I went to an all-night party on Botany Bay a couple of summers ago, when such things were still allowed. Despite it being the good sort of party where everyone cleaned up at the end, it proved that I’m not the all-night type – I skipped off home before midnight as the tide was coming up and our little cove would be cut off from the outside world until dawn.
For those new to the area, the main bay is always accessible via the slope up to the road – it’s further along towards Kingsgate Bay where you need to keep one eye on the tide (though it’s a glorious coastal walk when the tide is low). Nineteenth-century smugglers appreciated the privacy of Botany Bay’s nooks and crannies and you can still see their caves and passages leading inland through the chalky cliffs.
Right now, post lockdown, and on some of the hottest days of the year, you might be wise to aim for a beach that isn’t the poster child of the Kent tourism board. Botany Bay is a broiling mass of sticky bodies with just a couple of toilets, a kiosk and a tiny parking area. As the tide edges in, those sticky bodies edge closer together. Local residents are up in arms and parking tickets are being issued like raffle tickets at a country fayre. You can only imagine the council rubbing their hands in glee at the additional summer bonus to their coffers.
Come early or come late to Botany Bay and you’ll enjoy sunrise or sunset (have a sundowner at the Botany Bay Hotel; walk-ins welcome) on the beach with just a handful of people. It’s also the nicest time to photograph the grand white sea stacks and soak up what a special place this is.
This part of the East Kent coast has a string of soft sandy bays that might not have the wow factor of Botany Bay, but they do have cool blue sea and plenty of room to build sandcastles with imposing moats. Along the coast towards Broadstairs, you’ve got Joss Bay, a surf beach (when conditions are right) with plenty of parking (£6 all day) but similarly limited facilities. From the comfort of bed, I sometimes check out the surf cam installed at the beach and admire the sunrise before going back to sleep. Perfect too, for getting an idea of how busy the sands are before visiting.
The long strip of beach at Stone Bay is the locals’ choice in the busy summer months. It’s a pleasant stroll from Broadstairs, which has a train station and couple of car parks, or there’s free parking along the clifftop Eastern Esplanade. Broadstairs is a picture-perfect old fashioned seaside town. According to Charles Dickens, “you cannot think how delightful and fresh the place is and how good the walks”.
If the famed author visited today, he’d almost certainly comment on the food scene, too. Stark leads the charge with its Michelin star and is open for bookings Wednesday to Saturday (tables of just two for the time being), although you’ll need to reserve weeks in advance. Those of us who are less organised should head straight to Wyatt and Jones on historic Harbour Street, where they’ve closed the restaurant until September, but set up a pop up serving seafood, frites and drinks. If it’s a café you’re after, then York Street and its surrounds features the new-kid-in-town, The Table (headed up by ex Soho House head chef Joe Hill), and Broadstairs stalwart Smiths, serving up the best coffee in town.
The main beach is Viking Bay, a gorgeous spot with a boardwalk, surf school, kiddies corner and pretty harbour. Though this year it’s suffering more than usual – as are all the beaches along the East Kent coast – from a proliferation of rather smelly seaweed.
If you travel south from Broadstairs, things quiet down considerably and the seaweed thins out. Beyond Louisa Bay, you can walk or cycle along the prom a mile or so to Dumpton Gap beach, where nothing much has changed for decades. Tourists don’t tend to come here as it's rockier and the beach disappears at high tide, but it’s a peaceful spot with big sky views.
Venture further still along the coast and you’ll come to Ramsgate, where the long sandy beach hugs the coast from Eastcliff to Westcliff and there are steady seafront queues for the country’s biggest Wetherspoons and Peter’s Fish Factory. The bars and restaurants that line the Marina have all reopened and the pavement has been widened so outdoor tables-with-a-view can spread out safely. From Botany Bay to Ramsgate, this is the “Kent Riviera” at its finest.