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A Walk On The White Cliffs

September 12, 2021
by the gentle author

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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 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.


9 Responses leave one →
  1. September 12, 2021

    Oh, how your story and pictures make me miss England, so intensely. The Edwardian hotels nestled under the white cliffs, the coast walk like so many beautiful walks, somewhat marred by modern excrescences but with real natural beauty (the hips!), and a gleam of fabulous history there. The image of Caesar landing at that spot is enough to send thrills and chills down a spine two thousand years later, and six thousand miles away, with a pandemic as a divider as well. Thanks for these glimpses of what I love.

  2. September 12, 2021

    Nice pictures,of Briton as was,no more, seaside Towns around the Kent coasts are looking slightly different now,more shabby,lack of investment,local Councils short of money to pay for any maintenance, Hotels full of people fleeing war torn countries, and it only gets worse as the years roll by, an option that will never be change,its here to stay. Think this will offend the offended of this world,so don’t expect GA to print it. Have a nice Sunday all.

  3. September 12, 2021

    The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller (1940)

    I have loved England, dearly and deeply,
    Since that first morning, shining and pure,
    The white cliffs of Dover I saw rising steeply
    Out of the sea that once made her secure.

    I had no thought then of husband or lover,
    I was a traveller, the guest of a week;
    Yet when they pointed ‘the white cliffs of Dover’,
    Startled I found there were tears on my cheek.

    I have loved England, and still as a stranger,
    Here is my home and I still am alone.
    Now in her hour of trial and danger,
    Only the English are really her own.

    This is my England as I have come to love it and will love it forever!

    Love & Peace

  4. Kelly Holman permalink
    September 12, 2021

    We have been on many wonderful, fascinating and often moving journeys during your absence Gentle Author. Thank you. I hope your holiday has been refreshing and enjoyable.

  5. September 12, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for your colorful account of your jaunt to Dover and surrounds. I was only there for a brief stop off on a tour of Kent. The place evokes such nostalgia from Dickens’ description of the packet boats arriving there in THE TALE OF TWO CITIES, to the two World Wars of the 20th century when the guns could be heard from across the channel.

    Great pics too. I can almost hear Vera Lynn singing, “There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover…”

  6. paul loften permalink
    September 12, 2021

    Thank you for the wonderful pictures and taking the trouble to visit and recount to us some of the rich history of this part of England.
    Every time I see the White Cliffs I am reminded of a story that my father told me . During the early years of the war as a soldier in the Dorsetshire Regiment he was posted to Dover Castle . The conditions were abysmal with an a occasional rat running across his face during the night.
    As a signalman he had to man a small dug out in the cliff. The access was covered with a heavy steel door which was facing the French coast . He was given a pair of binoculars and a radio set to report any activity as they were expecting an imminent German invasion. One day there was a heavy barrage from huge German artillery based in Calais. It hit the cliffs and there were many casualties in Dover itself . When the barrage had finished they tried to contact him on his radio set but there was no reply. Fearing the worst after the barrage they sent out a party to recover his body . The next thing he knew was a steel door being opened and light suddenly bursting through the pitch dark.
    A voice said “Hello Joe ! we thought you were dead after the barrage “.
    He replied “What barrage ? “
    He had fallen asleep and didn’t know a thing which was not surprising as I always recall he slept like a log . The army was not satisfied that he survived. He faced a serious charge and there was a hearing. This was one occasion that the Army admitted they had not got things quite right. They had sent out one soldier in a situation that called for two. They realised it was too easy to fall asleep alone in dark and silent surroundings . His punishment was seven days confined to barracks which he accepted as a reprimand. From then on it became the standard practice to send out two men to occupy the dugout.
    When I look at the cliffs I often wonder where that dugout was situated

  7. Josephine Eglin permalink
    September 12, 2021

    Thank you ACHIM for the introduction to Alice Duer Miller. Embarrassed to say I had not heard of her until now but was sufficiently moved by the short extract you quoted to look her up and order the book. The G.A.’s blog is always a source of new delights.

  8. September 12, 2021

    An amazing post with so many aspects to it, and some truly wonderful images. Thank you.

  9. Lew Tassell permalink
    September 13, 2021

    The Gentle Author, I have really enjoyed reading about your travels this week in a part of England that I am very familiar with and the accompanying photographs are superb. It brought back a lot of memories from my childhood and teenage years.

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