It was a windy, rainy, September Sunday. It wouldn’t have been a good idea to have wandered too close to the edge of those white cliffs, for fear of being whisked over. It wasn’t cold, though, making for a very pleasant, invigorating walk. It was a continuation of the walk we did while on a week’s stay, at the back-end of August, in the adjacent village to St Margaret’s (heading towards Deal) of Kingsdown.
There’s parking right on the bay of St Margaret’s (unfortunately, in my opinion). A steep incline leads to and past The Pines Gardens, which we’d toured during our previous walk. This time we headed to its café – The Pines Garden Tea Room and Museum – where we lunched before setting out.
Everything on the menu makes use of the organic vegetables grown in The Pines Gardens. We ordered a Ploughman’s Lunch with Stilton and a veggie quiche. The plates were heaped with salads: mixed green and potato. The helpings were too generous, but they were happy to make up doggie bags for us to take away what we couldn’t eat.
The museum attached to the tea room is largely devoted to the history of St Margaret’s Bay (more correctly St Margaret at Cliffe) during World War II. There’s a bust of Winston Churchill, a glass case displaying items that had once belonged to Noël Coward and another of things that had belonged to James Bond 007 author Ian Fleming. Both celebrities lived in St Margaret’s, owning the same cottage at different times. Sir Peter Ustinov once owned a house in the village: he’d liked the place since having been stationed at St Margaret’s during the war. The house is now owned by actress Miriam Margolyes, well known for, among others, the characters she played in Blackadder and Harry Potter.
St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe appears in the Domesday Book as Sancta Margharita. Which St Margaret the village is named for, and why, I haven’t been able to find out. The priors of St Martin’s in Dover built the village church, between 1140 and 1296, on a Saxon foundation. This village is the closest point in England to mainland France.
The road that ascends from the tea room leads straight up to the cliffs and we soon reached South Foreland Lighthouse. We had to make two detours away from the cliffs, where we were obliged to walk around the back of private houses which owned, and had fenced off the stretch of cliff in front of their properties.
The lighthouse is now under the care of The National Trust. We didn’t go in, but on the way back from our walk, had tea in its café – Mrs Knott’s Tearoom – which used to be the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. The tea room’s been decorated post-war style, and tea is served in mis-matched but genuine, of-the-era china teapots, cups and plates. The food served is made to post-war recipes. And the tea is proper tea (made with real tea leaves – in those days tea bags hadn’t been invented). The rooms are decorated with memorabilia of the day in the form of faded family photos and old newspapers. There was 40s music playing. I found it a bit spooky and disturbing, probably because I was born in the post-war era and it made me feel a bit like a museum piece!
We continued our walk past the lighthouse and along the cliff. The path swooped down steeply at one point, then up again. That’s when I discovered the difference between walking and mountaineering: it depends entirely on the degree of steepness of the path! This one required the use of both hands and feet as its summit approached!
We came home with our pockets full of free food, in the form of ripe tangy apples from a windsown tree and sea kale – which is like cabbage. I turned the apples into a sponge pudding and we chopped and steamed the kale. There’s nothing to match the taste of free food, picked, cooked and eaten immediately.
- One-in-four Britons walk less than five miles a month (telegraph.co.uk)
- Wrecking (doverhistorian.wordpress.com)