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A Walk From Dover To Folkestone

September 3, 2018
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 Dover to Folkestone

Dover Castle

In Dover’s Market Sq, a plaque informs the visitor that ‘while searching for his aunt Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield rested on this doorstep and ate a loaf of bread he had just bought.’ He set out to walk east from here, as I did last September when I walked over the white cliffs to Deal, but this year I turned right on Dover Beach and walked west to Folkestone.

It was no simple matter to find the way and I found myself negotiating works for the rebuilding of the west harbour before I could ascend a thundering motorway to commence the coastal path. The urge to escape the hubbub is a powerful motivation to walk, striding upwards along the cliff until the drama of the sea and the sky fills your consciousness. I am always delighted how – even in our small country – it is remarkably easy to discover solitude in the landscape. The intense physical experience of walking along the cliff top combined with the spectacle of a vast sparkling expanse of ocean quickly induces a vertiginous euphoric reverie.

Before long, you encounter sobering reminders that this was formerly a site of conflict. The turf undulates where earthworks were once constructed to defend against any potential invasion and the cliff edge is punctuated by concrete defence posts. Most surreal was to come upon a tall concave disc of concrete pointed towards the sea at Abbott’s Cliff, as ethereal and mysterious as a sculpture by Ben Nicholson or Barbara Hepworth. This was a sound mirror from the First World War which permitted an operator to sit with an ear trumpet and hear the sound of enemy aircraft before they became visible. Within twenty-five years it became obsolete once aircraft speeds increased and radar was invented.

Yet on a warm afternoon in late summer the history of conflict feels mercifully remote as you walk determinedly onward along the narrow path bordered by wild thyme and scabious. Lone birds of prey hover overhead, escorting you on your way. Only a few miles after Dover Harbour has retreated into the distance, Folkestone comes into view – a town spilling out from the coast into a golden sea in the late afternoon sun. Your feet have grown weary by then and you discover your destination is further away than it looks and a brief refreshment at the Lighthouse Inn at Capel-Le-Ferne is necessary before you commence your descent into Folkestone.

Much of this last section of the path is overarched by sea-blown hedges where shafts of bright sunlight descend into the cool shadow, until finally you emerge into the open with Folkestone spread out beneath you. A vista of cliffs to the east testifies to your eight mile walk, as you tread the soft municipal grass of the golf course and then follow a line of suburban villas to arrive at the harbour where a well-earned supper of fish and chips awaits you.

A serenade at Dover

Dover Harbour Board 1606

The ascent from Dover

Looking back towards Dover

A sound mirror from World War One at Abbott’s Cliff

Statue of an airman commemorating the Battle of Britain

Spitfire at the Battle of Britain memorial

Birdwatchers at the Clifftop Cafe

Looking down towards Folkestone

Travellers’ joy

Folkestone seen from the cliff path

Bowls at Folkestone in the shadow of the Martello Tower

Bell installed on the beach by Norwegian artist A.K Dolven

Children fishing for crabs at Folkestone Harbour

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

A Walk Along the White Cliffs, 2017

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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. David Tarrant permalink
    September 3, 2018

    Sparkling prose and stunning photographs! Just when I was beginning to wish that you had included a picture of the sound mirror, there it was. Perfectly timed! Thank you Gentle Author.

  2. September 3, 2018

    You’ve had your walk and schools go back today. That’s summer packed away, then. What a grand day you had.

  3. Paul Loften permalink
    September 3, 2018

    My dad once told me was stationed at Dover Castle around 1940. Being a signaler in the army he was sent to a dug out on the cliffs with a radio set to watch out for the threatened invasion . The Germans opened up with a barrage with their big guns from across the channel and hit the cliffs and the town . After it died down they tried to contact him on the radio and coudn’t. They were sure he was a gonner and sent outa search party to look for him . When they lifted the steel lid of the dug out they found him fast asleep. He didn’t hear a thing and slept through the lot. They put him on a charge and was confined to barracks for two weeks . Whenever I see the white cliffs i think of this episode . He always was a heavy sleeper.
    I have to say that I still have his army discharge papers dated 1946 and it says his conduct was exemplary and they did not make these comments lightly . He served through the Normandy campaign into Germany .

  4. September 3, 2018

    so pleased you had a good day out, but disappointed that we didn’t see you in the shop! you would have noticed your book in our window.

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    September 3, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, glad you had the opportunity to enjoy your short holiday in Kent. Those were great pics of the White Cliffs and surrounding area – with so many reminders of past wars.

    I always associate Folkstone with Charles Dickens, the scene of that terrible train crash that he survived at age 53. Also his affection for neighboring Broadstairs where he and his family summered for so many years comes to mind.

  6. Saba permalink
    September 3, 2018

    GA, your columns remind me constantly of the value of looking around, finding interesting details, and being grateful for what I have. I could do some of that already — I’m a regional historian in the Hudson River Valley of New York State! But, I’m unemployed and unable for the past few years to satisfy my travel obsessions — you remind me of what I have right here. So, thank you.

  7. September 3, 2018

    Some of the photos very Ravillious!

    The dereliction at Folkestone the last time I was there was devasting, and as for the former Harbour Station …

  8. Gary Arber permalink
    September 3, 2018

    When I was a child I was taken on a visit to Dover. There was a loud explosion and a cloud of smoke went up, it was a shell from the long range gun that the Germans fired across the channel.
    People just carried on with their shopping, my father make a remark that questioned the married status of the gunners parents and life went on – such was the wartime spirit.

  9. September 4, 2018

    The joys of Kent, which seems a favourite place for you. May I recommend Ramsgate and in particular Ramsgate tunnels, the amazing communal air raid shelter. I suspect the tunnels, part of which once allowed the train to reach the beach, would be right up your street.

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