A coastal Kent walk under chalk cliffs to a great pub: The George and Heart, Margate

For nearly a year now, I’ve been ticking off stretches along the Kent coast. Dover to Folkestone brought dramatic scenery, but noisy traffic on a major road running along much of the route. Whitstable to Herne Bay was more tranquil, though the landscape was less impressive. This route – a nearly six-mile stretch from Broadstairs to Margate – is, I think, the best so far, with no traffic and impressive surroundings.

This walk should only be done at low tide as parts of the route aren’t accessible otherwise. There is also a danger of being cut off by the sea, so it’s important to check the tide times. (At high tide it can be done along the top of the cliffs instead, though it’s less dramatic.) Broadstairs is a 90-minute high-speed train ride from London St Pancras.

I start at Viking Bay, Broadstairs’ main beach, where colourful huts line the crescent of sand, with a manmade tidal pool at its southern end. I descend via the central steps, in front of the Charles Dickens pub, one of this town’s many tributes to the author, who often holidayed here.

On the beach, I take a wooden walkway to the left, towards pub/restaurant The Tartar Frigate, above which a crenellated grey building can be seen rising from the cliff. This is Bleak House (in Dickens’s time it was Fort House): it was once his summer residence, where he wrote much of David Copperfield.

The route leads briefly back on to the road and a view to the left of York Gate, a notable pointed 16th-century archway. I head down a concrete ramp back on to the beach, striding in a relatively straight line with the promenade to my left.

Rugged chalk cliffs await me at Stone Bay. Soon the sand is peppered with grey-blue stones and angry waves lick the jagged rocks at the sea’s edge.

I veer around another bend and into Joss Bay a sandy and expansive half-moon that is popular with surfers, and with bathers in summer. Low chalk cliffs frame the attractive bay.

After crossing the bay, I reach Hackemdown Point, a rocky outcrop which projects into the sea, its cratered surface giving it an extraterrestrial appearance. From here, I skirt round to the right of a large concrete wall, to which lime green moss clings, and into Kingsgate Bay, named after King Charles II made an emergency landing here in 1683. “Gate” refers to a gap in the cliffs.

Kingsgate Castle, on top of the cliff, was built in 1763 as a stable block for Henry Fox, the 1st Baron Holland. A leading Whig politician, he amassed a huge fortune during the American war of independence, but was eventually forced to resign after speculating with large sums of public money. One petition decried him as “the public defaulter of unaccounted millions”.

I walk along this sandy bay – a maroon carpet of seaweed stretching out to my right and several small caves in the cliffs ahead – before I reach one of the walk’s highlights: a large chalk arch that frames views of the sea beyond. (It’s possible to walk under it, but a nearby sign does warn against standing too close to the cliffs because of falling debris.)

Still following the coastline, I get to Botany Bay, roughly the halfway point and featured in the video for singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes’s song There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back. I weave between two large chalk stacks, standing apart from the headland. There are chalk caves in the cliffs, alongside a lifeguards’ shelter and a pumping station at the end of the bay.

From here, I head into Foreness Bay, home to a waterski and boat club, at this point taking the easier option of walking along the concrete promenade instead of the sand. A warning sign reminds visitors of the dangers of getting caught by the incoming tide.

Nearing Margate, I stop to eat my lunch at Palm Bay, my legs dangling over the promenade. A couple of huge container ships head across the North Sea before me and an offshore wind farm sits on the horizon. I pass into the last of the bays on this walk, Walpole, where there is a distinctive, rectangular tidal pool. Built in 1937, it is one of the largest pools of its kind in the UK.

I carry on walking until I reach a distinctive mosaic reading “Lido Sands”. It was once part of a leisure complex built by John Henry Iles in the 1920s. Iles was also behind Margate’s Dreamland amusement park, having been inspired by a visit to Coney Island in New York in 1906.

I make for Fort Crescent then Trinity Square, passing Trinity Square Gardens. Finally, I reach The George & Heart, at which point, the sun comes out.

Google map of the route

Start Viking Bay, Broadstairs
End The George & Heart, Margate
Distance 6 miles
Time 2.5 hours
Total ascent 25 metres
Difficulty Easy

GPX map of the route

The pub

Reopened as a pub in 2019 after 12 years as an Indian restaurant, the George & Heart is a revamped 18th-century coaching inn and still has its original stained-glass windows. It’s cosy inside, with tasselled lamp shades, exposed brick and plush velvet seating. On a busy Sunday, the crowd spills on to shabby wicker chairs, farmhouse tables and picnic benches outside.

As it’s big on roasts, I visit on a Sunday (booking is essential). The Kentish lamb arrives blushing and tender, while the nut roast is decadent and moist. Both are served with a huge yorkshire pudding, tenderstem broccoli, red cabbage and garlic-licked roast potatoes.

For dessert, a generous portion of apple and plum crumble topped with buttery broken biscuits is balanced by the sharpness of the fruit.

Among the beers are several from Margate’s own Northdown Brewery.

The rooms

The pub has six doubles (from £95 B&B), some with shared facilities, and a two-bedroom suite sleeping four. As with the pub, the decor is charming, with bright colours (there are shades of pink aplenty), lavish bath tubs and statement rugs.