as ‘Kent’s leading science park’.
There is nice sweep down into Ramsgate and the Royal Harbour which forms the focus of the pretty town - spoilt somewhat by a hideous Travelodge Hotel. Apparently, Ramsgate is the only Royal Harbour in the country: it got its name from George lV who enjoyed his time there in 1821. The adjacent Ramsgate Port handles freight and passenger services, acts as a support centre for the London Array, Thanet Offshore and Kentish Flats wind farms as well as accommodating the Ramsgate fishing fleet. Most boats work within the 6 or 12-mile limits catching sole, skate, plaice and cod as well as shellfish. Local Conservative MP Craig MacKinley is bullish about the future of local fisheries post-Brexit: “I anticipate a significant dividend for our local under 10m fleet,” he says.
Then on through Broadstairs to Margate on a really lovely ride, much of it along sea defences with cliffs to the left of me and lapping waves to the right. The entrance to Margate itself is disappointing - as you turn the corner into The Parade you are greeted by the backside of Chipperfield’s Turner Gallery, not one of my favourite buildings even from the front, it’s not a great welcome to the town. I do wonder just how much culture can really impact on local economies like Margate’s. I came across a rather good blog by Paul Swinney of the Centre for Cities who questions whether the brand recognition created by cultural projects brings with it an equivalent economic impact. The £68 million reportedly generated by the Turner Gallery would only equate to a maximum 0.5% of the total money created in the Thanet economy over that time, “a positive, but small number.”
What such interventions do, says Swinney, is to make such towns attractive places to live and with high-speed connections London they open up the possibility of Margate acting as a suburb of the capital. “The data offers some evidence of this happening – around 8,500 more people moved to Thanet (the local authority that Margate sits in) than moved to London between 2009 and 2017. This clearly is not a solution for a more isolated place like Scarborough or Grimsby.”
I carried on along to Reculver and the striking towers of the ruined medieval church which dominate views of Herne Bay and act as a navigation marker for ships - as they had for me for the last ten miles or so. Then to Whitstable, the poster child of regenerated seaside communities. Today it is celebrated for its oysters but the industry had practically died out in the 1950s. Today good train links to London make it a draw for day-trippers, ostreaphiles and foodies generally.
Then on to Faversham for the night.
Folkestone to Faversham 118km 832m