Book review: The Smugglers Trail – Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

I like local geological guides, which aim to get you out and about, visiting areas you might not have known are worth a daytrip. And this is a good example. I sat down and read it cover to cover, as it is only 90 pages long. And I now really want to visit this bit of Kent coastline. Largely concentrating on the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, this guidebook explains and illustrates what seems to be some marvellous geology that can also be explored during what could be a lovely day out on the beach.

Thanet is located on the northeast corner of Kent in England and The Smugglers Trail visits wonderful sandy bays along what is (apparently – I didn’t know this) the longest coastal exposure of Chalk anywhere in the UK. It sets out the background of the chalk (what it is, who the main Victorian scientists investigating the chalk in this area were, what the Chalk Sea was like, and so on) and then sets out a four hour guided walk along the foreshore from Broadstairs to Cliftonville.

Importantly, the book is small enough to fit into a coat pocket, to be read as and when the stops are reached. In fact, each stop is explained in some detail, with lovely full colour photographs and diagrams. The guide also covers some very interesting social history (not least, the smuggling, and how smugglers took advantage of the chalk caves to hide contraband and the chalk’s soft nature to dig tunnels), a description of the natural environment and an explanation of the Upper Cretaceous Chalk geology.

The walk covers the following seven stops:

  1. Stone Gap
  2. The 39 Steps
  3. Joss Bay
  4. Kingsgate Bay
  5. Botany Bay
  6. Foreness Point
  7. Friend’s Gap, Palm Bay

For those limited by time, there is also a highlights tour lasting hour and a half, which visits the key sights from Kingsgate Bay and Whiteness Bay (Stop 4) to Botany Bay (Stop 5).

Dr Richard J Hubbard has a doctorate in geology from Stanford University in California and is a former worldwide Chief Geologist at BP. He has been active in the international oil industry for more than 40 years and is now living on the Isle of Thanet in Kingsgate. He has a keen interest in the local geology. Geoff Downer is a local geologist and occasional author. He writes articles, gives talks on geological subjects and leads local fieldtrips. He is also an active member of the Open University Geological Society and GeoConservation Kent.

I think this is a great little guide and well worth getting. Other than buying it at local outlets, the best way to get hold of a copy is from the Geologists’ Association, whose Curry Fund helped support its publication. Profits from the sale of this book will also help fund geological conservation in Kent.

The Smugglers Trail: Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer, GeoConservation Kent (2021), 90 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-9561690-3-7.

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