The hidden treasures of St. Margaret's-at-Cliffe
PUBLISHED: 11:29 05 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 February 2013
When the sun comes up over the Kent coast, it shines first on the beautiful area of St. Margaret's-at-Cliffe, an isolated island with a host of secrets waiting to be discovered during a weekend visit
When people look for somewhere to get away from it all for the weekend they are faced with the anomaly that places which say they are hidden treasures or off the beaten track are often being economical with the truth.
But one Kentish destination that can truly lay claim to these soubriquets is St. Margarets-at-Cliffe, the seaside village with its own secluded cove at St. Margarets Bay. What makes it even more remarkable is that its coastline forms part of the famous White Cliffs of Dover, and yet it could not be more different from the hustle and bustle of the neighbouring ferry port.
After arriving in St Margarets, there is no better way to unwind
than to take the two-mile walk from the village to the bay area. Here
you can wander along the cliff tops which offer stunning views over the channel towards France, or stroll on the beach and admire scenery which
is part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
You will be walking in the footsteps of some well-known names from stage and screen who set up holiday homes in the area after being attracted by its beauty. Actor Peter Ustinov had a place on the cliff tops later taken over by actress Miriam Margolyes and playwright Noel Coward and James Bond author Ian Fleming both had cottages near the beach.
If you like to have more purpose and structure to your rambles, the White Cliffs Countryside Project has produced details of interesting walks in and around St. Margarets and Dover. There is also The Frontline Britain Trail, an easy circular walk from St. Margarets taking in the wildlife, history and the landscape of the Heritage Coast.
The National Trust Coastal Walk includes local attractions such as
the Pines Gardens, South Foreland Lighthouse, St. Margaret of Antioch Church and part of the Second World War coastal defences.
Having worked up an appetite and a thirst during your stroll, there are some great pubs to choose from, such as The Smugglers Inn (01304 853404), The Hope Inn (01304 852444) and The Red Lion (01304) 852467) in the village itself. And in the Bay, look out for The Coastguard (01304 851019), an award-winning pub and restaurant.
Having refuelled at lunchtime, those looking for more leisurely pursuits can plan a visit to one of the local places of interest or have a family afternoon by the sea.
As the weather gets warmer, children can paddle in the waves
and play in the rock pools on the beach at St Margarets which is famous for being the closest point to France, and therefore where Channel swimmers start their 21-mile crossing.
If you want to do something rather more energetic, there are a host of water-based activities in the bay area, including beach fishing, sailing, surfing and kayaking, or if you prefer staying on dry land, there are special routes through the surrounding countryside for running and biking.
Alternatively you could go for a browse down the village High Street where the stores have a selection of gifts and mementos. Youll also find freshly caught seafood and locally grown produce which you can use for self catering meals during your stay or take home to enjoy later.
And before heading back to your accommodation, have a nice cuppa and a cake at one of the many tea rooms found in the village and bay area.
Some of these tea rooms also offer dinner and the local pubs also have extensive menus, but if you want to push the boat out a little more, pay a visit to The Coastguard or one of the local hotels. The Walletts Court Country House Hotel (01304 852424) boasts a two-AA rosette restaurant.
After a good nights sleep youll be ready to take another walk, visit some more local attractions and historic sites, or take in the sea air and views in the saddle of a horse provided by one of the local equestrian centres.
For golfers there are two courses in nearby Deal or set your sights on clay pigeon shooting, available in the grounds of Walletts Court Country House Hotel.
Whether you want to relax, be active, or both during an overnight stay or long weekend, the St Margarets area is a calm and tranquil place to visit at all times of the year and you will be glad you discovered this hidden treasure.
Visitors who prefer staying in a hotel during a short break or weekend
away can choose between the three-star White Cliffs Hotel in the heart of St Margarets, and the four-star Walletts Court Country House Hotel in nearby Westcliffe, which both have spa facilities.
There is also the St Margarets Bay Hotel (01304 853262) run by Park Resorts, which has static holiday homes and camping available in the surrounding grounds.
If you prefer a simple B&B, country guesthouse, or self catering holiday cottage, there are several to suit all tastes and budgets in and around the village.
Places to visit
St. Margaret of Antioch Church
This 12th-century parish church,
with attractive arches and rounded doorways, towers above the village.
It was built by the Priors of St Martins in Dover some time between 1140 and 1296. But what has always been a puzzle is why such a small village should have such a large church. Folklore also has it that when the area was popular with smugglers, the church tower was used by a parish clerk to store equipment needed to haul contraband up the nearby cliffs.
South Foreland Lighthouse
This National Trust landmark, originally built to guide ships past the infamous Goodwin Sands, is well worth a visit for the views alone. But it also has many interesting stories to tell, including three notable firsts. It was the worlds first lighthouse to have an electric light and it also received the first ever ship-to-shore distress message. This was made possible by Guglielmo Marconi who used the lighthouse for his pioneering work on radio waves. In 1899 Marconi made the first radio transmission across the English Channel to France from the site. Guided tours are available between March and October.
The last recorded bomb dropped on England during the First World War fell on St Margarets and after the end of hostilities, an obelisk was put up at Leathercote Point with a matching one at Cap Gris Nez on the French coast and a smaller one near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. These were to honour the Dover patrol made up of men from the three countries who kept the English Channel open for British troops and supplies crossing to France.
Take a walk to the site of the former Second World War coastal defences where once stood Winnie and Pooh. These were the nicknames given to two guns positioned at St Margarets, due to its strategic position overlooking the channel. There is a story that a dummy wooden gun was also placed on the clifftop to draw the enemys attention away from the real weapons. But it didnt fool the Germans, who retaliated by dropping a dummy wooden bomb on the site.
The Pines Gardens & Museum
An open garden day in aid of charity is being held on 30 May as part of the National Gardens Scheme at The Pines Garden, Museum & Conference Venue in St Margarets. Visitors can walk through the six acres of organic gardens, which also host seasonal art installations, and delve into the areas local history in the on-site museum, before enjoying refreshments at the tea room. The venue is also home to the Pines Calyx, a low-carbon conference, events and wedding venue.
The Walletts Court Country House Hotel is hosting a free Creative Space art exhibition until 30 September. It is open every day, 9am-9pm, and includes external exhibits and installations in landscape.
The last windmill to be built in Kent is at St Margarets. The three storey smock mill with four sails was erected in 1929 to generate electricity. It is now a residential dwelling.
Other nearby attractions
Dovers Roman Painted House; Dover Castle; Deal and Walmer Castles.