Walk 81: Broadstairs Town Walk: A Dickens of a lovely place

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.5 miles (2.4km)

Time to walk: Probably only about 1 hour if you walked it continuously, but there’s shops etc to pop into so it’s just a leisurely stroll

Difficulty: Easy & all on hard paths with a few short uphill sections – plus the beach if you fancy a paddle

Parking: In summer Broadstairs gets really congested so use one of the public car parks on the outskirts & walk in

Public toilets: Quite a few public ones all over town

Map of the route:

map

This is the third of our short summer walks on our expedition to the north coast of Kent. We weren’t intending to go to Broadstairs, but it was a gorgeous, hot day & the beach was calling (as it was to several other thousand people!)

Broadstairs lies on the Isle of Thanet about 80 miles east of London. Situated between Margate & Ramsgate, Broadstairs is one of Thanet’s seaside resorts, known as the “Jewel in Thanet’s crown”. The town’s crest motto is Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”). The name comes from a former flight of steps in the chalk cliff, which led from the sands up to the 11th century shrine of St Mary on the cliff’ top

The town is brim full of nostalgic, old world, seaside charm. Sandy bays meet surf schools. Fishermen’s cottages meet Charles Dickens connections. Retro ice-cream parlours meet chic shops. Broadstairs was Charles Dickens’ favourite holiday spot & there’s many connections with him around the town as we’ll see

Ready to explore? Then…

Lets Walk!

1. We start today’s walk in Harbour Street at one of Broadstairs most iconic places…York Gate. It also means we can finish near a well known watering hole so everything makes sense

img_9877

In 1440, an archway was built by George Culmer across a track leading down to the sea, where the first wooden pier or jetty was built in 1460. A more enduring structure was to replace this in 1538, when the road leading to the seafront, known as Harbour Street, was cut into the rough chalk ground on which Broadstairs is built, by another George Culmer. Going further in defence of the town, he built the current York Gate in 1540, a portal that then held two heavy wooden doors that could be closed in times of threat from the sea

2. On the right’s the fabulous Palace Cinema – book & fight to get a seat!

img_9859

In 1965, following the closure of other cinemas in the town, local cinema entrepreneur Jack Field converted the building into the 155 seat Windsor Cinema

In 1986 & again in 2006, it changed hands, each time refurbished & kept up to date with the latest cinema technology. In 2006, by then with 111 seats, it became the Palace Cinema. New owners Colin Jay & Sean Mills fitted it out with the highest quality digital projection, surround sound & large screen. For a few years it was also home to an illuminated cinema organ. The Palace Cinema changed hands most recently in March 2016

3. Continue down the road towards the harbour…

img_9864

In 1455 shipbuilding was the most important growth industry & in 1538 George Culmer built the first pier to protect his shipyard in Harbour Street

img_9869

4. The current pier dates back to Tudor times & retains many of its original structures. Above is the 300 year old lookout building which has some amazing carvings

They are the Highlander…

img_9868

…& The Grecian

img_9867

5. Why not take a stroll along the pier as there’s a great view across the beach & you can also try & pick out your sun bathing spot

img_9872

Now…there’s lot’s of signs along the pier saying jumping is strictly forbidden…yes, strictly forbidden so don’t you dare! Oh….

img_9873

Have to say though it was great to see the local youth enjoying what they’d got on their doorsteps

img_9874

6. To continue the route we need to return to the cinema & turn left up the narrow path by the way marker. As it was such a gorgeous day we couldn’t resist an hour on the beach, even though it was very crowded

img_9829

img_9830

This is real old style beach holiday with prizes for the best hut & sandcastle, plus a traditional Punch & Judy Show

img_9827

7. Walk back to the cinema looking for the path described above. The Broadstairs Sailing Club has its headquarters here & boasts of Edward Heath as one of its most famous members for 53 years

img_9858

The path climbs steadily up from the beach. Look out for the tourist information booth on the way – an excellent selection of information. Just behind this is our next point of interest…Dickens House Museum

img_9833

The museum is housed in the cottage that was Charles Dickens’ inspiration for the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. David’s description of Betsey’s cottage with its square gravelled garden full of flowers & a parlour of old fashioned furniture still fits today

