From Herne Bay to Reculver: A Walk into the Roman and Anglo-Saxon England

Herne Bay’s seafront.

You know when people go all dreamy when thinking about some remote destinations and devising some new travel plans while not fully appreciating the beauty or value of what lies nearby? Well, trying to go against that type of thinking myself, I decided to leave London and go out on a little foray into Kent County and explore some historic parts of England, namely Herne Bay and the abandoned village of Reculver with it’s allegedly haunted ruins of St. Mary’s Church.

HERNE BAY

The Victorian clock tower on the seafront in Herne Bay.

Being a small seaside town, Herne Bay itself isn’t perhaps on the top of the list of tourist destinations. But it wasn’t always the case. Until the mid 19th century it was indeed a village with a population of just a few thousand. What’s more, it was notorious for being the head-quarters of a smugglers’ gang. Yet once that problem had been sorted out, a group of London investors came down and realising the potential of the place decided to give it a bit of a makeover. This is how, at the dawn of the Victorian Age, Herne Bay was transformed into a prominent seaside resort. Out went fishing and in came tourism! The Victorians gave it a proper promenade, a railway station and what until 1978 used to be the longest pleasure pier in the whole of the United Kingdom. The best symbol of Victorian architecture and perhaps also Herne Bay’s heyday is the free-standing clock tower on the seafront. It is said to be the very first purpose-built clock tower in the whole world! Whether it’s true or not we can only wonder during those long winter nights. However, the fact remains that it is a very pretty legacy of an age long gone by and together with the pier definitely a highlight of Herne Bay’s seafront.

The shingle beach between Herne Bay and Reculver at low tide.

RECULVER

Herne Bay, Reculverm, Beach, England, theindietraveller.com

The beach between Herne Bay and Reculver.

If you walk along the concrete seafront in the eastern direction, eventually you will reach a shingle (pebble) beach. At that point you will be able to climb on the grassy hill and continue walking east along the top of it. On a sunny day it’s great place to have a picnic. Just stop for a while and enjoy the peace and quiet while basking in the sun and listening to the sound of the sea. Oh tranquility!

If you don’t take the trail up on the hill, you can keep on walking along the shingle beach which is considerably more tiring as your feet sink in the pebbles with every step. The beach walk can be easier if you happen to be here when the tide is out. Then you will be able to walk on firm seabed. It’s quite a sight actually, because the seabed that the retreating water uncovers is strewn with hundreds of large flat rocks which have been completely overgrown with some grassy type of seaweed. The resulting image reminds one a bit of some massive lawn that’s been cut into jigsaw pieces.

Reculver.

Continue eastwards and you soon will spot Reculver. It is easily recognisable by two church towers sitting precariously on top of a cliff. These towers, or Twin Sisters as they came to be called, belong to the ruined church of St. Mary’s. These ruins are in fact what’s left of the ancient village whose history goes all the way back to the Celtic times of the pre-Roman Britain. You might wonder why has a settlement with such a long history been abandoned. Well, the reason behind Reculver’s downfall is Nature herself and the unforgiving coastal erosion.

The twin towers of the Church of St. Mary’s. Reculver.

When 2,000 years ago the Romans built their fort called Regulbium in here, the sea was over 1 mile away (or 2km). After the Romans left Britain, the Anglo-Saxons eventually turned the site into a monastery. This is how in 669AD the Church of St. Mary’s was established. Yet all along the merciless sea kept taking away 1 to 2 metres of the shore a year! Owing to this amazing speed of erosion, already before the 19th century started the village of Reculver nearly completely fell into the waters. What remained were a few houses occupied by smugglers. The two twin towers of the already abandoned and partially demolished St. Mary’s Church were also spared because they served as points of reference to mariners.

THE GHOST MYSTERY

Ruined walls of St. Mary’s Church, build on the site of the old Roman fort Regulbium.

Even though Reculver’s about to fade into the past, it still has its mysteries. One of them are the shrieks of a crying infant that allegedly are heard on the site every now and then. What makes this story even more intriguing is the fact that archeologists discovered infant skeletons right underneath the walls of the old Roman fort. Whether they were buried dead or alive is unclear, but the burial definitely took place in the Roman times, a few hundred years before the establishment of St. Mary’s monastery. There remains nothing else to do but go and find out for yourself if the infants can indeed be heard. I personally didn’t hear a peep, but who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky – if that type of creepy things gets your motor running, that is. For others I recommend a bask in the sun and a stroll round this ancient site. Photography fans also will find cool shots around here. Enjoy your day trip!

Reculver.

USEFUL TIPS FOR ORAGNISING A DAY TRIP:

  1. TRAVEL – Take the train from London Victoria station to Herne Bay. You can check departure times on the National Rail website. The train journey is about 1h30mins.
  2. THE WALK – The distance between Herne Bay and Reculver is about 3 miles (5 km). So, depending on whether you stop over somewhere on the beach or along the trail, it can take you from 1h to perhaps 2h one way. The terrain is very walkable and mostly flat.
  3. FOOD – Apart from the thing I already mentioned, i.e. bringing a picnic with you, Herne Bay being a seaside town should have some fresh seafood available. Things you might want to try are:
    • Eel pie and mash, although I have to say, eel pie is one of those foods that you have to acquire a taste for. Personally, I still haven’t managed to, but maybe you will.
    • Oysters! Near Reculver there’s an oyster hatchery. On the Kent coast oysters are a staple so if you’re in here during harvest times, make sure you try some. Or better yet, head to the nearby Whitstable for their annual oyster festival!
  4. HERNE BAY FESTIVAL – If you’re around in August, then why not join the walk with a local festivities. I’m sure you’ll find something of interest. For more details check links below.

USEFUL LINKS:

  1. National Rail – www.nationalrail.co.uk
  2. Visit Canterbury – www.canterbury.co.uk
  3. Kent County Council, Reculver Walk (includes a PDF and a map!!!) – www.kent.gov.uk/leisure_and_culture/countryside_and_coast/walking/reculver_walk.aspx
  4. Herne Bay Festival – www.hernebayfestival.com
  5. Whitstable Oyster Festival – www.whitstableoysterfestival.com

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