“ A stunning 43.5km (27 mile) cycle route „
The Viking Trail is a marked cycle route in the eastern part of Kent. It's a large circular route of around 36 miles (some elements aren't fully completed, so the route is quoted at 27 miles on the guides) which covers Margate, Westgate on Sea, Birchington on Sea, across the countryside to Cliffsend, Ramsgate, Broadstairs and then back into Margate.
I completed this route in April 2009, and it was a beautiful part of the countryside to explore. The route is still partly under construction in places, and you can choose to either complete the whole route or cover the six individual trails that are laid out.
The six mini routes vary in length from just a couple of miles to just over ten miles, and are entitled the Six Churches route, History route, Historic Broadstairs route, Path of St Augustine's route, Smuggers' Haunts route and the beaches route. Some of these routes overlap with each other.
The church route, which is just under ten miles long, covers churches in Monkton, Minster, Ebbsfleet and Ramsgate. For time reasons (of trying to complete the route in one day!) I didn't enter any of these churches, but did see St Augustine's Cross at Ebbsfleet which marked where the first Mass was reported to have taken place in 597AD.
The history route, which is just four miles long, is a section which might be of interest to children. It passes by the full-size replica viking boat which actually sailed to the harbour, past the Royal Harbour, parks, greenhouse and also Ramsgate Maritime Museum. Nearby to the viking boat replica is the saddle sore cafe where we stopped, a good range of snacks at good prices with friendly staff.
The Broadstairs route is three miles long, past the outskirts of the town, past the Dickens House Museum and the Crampton Tower Museum. This is just a small part of the route, so is best covered with another section, such as the history route, which joins onto the Broadstairs section.
The Path of St Augustine's route is four miles long and covers some of the church route, again passing by St Augustine's Cross, and if you take a small detour, is near to Monkton Nature Reserve.
The most interesting section for me was the three and a half mile long Smuggler's route, which goes past Joss Bay, named after the infamous smuggler Joss Snelling who plied the caves along this area in the mid 1700s. Smuggling ended when Margate harbour was built, which is on this route. If you detour down the cliffs you can see the caves network, but be careful of being caught by the tide.
The Beaches route is just over five miles long and covers the Margate section of the harbour, with numerous activities for children, such as the beaches, adventure golf, and lots of bays.
However, back to the route as a whole, all 36 miles of it! The route was reasonably challenging, with numerous hill climbs and a couple of steep climbs up the cliffs to get back on cliff-top paths after cycling along the promenade. There was nothing very onerous, but for those cyclists who want an easier route, they are best to just do the coastal parts of the route around Margate and Ramsgate where most of the cycling is along the promenade.
Signage wise, the route was well marked throughout, with literally hundreds of signs. There were some signs which had been turned round at some stage to point the wrong way, but it was normally obvious where the direction of the route was. There were some strange signage decisions, especially in Broadstairs where the cycling route was sent down some quite narrow lanes where many people were walking. Inevitably therefore there were some very short parts where it was necessary to get off the bike and walk those small sections.
Refreshments wise we stopped in Reculver and near the viking replica ship, but being so near the tourist resorts, there are many places to stop throughout the route. There is though a large section through the countryside where inevitably such stops are less frequent.
Maps wise, the council have issued a map of the Viking Trail, which is more than sufficient for the built-up areas. However it is sensible to take an Ordnance Survey map when cycling through the countryside section of the bike ride, as signage there is at its weakest. It is also relatively easy to drift onto public footpaths by mistake off the route, where technically cycles shouldn't always be. There are some small sections where gates have been installed to stop cycles getting through, so a map is useful in avoiding these.
All in all, the money and effort spend in constructing this route was very well spent. The ride was enjoyable and challenging, and covered countryside, coastal area, built-up tourist areas and quieter residential areas. There is much to see in the area if you only wanted to complete a part of the route, and it was pleasing to see how much signage there was for the route.
For anyone in Kent, or from further afield who is on holiday in the area, this is a great way to start to get fit, as 36 miles in total will likely leave you feeling somewhat tired!