The character Betsy Trotwood is based on Miss Mary Pearson Strong who lived in the cottage that is now the museum. According to the reminiscences of Charles Dickens’ son Charley, he & his father regularly had tea & cakes in the parlour with the kindly & charming Miss Mary Pearson Strong. He also remembers that Miss Pearson Strong was completely convinced of her right to stop the passage of donkeys along the cliff top in front of her cottage

8. Continue along the cliff-top path as it sweeps round the other side of Viking Bay. Viking Bay’s one of Broadstairs’ seven bays & got its name following the celebration of the 1500th anniversary of the landing here by Hengist & Horsa in 449

Stop at the Jubilee Clock Tower which commemorates Queen Victoria‘s Diamond Jubilee…

img_9840

It was destroyed by fire in the 1970s & its replacement celebrated the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

9. You also get a great view from here back across the bay…

img_9837

Turn round & walk towards the Bandstand which is set in Victoria Gardens. The gardens were opened in 1892 by Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. Many outdoor events are held here each year & it provides in a great setting

img_9841

10. Continue up the hill & cross the main road. There’s a blue plaque on the building here showing that is was once the Carlton Hotel. Several members of the British Athletics Team stayed here prior to their departure for the Paris Olympic Games in 1924. Their running along the Broadstairs beach was immortalised in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’, although the beach used in the film was St Andrews in Scotland

Turn left into the elegant Chandos Square with its flint faced houses. In Wellington’s day there was a gun battery housing three cannons. The square is also home to one of the oldest hexagonal postboxes in England dating from the time of Queen Victoria

post

11. What we’ve come into the square to see though is the house at the end which has a plaque dedicated to Oliver Postgate, creator of The Clangers, Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss, Pingwings, Pogles’ Wood & Noggin the Nog

img_9843

img_9844

12. Continue straight past the above house along Victoria Parade, turning left onto John Street & then right into Charlotte Street to arrive at the junction with the High Street. If you’re feeling hungry there’s two really good bakeries on the corner here….’Crusties‘ & ‘The Old Bakehouse‘ which specialises in artisan breads

The large white building on the right’s the Royal Albion hotel…

img_9845

The hotel’s been here since 1776. Look closer as there’s a plaque on the wall showing that Charles Dickens once lived here & also wrote part of ‘Nicholas Nickleby‘ here

img_9846

13. Turn around & walk up the High Street…

img_9847

On the left is yet another plaque above a greeting card shop. This is another former residence of Mr Dickens & where he wrote part of ‘Pickwick Papers

img_9849

If you arrived in Broadstairs by train then the station’s at the top of the road

14. Walk back & past the Albion Hotel down Albion Street…

img_9850

…passing St Mary’s Chapel which was built on the site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Bradstow’s Shrine. The ‘Shrine of Our Ladye Star of the Sea’ was an old chapel on the cliffs in Broadstairs (which was formerly known as Bradstowe). Dating back at least to the 1350s, the two towers of the chapel were a major landmark for sailors in the area. Given the veneration in which the shrine was held, the custom developed of ships dipping their top sails to salute the shrine as they sailed past it

img_9852

The Chapel of St. Mary’s structural remains are incorporated in the modern facade, situated on the site of what has been said also to be the oldest surviving building still standing in contemporary Broadstairs

15. Pass the very inviting chippy with the bloke at the door trying to get you to come inside & buy…

img_9853

…turning right down Harbour Street, stopping at The Old Curiosity Shop , which was originally two cottages with a well serving houses in nearby Union Square

img_9857

Unfortunately this rather nice little gift shop & cafe (nice coffee) doesn’t have any connection at all with the Dickens novel

16. Continue down Harbour Street to arrive back at York Gate where we started our walk. In summer this road is really busy & you can see the cars queued back to get through the arch (one at a time)…

img_9861

So that’s our very warm, very busy, summer’s walk around lovely Broadstairs. This really is a traditional pretty English seaside town & definitely the “Jewel in Thanet’s Crown” so…

Go Walk!