Visitors know Dover for its white cliffs and the international ferry port, but it’s also a great starting point for hiking along the South East Coast Path. I have already explored the option of heading north and this time, I decided to head south and give hiking Dover to Folkestone a try. As previously, I had my 11-year-old daughter with me. I’m not sure if she shares my love of coastal trails (yet), but I hope that by hiking together, we are creating some memorable childhood moments. Who knows. For the time being her mood oscillates between grumpy and accepting. With the occasional glimpse of delight.
From the promenade to a steep climb
After a quick train journey from London, we arrive in Dover and head straight towards the sea. The sun is shining, so we decide to take it easy and idle some time away whilst eating ice-cream. After a gentle stroll on the promenade, we reach the end of the pier and cross a bridge across the marina. We follow along the busy road to the start of the trail. Being surrounded by lorries and traffic noise is disorientating, and we need some time to find the signpost for the North Downs Way. Bye, bye A20. This part wasn’t enjoyable. Leaving the roaring traffic behind, we begin climbing upwards towards the leafy footpath. We get some nice views over the harbour as a bonus.
Dover Western Heights Fort
Once on the top of the hill, we get sidetracked again. We are intrigued by the ruins of the Dover Western Heights Fort, a Napoleonic fortification hidden in the midst of the lush greenery. The aim of the fortification was to protect Dover from French invasion.
We come across some interesting tunnels:
After emerging from the labyrinth of tunnels and fortifications we are hopelessly lost. Luckily some friendly dog walkers guide us back to the trail. We are on the way.
Never far away from history
Continuing along this joint trail of North Downs Way and Saxon Shore Way, we see more ruins, bunkers and defence systems along the way. The by far most intriguing is the early warning “sound mirror” at Abbot’s Cliff. The giant concrete “listening ears” served as precursors to radar before WW2 and warned from incoming enemy aircraft.
Last stretch to Folkestone
The last stretch of the walk is to be honest a bit of a blur. We get lost frequently and dally away our time. As we were desperate for a toilet, we do a detour to the lovely Samphire Hoe, a nature reserve close to the Eurotunnel. We also stop by the tea kiosk and explore the park with its wildflowers and grazing livestock. We then continue down to the beach, nestling between the cliffs and the sea, but there is no way to continue our hike beyond that. To get back to the path, we have to retrace our steps and walk up again, first through a tunnel and then up to the hill.
The view of the White Cliffs is truly impressive:
Although we are thoroughly enjoying our walk, it’s now getting late. Folkestone seems to be in sight, but we somewhat lose steam walking through the outskirts. When we reach the village of Capel-le-Ferne, we spot a pub and are delighted when it turns out to be open. The adults have some beer and my brave daughter is rewarded with some free chocolate for her hiking efforts by the friendly pub owner:
We discover a bus stop just outside the pub that can take us straight to Folkestone city centre. We don’t hesitate for a moment and grab this opportunity.
Once in Folkestone, we find a restaurant and have some well deserved dinner. Unfortunately, we arrive too late to explore the town or visit the beach. It got dark in the meantime, and it’s time to head back to London. Our hiking adventure from Dover to Folkestone didn’t go strictly to plan, but it proved more interesting than anticipated. My highlights were the Dover Western Heights Fort, the “sound mirror” at Abbott’s Cliff and the detour to Samphire Hoe.
Total length: 15.2 km (9.4 miles)
Difficulty: Fairly easy but with some steep climbs and steps.
Advice: It would be nice to explore Folkestone by day and do the walk in the reverse order: Folkestone to Dover
Refreshments: The kiosk at Samphire Hoe, Market Square restaurant in Folkestone