The Viking Coastal Trail is a seaside antidote to city cycling. The fresh coastal air will rid the lungs of London smog, and the sea views are a welcome break from the urban jungle. What’s more, the cycle route, around the north-east corner of Kent, is just a short drive from the capital.
The Cycle Route
The trail is comprised of 32 miles (51 km) of Kent coastline and countryside, running along the coast from Ramsgate all the way to Reculver, and then cutting cross-country back to the start. Of course, the loop can be attempted from any point, and adventurous Londoners might even choose to ride the 70 miles or so from home.
On a bank holiday weekend, however, the trail is largely occupied by day-trippers and family groups, as it is accessible to even the least confident cyclist. The majority of the route is on car-free cycle paths, and even the tarmac sections are generally quiet and safe.
Our journey began near the pretty village of Monkton, and wound towards the coast at Cliffs End where we hit our first cycle path. After a short climb, we spotted the Viking Ship, Hugin, at Pegwell Bay. The replica ship was sailed from Denmark in 1949 for the 1500th anniversary of the 449 A.D. invasion and now sits right on the cycle route.
Past Ramsgate marina, the route hugs the coastline to Broadstairs where it passes first by the black-beamed Dickens House, and then up a winding narrow path past Bleak House, a summer holiday residence of Charles Dickens.
Around the headland, the route takes to the beach-side promenade. This is perfect for a more leisurely ride, but not ideal for the more serious road biker due to the combined annoyance of lumpy concrete and the need to dismount in front of busy beach huts.
Nevertheless, having refuelled at Margate, the ride along the sea wall to Reculver is a dream. You will have to pick your time carefully to avoid crowds or high winds, but we arrived elated at the ruins of St Mary’s Church, which dates back to the seventh century.
From Reculver, the route turns eastwards again, following an occasionally muddy but beautiful cycle path near to (but thankfully shielded from) the A299, and then down to the village of St Nicholas at Wade.
If you are planning to ride the Viking Coastal Trail, there are three things you should bear in mind:
1. Take a map. The route is very well signposted with blue signs, but it is occasionally helpful to have a map to check you are heading the right direction (for finding the right bridge to cross the A299, in particular).
2. Pick your day. The North Coast is wonderful but particularly exposed so, unless you want to practise your slipstreaming, keep an eye on the wind direction before you set off.
3. Bike hire is available at various places to hire a cycle along the route if you are unable to take your own bicycle by car or public transport.