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

The Rochester Dickens Festival

Rochester Castle. England.

The Rochester Castle.

Rochester is a small town in Kent county, south-east England. Its history dates back all the way to the pre-Roman times, so over 2,000 years ago! On arrival one might think it is a pretty little place. Conveniently located by the River Medway, Rochester sports a beautiful medieval cathedral and a well preserved Rochester Castle which is famed for the 1215 siege that lasted for 2 whole months.

England. Rochester High Street

Rochester High Street.

I passed through Rochester a number of times when on a train journey to or from London. Observed from the window of a train, the medieval cozy high street and the wonderfully rectangular fortress always succeeded to catch my attention, making me wish for a stroll around the town’s small streets and stop over for a pint of ale in the local pub. Yet it wasn’t until the summer of 2011 when I finally set foot in Rochester and it was not due to the medieval charm of the above-mentioned attractions but due to Rochester’s other draw of quite a different nature: its annual Dickens Festival.

Participants of the Dickens Festival parade.

Ever thought what it would be like to live in the Victorian times or find yourself for a little while in the world you saw in the BBC’s TV adaptation of Bleak House? Well, think no more and head to Rochester for a fantastic day. I did so, with a bunch of friends, and shortly after leaving the station we started running into more and more people wearing period clothing. When we finally reached the lovely High Street we were greeted by band of Scottish buskers – playing bagpipes, naturally. The further we went the bigger the number of people we encountered wearing wonderfully detailed costumes. It was a sign – the parade was due to start soon – so my friends and I hurried to find a good spot on the pedestrianised street from where we and other out-of-towners could admire the procession, and take some great pictures too!

Participants of the Dickens Festival parade.

Stunning costume! Yet another participant of the parade.

The highlight of the Rochester Dickens Festival is, undoubtedly, the early afternoon parade. It draws crowds of people: travellers like me, families with kids, people from neighbouring towns, etc. And it’s quite a sight too! Some of the costumes are simply stunning and make you think if someone here hasn’t actually got them from a high-budget period drama set.

As I stood there with my friends, I beheld all sorts of characters taken from Dickens’ novels and other people in splendid attire. I saw little East End boys going past, soldiers of the 19th century British Empire long gone, ghosts bound in chains, ladies in fabulous dresses, men in top hats, petty thieves, beggars, and, yes, Scrouge himself! The parade is definitely a sight and an experience. If you’re a tourist visiting England, then on a lovely sunny afternoon in June you could probably think of very few more interesting things to do, particularly if you are after something that doesn’t necessarily feature in your standard guidebook.

The parade passing through the High Street.

The end of the parade is not the end of attractions. There are street acts done by local students, there are Victorian plays being performed and the best thing is that you can see them for free!  The Victorian play we saw was particular amusing as it involved the audience to a great extent. So there we sat, in the Guildhall Museum, booing and shushing and shouting and cheering – generally having awesome fun – while we watched the actors doing a great job of bringing Victorian comedy drama to new spectators.

England Rochester Love Lane

Love Lane in Rochester.

Usually before I travel somewhere I do a bit of research. I did so too before going to Rochester. Had I not done it, I would have never known of the existence of a tiny little street a few minutes walk west of the castle – Love Lane. Agreed, it might not be a must-see item on your Rochester things-to-do-and-see list, but it struck a romantic chords somewhere within me and I just had to go. After all, 10 minutes walk both ways plus a few minutes walking along the small lane wouldn’t kill me. Love Lane itself isn’t perhaps the most beautiful lane in the whole of England, but I do think it’s worth visiting at least to take some pictures with a few Love Lane street signs or gates, especially if you’re a couple. If you’re a guy visiting Rochester with your lovely girl, and you think she’d get excited by this, surprise her!

Funfair at the Rochester Castle.

Funfair at the Rochester Castle.

Once you’re done with all the above, and been to the pub for some local ale you should definitely head for the fun fair which is located in the Rochester Castle grounds, right next to the Cathedral. Once you’re there, get some roast hog in apple sauce and go have a few laughs watching the quintessentially English, traditional and, perhaps, a little bit too violent for kids puppet show – Punch and Judy! After that get on a few rides – because no one’s too old to have fun, right? – and you’re done. The Rochester Dickens Festival outing could be considered complete. Now you can go sit near the river in the sun, go to the pub again, or head back to the train station with a big smile on your face and a great feeling of satisfaction from the fact that you were lucky enough to happen to be in the county of Kent during that one weekend in the summer.

England Rochester Kent High Street Festival Dickens

Rochester High Street.

Destination
1 London, UK
2 Rochester, UK