Creating doorstep adventures is helping local resident Bryony Bishop beat the winter (and Covid) blues. Here are 7 naturally socially distanced ways the Viking Coastal Trail can become the balm for your soul during lockdown, and beyond.
As a Thanetian, I’m attuned to the seasonal charms that befall Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate at this time of year. But I’ve never added ‘coping with a global pandemic’ to the get ready for winter list before. Lockdown 2.0 felt like frostbite. Sun, sea swims and the great outdoors got me through spring and summer. But what now, with cool, coastal climes, less daylight hours, a drop in energy and motivation as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) hits, further restrictions, and the simple radius of my locale for visiting?
I’d usually indulge in cosy ‘hygge’ - the Danish term for enjoying simple things at home – but with so much time spent indoors, it was ‘Friliftsliv’, the Norwegian ‘Free-air-life’ concept of enjoying the outdoors that I needed to embrace. I had to find something to activate and inspire me, focus and free me to combat the feeling and experience of being restricted, all outside and on my doorstep.
The Viking Coastal Trail is a 32 mile (51.4km and Regional Cycle Network 15), circular route around the Isle of Thanet, and slightly further afield, that takes in the coast, countryside, and the Isle’s wonderfully varied towns and villages, all on level traffic-free or low-traffic promenades and lanes. I had enjoyed elements of the trail in the past, but for winter, and this pandemic, it was to become an outdoor playground!
Here are 7 naturally socially distanced Viking Coastal Trail doorstep adventures to help banish the winter (and Covid) blues and fall in love with being close to home:
1. Well-being Walks
Pace out pandemic weariness by walking your way well. A stroll (or stomp) looking out to sea can be a form of meditation. Wrap up warm and take a mindful meander around one or a few of the Isle’s beautiful beaches and bays (there are 16 to choose from). Saunter solo or with your household/bubble and let dramatic coastal scenery, fresh salty air and nature help clear the mind, calm and soothe, particularly on those challenging days.
A favourite route of mine is from the famed beauty spot Botany Bay to Kingsgate Bay and Joss Bay, walking past the North Foreland Lighthouse, then along to Stone Bay. I love seeing Thanet’s 19-mile coastline and millennia-old chalk line stretch out before me with each step.
It doesn’t matter for how long or how far you go, use walking to redefine SAD as Stroll, Air, Dare – get outdoors for a wander, breathe the sea air in deeply, amble somewhere new - cloud gaze, daydream, play I Spy… it’s a mind over matter moment/hour/morning or afternoon.
For a self-guided walking experience, try the Turner and Dickens Walk between Margate and Broadstairs and enhance your cultural knowledge at the same time. Or listen to a Visit Thanet podcast. Find wheelchair-accessible bays through Beach Within Reach.
2. History Hour
Lunch break, new morning routine, family activity - turn back time with a heritage hour or two – use the Isle’s digital discovery plaques as a starting point to explore the Isle’s long and varied history, visiting local landmarks en route. Who was Joss Snelling and what infamous escapades did he get up to? What is the Italianate Glasshouse in Ramsgate’s King George VI Memorial Park and why was it built?
Travel to and between different spots on the trail, looking out for the eye-catching plaques, enter the code, then hear, watch and read fascinating #DidYouKnow facts and secrets as you go. Some of my favourite ones are along the stretch from Westbrook to Margate Lido. Pop out to find those most local to you or make a day of it. You could even play a quiz once you are home, to test your new-found knowledge.
3. Outdoor Classroom
Let the Isle assist you in homeschooling by taking the classroom outdoors. Become a marine wildlife aficionado or seaside detective, using these coastal activity resources to guide you around rock pools (West Bay is particularly good), learn about chalk formation, spot and identify the creatures that live in the sea, go history hunting, bird spotting and practice those map navigation skills.
We explored Pegwell Bay fully for the first time in lockdown and it was a revelation - geography, history and the natural sciences all come to life, and will fill the home syllabus with fun and adventure. It’s internationally renowned for geological significance, home to seashore birds and wildlife found nowhere else in East Kent.
Viking ship 'Hugin' at Cliffsend is close by for delving into Thanet’s extraordinary past – why not pretend you’re the legendary warrior brothers Hengist and Horsa who invaded Britain here in 449 AD – discuss what their journey would have been like, what food did they eat, what did they think when they first stepped onto our land?
Continue along the Viking Coastal Trail for a lesson in R.E. Recount the birth of Christianity at Minster, where St Augustine began his pilgrimage to Canterbury, becoming the city’s first Archbishop. Follow part of the ‘Way of St Augustine’ around the village, learning the story of Minster Abbey - England’s first monastery, founded in 670 AD. Then take a pitstop at the Celtic stone cross, erected in 1884 to commemorate where St Augustine celebrated the first mass to the Abbey before his pilgrimage.
