Folkestone to Dover walk by Dave Hamilton
During the WWII Dover was quite a different place from today. At the forefront of Britain’s front line, the whole area would have been heavily militarized, ready to take on a Nazi invasion.
Image Barry Hunter/Geograph.co.uk
Today, ruins of these fortifications are slowly becoming reclaimed by plant life, as the natural world sets to heal the scars left from this brutal war. The impoverished chalk grass land is home to a rich tapestry of wild flowers supporting thriving populations of insect and bird life. Keen foragers will find sloes, the last of the apples, wild spices such as alexanders and hogweed seeds and a multitude of edible leaves. The reds, oranges and yellows of the turning trees contrast beautifully with the towering white cliffs and deep blue sea. The long history of this coastline, its stunning natural beauty and the strong sea winds all conspire to take your breath away during this pleasurable, autumnal walk.
1. The walk begins at the Battle of Britain Memorial (£3 a day parking, gates close 5pm, buses from Priory Street, Dover). Here, the names of ‘The Few’ stand behind an airman sitting, calmly looking out to sea amid the outline of three large propeller blades. It is as if the pilot is sat in a rare moment of calm before joining the chaos of battle. Head over to the right/north east corner of the memorial, in the direction of Dover where the North Downs Way footpath takes you across the cliffs.
2. Spectacular vertiginous views along the cliff top, down to Warren Country Park, set the scene for the walk and set the legs of the faint hearted wobbling. Continue along the path behind the Cliff Top Café (closes late Nov to Feb/March) snaking past the back of gardens and the Caravan Park. There are steps down to the Warren but many of the paths back up have fallen into disuse or can be near impossible to spot.
3. After the caravan park a turn off leads up to the Royal Oak (the last place for a refreshment break before Dover). Continue on to where the path splits to the front of a large white house. You can take either path as both converge at a strange cut-out fortification. However, on a blustery day you may elect to walk along the back of the house, rather than the windswept front.
4. From the cut-out fortification you will see the enormous sound mirror constructed in the 1920’s as a pre-radar early warning system. This gigantic construction was rendered obsolete shortly after its construction. As technology advanced ever quickening enemy planes could be overhead by the time the alarm was raised. Follow the path as it rises up from the sound mirror and don’t forget to turn around to catch the breath-taking views behind you.
5. Continue on this path past the ventilation tower and the elongated ruin of a rifle range. A little further on from the rifle range, are the scattered remains of Hougham Battery once equipped with three large navel guns. The building of the A20 in the 1970’s buried much of the battery. The coastal look out posts and various associated buildings are still visible although nature does seem to be doing her best to slowly bury, rust and decay this part of our past.
6. The road gets noisy during this next section but the undulating cliff tops and suicidal seabirds nose-diving off the cliff top should be enough to distract you from the noise of the traffic. Walk up over the undulating headland of Shakespeare’s Cliff and down through the thicket of blackthorn, picking the sloe to later drop into gin.
7. The next section takes you under the A20, zig-zagging through the estate past the ancient footings of the Knights Templar Church and over to the hidden gem of Drop-Redoubt Fort. Ingeniously dug into the landscape, the fort is a truly awesome piece of human engineering. Built during the threat of a Napoleonic invasion it was also put to use in WW2. Commandos were stationed there laden with the task of blowing up Dover Harbour should the Germans ever successfully invade. As you rejoin the North Downs Way you catch magnificent views of Dover Castle before descending into the town via a set of steep, stone steps.
8. Make your way over and under the main road to the seafront. Follow the cycle track and Saxon Shore Way in front of the castle, past the harbour and up to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre. You can choose to end your walk here or continue through spectacular National Trust coastline to one of the many pubs in the quaint village of St Margaret’s at Cliff. For those in need of an overnight rest the Wallett Court Spa Hotel,out the other side of the village, has a hot-tub to soothe any blisters from the days walking.