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A Walk Along The White Cliffs

September 4, 2017
by the gentle author

At this season, The Gentle Author always enjoys an annual late summer holiday beyond Spitalfields in the form of a day trip to the sea and this year’s excursion was a walk from Deal to Dover

The White Cliffs are a popular source of inspiration for artists

In common with thousands of other travellers, the point of departure for my journey was Dover yet, unlike everyone else, I turned left at the ferry terminal to follow the coastal path eastward towards Deal.

Before I even began the climb uphill to the cliffs, I was confronted with a poignant reminder of the strategic importance of this small town situated at the narrowest point of the English Channel. A statue was being unveiled commemorating the seamen of the Merchant Navy who lost their lives in the Second World War, a third of whom never returned. Just a few frail veterans with medals gathered in sadness, as sailors lined up with flags and local dignitaries made speeches, while a vintage airplane puttered overheard in gathering clouds.

As the ceremony concluded and umbrellas unfurled, I walked on past narrow terraces tucked in at the foot of the tall cliffs towering aloft. The epic spectacle of the ferry port only becomes apparent as you ascend the narrow path crossing beneath the motorway suspended above, feeding the terminal with a ceaseless flow of traffic.

At this point, it seemed that my excursion might be over when a thunderstorm broke over my head, sending arrows of forked lightening into the sea. Impatient with standing under the concrete bridge waiting for the rain to stop, I set out again and was forced to take shelter again in a thicket, contemplating an abandoned shopping trolley and an old lawnmower. Once the storm relented, I struggled uphill to the cafeteria for visitors to the White Cliffs Experience, joining the melancholy throng eating all-day breakfasts and gazing jealously across the channel at the sunlit French coast.

How grateful I was when the rain stopped and I set out in earnest through the puddles and muddy paths. After a mile or so, I left the visitors behind and the grassy footpath became less worn, bordered with wild thyme and fennel. The undulating nature of the cliff exposed impressive deep chasms faced with sheer walls of chalk descending hundred of feet to the water below, inducing a sense of giddy exhilaration tinged with vertigo. The dark clouds were behind me and a warm wind was in my face, and the French coast gleamed in the sunlight twenty-three miles across the sparkling sea. When I descended to the bay at St Margaret’s At Cliffe, barely a soul disturbed the peace underscored by the gentle rise and fall of the waves.

Autumn declared itself in the red hips, hawthorn and sloe berries along the path and in the sight of a tractor ploughing up the stubble, trailed by a flock of seagulls. Yet, after the opening the squall, the weather was benign, the walking was good and within a few hours the cliffs declined, delivering me to the long shingle beach at Kingsdown. On the last stretch, a hawk hovered overhead, drifting and swooping on the currents of warm air before folding his wings and dropping like a dart towards his prey.

For places so close to London, both Kingsdown and Walmer were unexpectedly quiet and unspoilt seaside towns. A magnificent long line of Edwardian villas borders the beach, which has a sparse forest of dwarf evergreen oaks shielding the land from the sea. This was where Julius Caesar landed two thousand years ago and it is not difficult to imagine the Roman galleys pulled onto the beach here. Castles at Walmer and Deal, and eighteenth century barracks in Deal, serve as a reminder of the threat of invasion that persisted into the last century. At Walmer, a handsome stone gothic boathouse on the seafront reveals the importance of the lifeboat to these small communities that relied upon the sea for their livelihood. Today just a handful of fishing boats remain, surrounded by their paraphernalia of plastic fish trays, lobster pots and nets.

A portion of cod and chips provided necessary sustenance to make it along this seemingly-endless seafront to Deal, where a cup of tea outside the ramshackle shed known as the Sea Cafe offered welcome refreshment upon arrival. The last of the afternoon sun was fading and the shops had all shut, which meant that an exploration of the manifold delights of Deal would have to wait for another day.

You may like to read about my previous trips beyond Spitalfields at this time of year

At Gravesend, 2016

At Sandwich, 2015

At Herne Bay, 2014

A Walk from Shoeburyness to Chalkwell, 2013

A Walk Along the Ridgeway, 2012

At Walton on the Naze, 2011

At Canvey Island, 2010

At Broadstairs, 2009

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Clare Ungerson permalink
    September 4, 2017

    Welcome to East Kent Gentle Author! I hope your walk will bring you to Sandwich which you have visited before. Try Richborough Castle and the seals – both accessible by boat trip along the River Stour.