4. Compare and Contrast
Countryside one moment, coastal the next - that’s the beauty of the Viking Coastal Trail - it takes you around the coastline and inland to lesser known but just as captivating villages and rural scenes, showcasing Thanet’s rich landscape. Pack a picnic and create a ‘my Viking Coastal Trail passport’ with the kids, ticking off key locations as you go.
I’ve delighted in doorstep adventures beyond the seafront, cycling along quiet country lanes, surrounded by trees and listening to birdsong.
The stretch from St Nicholas at Wade to Reculver is a particular treat, moving from rolling fields to the iconic Roman fort, Reculver Towers. Just outside of Thanet, (and a connecting point for the Oyster Bay Trail to Herne Bay and Whitstable) this landmark and the surrounding landscape of pebbles, tide breakers and look-out stations offers a reminder of East Kent’s historic role not just for pleasure, but as an island for defence
There’s so much to learn more about, why not take a notebook out with you, write down things of interest then explore them further at home online at www.visitthanet.co.uk
Move onwards to Minnis Bay for a stunning seafront promenade experience, with farmland on one side and the sea on the other. Take five to hunt for crustaceans in the paddling pool.
5. Location, Location, Location
For pure escapism and fantasy, taking different routes around the streets close to you, exploring roads you’ve never had reason to venture down before, can become an inspiring daily 30-minute ‘architecture adventure’. We often go to Birchington, Westgate and Westbrook, looking out for unusual buildings, adorning features, blue plaques, ghost signs – many things we never made time to see before. Resplendent residential design greets you in Westgate, where the first British bungalows were built in 1869 to 1870. Westbrook mixes historic and contemporary with fused buildings such as the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital. The Isle has an abundance of architectural gems – classic seaside architecture, charming squares and crescents, Georgian delights, one-off curios such as the Shell Grotto, Margate Caves and the Tudor House, as well as feats of engineering and design, like the Ramsgate Tunnels, Pugin’s The Grange and the beautiful Ramsgate Royal Harbour. There are approximately 2,500 listed buildings in Thanet, and 27 conservation areas, all ready for you to sightsee.
Add to the experience by playing a game of ‘Kirsty and Phil’s Love It or List It’, ‘Who lived in a house like this?’ or see how streets once were by visiting the online SEAS photography archive.
6. Creative Capers
Thanet has been a magnet for artists, writers, musicians and performers for centuries and no wonder. Unlock your creativity by connecting with the Isle’s cultural heritage and community. ‘Turner’ your time outdoors into an art class by drawing / painting the views en plein air (in the open air), like Britain’s best-loved painter and frequent Margate visitor, the Victorian painter JMW Turner.
He was so enraptured that he declared the Isle had “the loveliest skies in all Europe” – no surprise with the sensational sunrises and sunsets our peninsula witnesses.
Unleash that book within by writing a paragraph a day or read stories that were written in Thanet or took inspiration from the Isle – John Buchan’s 39 Steps, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and contemporary authors such as Jane Wenham Jones.
Fancy 5 minutes of fame? Take a trip to the Isle’s top film and TV locations, where Emile Sande, Brenda Blethyn, Chris O’Dowd, and even David Schwimmer have all been on shoot.
7. Game Plan
The Viking Coastal Trail is the ultimate training track or outdoor P.E venue. Pick and mix routes or take up the challenge of completing the entire route – the choice is yours. For charity, as part of a team (relayed at separate times) or just for fun, you can run, cycle (duathlon anyone?), skateboard, fly a kite, frisbee, play tennis, or geocache.
One sunny wintry day we packed our picnic, pumped up the bike tyres and cycled the entire 32-mile trail, starting out from Margate Old Town to Minnis Bay, along to Reculver, looping round through the countryside of St Nicholas at Wade, Monkton and Minster to Cliffsend where we stopped for an obligatory Instagram photo shoot. Onwards to Ramsgate seafront, looking out over the boats bobbing at the Royal Harbour and spotting France in the distance, through King George VI Memorial Park, coming to the secluded Dumpton Gap before a pitstop (a Morelli’s takeaway ice cream!) at quintessential Broadstairs, before the final stretch from Stone Bay around the coast to Walpole Bay and home. We felt a huge sense of satisfaction and experienced the Isle in a totally new way.
Spending time in one place can feel constraining, but with a little bit of planning and a dose of imagination, you can 'Escape the Everyday', keeping your social distance whilst nourishing your wellbeing. Explore the Viking Coastal Trail your way, ready to share all the new things you’ve learnt, discovered and experienced with those you love when the time comes for them to visit again.
Please remember to 'Respect and Protect Thanet’s coastline' when you take your doorstep adventures.