I went to Kent a few days ago, in glorious sunshine, to walk along the cliffs between Dover and Deal. We had been told of a field of poppies and a rather decent cafe, enough to get us moving.
It’s 66 miles, or so the app thingy says from home to Dover but it’s also the main jumping off point to the continent and the roads are often choc-a-bloc with traffic even on a Weekend.
Also Dover, of my memory at least, catching ferry after ferry for school trips and what-have-yous, is no oil painting, suffering as it does from a surfeit of St George’s crosses and the sort of shaven-headed humanoid who inhabits the far end of the moron spectrum. Still we would soon walk out of the town so we would avoid having to spend too much time reinforcing my rather small-minded prejudices.
We parked at Dover Priory station, intent on a linear walk and a train back and headed into the town. Dover, indeed does the former part of shabby chic very well and while it may have had a heyday it is difficult to discern among the shut shops and peeling paint.
But as we approached the harbour things perked up.
A little van in the style of those corrugated iron Citroens served us a perfectly decent coffee while we sat in among some sculptures and watched the hardy swimmers who come out to practice for their cross-channel swims.
We debated whether goose fat is still compulsory if you want an official time and couldn’t decide if it was – and Dr Google wasn’t at all helpful. There was a statue to Captain Webb, the first swimmer, at least. He used goosefat.
After we paid homage to the end/start of the North Downs’ Way, one of the long distance footpaths that criss-cross Britain.
This was the first walked by my dad; I joined for a few days, back in 1987 and was hooked. For 12 years we did a LDP every year and it was easily the best thing I did with him.
We admired, as many do the skills of the ferry skippers navigating the seemingly too narrow harbour gates.
And we glanced nervously at the height of the white cliffs, atop which stood Dover castle and up which we would soon be climbing.
Leaving the industrialised transport complex we wandered up at a gentle pace, freeing Dog to begin the routine of sniff, spray repeat.
At the top the rather smudgy cliffs, more green than white truly became the towering beasts of the White Cliffs of Dover.
The National Trust cares for this coastline and there are numerous fortifications going back over centuries as the then incumbent owners of this Beasted Isle tried to repel the hoards and horrors wanting to invade.
It is happening today but sadly our football supporters will have to be allowed back in now their time in Euro 2016 is over.
The countryside, the views back over the port and the Castle all make for a rather splendid stroll. Looking up is often rather scary as the path skirts the cliffs hereabouts and Dog’s tendency to bound to the edge and peer over gave me heart palpitations.
In fact there is often and undercliff so what seems likely to be a dramatic drop, isn’t. It was here, sometime into 1917/18 that my maternal Grandfather, Percy Francis crashed his biplane when returning in it from France.
He lay on the undercliff for three days until found by a game keeper. Somehow he survived but his injuries did cause him much grief and no doubt contributed to his early death in 1940. Some how, walking past on Father’s Day and knowing my mother’s deep and oft-repeated love of this man I never knew made it rather poignant.
The lighthouse loomed ahead. Happily it is now a tea room and, well, it seemed churlish not to check it out. Dog and I shared a perfectly adequate sausage roll though I have to say his reviews, based on a single gulp were somewhat compromised.
Beyond the Lighthouse we rambled gently up and down until St Margaret’s Bay, a small cove with aspirations to an artists enclave apparently.
Everyone hereabouts seemed to be eating so maybe it was some sort of performance art day.
As you might appreciate the visit to a bay can only involve a down with the counterbalancing up to follow.
This comprised a short sharp shock of many steps and a telling zigzag. If the steps zig and then zag you know it’s going to be steep.
Mind you the wild flower meadows at the top were a delight. I stood and shot a few pictures marveling at how some careful management can restore glory to a barren landscape.
And then it occurred to me: no butterflies. Not a one. Ok, I didn’t expect Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover and all that but mid June, sunshine, chalk downland managed by the National Trust. Surely there must be some butterflies. I found this profoundly depressing on such a lovely day.
We began a gentle descent. I don’t know about you but while ups can look intimidating and my calves, the next day, can feel like overripe salamis the downs are the worst.
The strain on my knees, making the caps feel under threat of firing off into the distance cause me much distress so I was delighted with the gradations here.
Deal, a strip of a town, hoved into sight with its mile long shingle beach.
We strolled admired Walmer castle that I remember visiting as a boy and being told how the sea had gone out over time taking it from its coast perch to this spot today. We could have walked along the beach but, nah. Why would you walk on shingle if you don’t have to? I mean I have a finite amount of energy so this Sisyphean experience of pressing forward only to slide backwards seems a waste of a good meal, in all honesty.
I was stunned, again by the locals’ appreciation of wild flowers, this time carefully managing to hang on in amongst the salty rocks and stones. Fennel grew in abundance and, yes I admit it, I broke off quite a lot to absorb the scent and chew the odd leaf.
In Deal itself the band play in an old-fashioned band stand, the squat, squashed castle
offered us an alternative view but a final cuppa and a train – actually an efficient and free bus replacement service did the business – drew us back to Dover and the car.
I apologise, Dover, for maligning you. You aren’t as bad as I thought. And even if part is as fabricated as the images in the famous wartime song, you are worth a visit none the less.
This is part of Jo’s Monday Walks, here