  2. Vanda permalink
    September 4, 2017

    Once again, thanks to the Gentle Author, I have had the privilege of visiting another beautiful town, this time it was Dover. When ever I see pictures of the White Cliffs of Dover, I automatically remember the song by Vera Lynn which my beloved nan used to sing.

    I hope that in the not to distant future, I will be in a financial position to once again, visit the beautiful UK. But, for the time been, I will be happy to visit the towns, meet the people through the eyes of the Gentle Author.

    Another town on my “To visit” list.

  3. September 4, 2017

    This evoked memories of my childhood when we had relatives living in Sandwich. I will write a story soon about the journey there and back, trains and East Kent Coaches. Nice pictures. The Sustrans sign could do with a coat of paint.

  4. September 4, 2017

    A splendid selection of great photographs. Happy reminders of making the same beautiful walk from Dover to the lighthouse and back several years ago.

  5. Linda Kincaid permalink
    September 4, 2017

    Love this part of the country. Was there a few weeks back. Thankyou for revisiting it for me.

  6. Sue permalink
    September 4, 2017

    Vertigo does not allow me to walk along cliff paths so it is nice to enjoy the walk from the safety of my iPad. Thank you.

  7. Paul Loften permalink
    September 4, 2017

    My dad was a Spitalfields lad born in Raven Row behind the London hospital and was stationed at Dover Castle during the war withe Dorsetshire Regiment. They put him alone as a lookout on the White Cliffs in small bunker covered with a steel lid in charge of a radio set. Whilst he was on duty the Germans opened up with a heavy artillery barrage from accross the channel and it hit the cliffs and the town killing a lot of people in Dover. After the barrage had ended they tried to raise him on the radio. But it was silent ,there was no reply and they assumed he had had it. They sent out a party to see what had happened to him. When they lifted the lid of the bunker they found him fast asleep. They said they thought he was dead but he didnt know a thing he slept through the whole thing withe shells exploding on the cliffs around him. The search party was incredulous they couldnt’t beleive it. He was put on a charge and confined to barracks for two weeks. In his defence he was a raw recruit and it was just the begining of the real war. The infantry training was hard and exhausting and on your own in that situation it is a hard job to keep awake. He served six years withe Dorsetshires and the Royal signals and was a Normandy veteran that went right through France, Belgium and Holland and was one of the first British soldiers across the Rhine into Germany.

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    September 4, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for sharing your mini holiday with your readers. I love that part of England.

    Great description – “The undulating nature of the cliff exposed impressive deep chasms, faced with sheer walls of chalk, descending hundred of feet to the water below, inducing a sense of giddy exhilaration tinged with vertigo. The dark clouds were behind me and a warm wind was in my face, and the French coast gleamed in the sunlight twenty-three miles across the sparkling sea.”

    The new statue is so realistic and I always enjoy seeing the red poppies wreaths that surrounded it.

    Wonderful piece…

  9. Dean Armond permalink
    September 4, 2017

    A wonderful evocation of the delights of the English coast!

  10. pauline taylor permalink
    September 4, 2017

    The lovely photos and the descriptions really bring your walk along the cliff path alive GA, thank you for bringing such pleasure to a horrible grey Monday morning in Colchester, Britain’s First City.

  11. Jill permalink
    September 4, 2017

    Thank you, GA. Your coastal walk is one of the highlights of the Spitalfields Life year. Greetings from Bermuda!

  12. September 4, 2017

    I love that little sea gull-themed café — Let’s all meet there.
    What a wonderful enticing evocative post.
    Without ever leaving my chair, I’ve been somewhere special this morning.
    Thanks, GA!
    Come on over and we will show you around the Hudson River Valley someday. It would
    be our pleasure.

  13. September 4, 2017

    Thank you for this beautiful photo essay. I almost feel as if I got to walk it with you.

  14. Su C. permalink
    September 5, 2017

    All the times we have visited England we have never stopped to enjoy this area. I do recall seeing these impressive cliffs while approaching Dover by ferry from Calais. I can only imagine the feeling standing near the edge as if to take flight on the updraft!

  15. September 5, 2017

    Oh yes, always when leaving the British Isles I have these sentimental feelings …

    Love & Peace

  16. September 5, 2017

    The artist is me!!

  17. Sonia Murray permalink
    September 7, 2017

    Thank you for sharing your journey, Gentle Author. The final photograph is wonderful, with its contrast of weathered wood and huts and brightly coloured lobster pots. Your picture of the terminal at Dover brought good memories: Gil and I took the ferry from Dover to France on our honeymoon in 1955. If I come home next year to see the bluebells at Sturry again, I should like to follow your path on this beautiful walk on the cliffs from Dover to Deal.

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