The White Cliffs – From Deal to Dover Coastal Walk
From Deal on the east Kent coast is a day of spectacular views on the country’s most celebrated part of coastline and three castles on route to Dover harbour. With unrivalled, magnificent sights across the English Channel, the White Cliffs of Dover are one the world’s most famous landmarks.
A great place to start the day’s adventure is to step out over the sea to the end of the quarter mile pier on Deal seafront and look back at the coastal panorama. With feet back on English soil, or in this case, a wide landscaped promenade, Deal Castle is the first point of interest upon leaving the pier. Deal Castle was built in the 16th century by order of Henry VIII and is one of the finest Tudor artillery castles in England. After a short distance south of Deal Castle is the Walmer RNLI Lifeboat Station. One of 19 lifeboats that took part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, Walmer RNLI have nearly 150 years’ experience of saving lives at sea and have been presented with over 25 awards for gallantry. The last sight before the steep climb on to the White Cliffs is Walmer Castle, also built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Intended as part of a chain of coastal artillery defences, it matured into the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports with The Duke of Wellington holding the post for 23 years.
Now heading away from the towns, the sight that demands your attention is the cliff rising up high ahead of the flat coastal path. After a short period on road, the climb up the cliff begins with steps carved in to the land providing an easier ascent to the top. It is well worth the climb just to sit at the top to admire the view to back to Deal, Ramsgate and Pegwell Bay in the distance. Following the Saxon Shore Way markers, the grassed cliff top not only gives unhindered sea views, but also of the downs and landscape inland.
Standing tall on the horizon, the Dover Patrol monument marks the outskirts of St Margaret’s at Cliffe and a return to urban surroundings. The Dover Patrol monument erected in 1921 was a Royal Navy command of the First World War, forming a discrete unit based in Dover and Dunkirk. Opposite this was a cafe looking out to sea and an ideal place to get a cup of tea or a hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows. The path heads down quiet roads to St Margaret’s Bay, whose claims to fame are being the first place in the British Isles to get the sunlight each morning and being home to both Ian Fleming, author of the much loved James Bond adventures and English playwright, Noel Coward.
Ascending once more past the Pines Garden, the South Foreland lighthouse stands high on the cliff top looking after the ships travelling along the Dover Straight. National Trust records show a light was first installed at South Foreland in 1367. It warned ships of the Goodwin Sands, notorious large sandbanks off the east Kent coast known as the “great ship swallower”. The lighthouse, erected by Trinity House in 1843, was last used in 1988. Back on the cliff top the sights of the Port of Dover and Dover Castle comes in view. High on its hilltop, Dover Castle is a strategic hill fort used since the Iron Age and by successive generations when the Normans built the keep that stands today. This fortress was last used to defend our country from invasion in the Second World War. The Battle of Britain was directed from the war tunnels below the Castle and remains undefeated from sea bound invaders. The Port of Dover regularly sees ferries leaving and arriving from Calais on the opposing French coast and cruise liners depart for far away destinations.
Next is a choice of path either around the bowled cliff above Langdon Bay, which is the gentler route or a lung busting treat down and up the sunken section. Whichever path you choose to take, a hot drink and at the National Trust visitors centre café is just a few minutes’ walk away. Langdon Bay is reached by descending the white cliffs of Dover via a steep zigzag pathway, ending with a climb down a 20ft ladder. The shipwreck of the SS Falcon, a 675 ton steamer which caught fire in 1926 and drifted ashore in to Langdon Bay is visible at low tide. Also in Langdon Bay are the World War II search light positions accessible just before the climb down the ladder. The three searchlight batteries were built into the base of the bay’s cliffs during World War II; so that any ship trying to enter the bay or harbour could be illuminated. The National Trust is undertaking restoration work on the white cliffs of Dover after securing a 1.3km long section in November 2012. The section completes a five-mile stretch of coastline owned by the trust, between Dover port and South Foreland lighthouse. The National Trust acquired its first stretch of the white cliffs in 1968, looks after more than 720 miles of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The magnificent Esplanade on Dover Seafront has won a national award for architectural excellence and offers awe-inspiring views of the Castle and the busy harbour. To the east of the Esplanade is Dover RNLI Lifeboat Station which operates the largest lifeboat in the fleet, a Severn class lifeboat. For over 165 years Dover lifeboats have been saving lives and over 30 awards for gallantry have been presented to the crews. The lifeboat is on view docked next to the station which also has an RNLI shop.
There is plenty of car parking throughout the area or if you would like to walk the White Cliffs, you can make the return journey using rail travel between Dover and Deal stops on South Eastern Railway. Trains are regular and close to the coast.
By Michael Smith
Explore South East / A Walk in the Garden
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