Coastal Walk along the cliffs to Dover, with options also taking in The Warren.
Main walk: 14.8km (9.2 miles)
a) Via the Cliftop Cafe: 15.9km (9.9 miles)
b) Avoiding the Warren: 15.2km (9.4 miles)
c) Folkestone Circular: 12.9km (8 miles) or 13.9km (8.6 miles))
On average 5 out of 10: mostly flat or with gentle gradients, but one prolonged and steep hill climb (9 out of 10) on the main walk and Folkestone Circular: a less steep climb on options a) and b).
OS Landranger 179, Explorer 138
This is a highly scenic coastal walk with fine sea views throughout. It introduces you to some of the quainter sides of Folkestone, a town which like many south coast seaside towns is undergoing something of a renaissance. You then climb up past a Martello Towers (Napoleonic-era fortification) and out into the Warren, an interesting area of wild coastland and former landslips, where you walk along concrete sea defences and then climb on a steep, but not vertiginous, path up to the top of the cliff.
The rest of the route into Dover is along the top of the chalk cliffs, passing a fascinating series of World War II installations, including a rare sound mirror (an early form of aircraft detection that was superseded by radar), and some large gun emplacements. The only downside on this section of the route is noise from the A20 dual carriageway just inland, though this is muted when the wind is blowing from the sea (ie, from the south or south west). In compensation there is a dramatic approach to Dover – a narrow (but not difficult) ridge between an inland valley and the sea. The walk finishes by crossing the town’s Western Heights, passing deserted 19th century forts and with wonderful views of the town and port.
a) Alternative route via the Clifftop Cafe. The magnificent climb out of the Warren on the main walk lands you on top of the cliffs beyond most of the lunch options (the one exception being the Royal Oak pub), though a 1km backtrack is possible. This alternative uses another path up the cliffs - more wooded and so with less dramatic views, though with a dramatic (though not vertiginous) route up a chalk ledge near the top - and takes you directly up to the Cliff Top Cafe and Lighthouse Inn. It adds 1.1km/0.7 miles to the walk, making the whole walk 15.9km (9.9 miles).
b) Cliff top route, avoiding the Warren. This option takes you directly out of Folkestone onto the cliff top, with magnificent views over the Warren, the Channel and to France. It passes the Battle of Britain Memorial and gives you easier access to the various lunch options than on the main walk. Folkestone to Dover by this route is 15.2km (9.4 miles).
c) Folkestone Circular walk. Having climbed out of the Warren, this route follows the cliff top back to Folkestone, with magnificent views and passing the Clifftop Cafe, the Lighthouse Inn and the Battle of Britain Memorial. There is a choice of paths up the cliff, making a walk of either 12.9km (8 miles) or 13.9km (8.6 miles).
Folkestone Central is served by high speed trains out of St Pancras, journey time just under one hour. There is a small supplement for this train, which you can avoid by taking the hourly train out of Charing Cross and London Bridge, which takes 1hr 45 minutes. Aim to arrive in Folkestone by 11.00 am if you want to get to one of the pubs in time for lunch. Buy a day return to Dover for the main walk, to Folkestone for the circular walk.
Dover is one stop beyond Folkestone and so also has high speed trains to St Pancras taking just over one hour, or trains to Charing Cross or Victoria taking 1hr 50 to 2hrs.
|Points of interest||
The concrete sea defences in the Warren date from 1950-55, when they were created to stop landslips in the Warren, the wild hilly area uphill to your left. Drainage tunnels were also dug - which are what lie behind the metal doors one sees to the left as one walks along the sea defences. The worst of the landslips was in 1915 when the Folkestone to Dover railway was buried under 65 feet of earth which also flowed 230 metres out to sea. The line did not reopen until 1919. The concrete platforms spoiled what was an extensive - and apparently sandy - beach in late Victorian and Edwardian times. The area (less scrub-filled than it is now) was also a popular picnic spot. There was even a station - Warren Halt - which had a tea kiosk and a footbridge over the line. It first opened in 1886, closed in 1888 after protests by the landowner, then re-opened for the summer months only from 1908 to 1915 and 1924 to 1939. After the Second World War it was used as a staff halt serving a works depot until some time in the 1950s. The current footbridge is not the site of the former station, however: it was about a kilometre to the east. There is still a Network Rail storage area on the site, but nothing remains of the halt or its footbridge. Faint traces of the zigzag path that led down to it can be seen on the cliffs above, however, some way to the west of the two paths in use today.
The beach you see as you come in to Dover was an important part of the town's attractions before the railway sliced across it. The large building at its far end was the Lord Warden Hotel, a grand establishment for cross-channel ferry passengers. The original terminus of the railway, Dover Town station, was in front of it. No trace of this now remains and you would never guess that this area was once the commercial centre of the town. The pier to the right of the hotel is Admiralty Pier from where paddlesteamers crossed to France. Train tracks ran onto the pier and just before the First World War a grand station, Dover Marine, was built here, initially used for troop movements, then opened to civilian passengers in 1919. This remained in use until the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Its long roof can still be made out to the right of the former Lord Warden Hotel. It is now used as a cruise ship terminal and a car park for cruise passengers.
Other sights seen on this walk include a World War Two sound mirror, various World War Two gun emplacements - including one you can walk into at your own risk) the Battle of Britain Memorial (options b and c only), the electricity interconnector between Britain and France, chimneys designed to carry smoke out of the railway tunnel below, Samphire Hoe and the ventilation equipment for the Channel Tunnel, and the refurbished Folkestone Harbour branch railway bridge and the town's Harbour Arm former port area. See the downladable pdf for more details.
In summer this walk also offers good swimming opportunities at the start or finish in Folkestone. The most popular place with locals is the Sunny Sands beach near the harbour. However, the beaches below the Leas clifftop esplanade, reachable by a short diversion from the walk route are a more scenic place for a dip.
The Warren also has beaches, and in the Edwardian era was a popular seaside spot. But the problem here is scattered underwater rocks and the metal stumps of old groynes (breakwaters). The section of beach just before the broad concrete platform in paragraph 26 in the directions is relatively clear of obstructions, but beware a line of metal stumps going out to sea about 70 metres before the platform.
This is a good walk to bring a picnic (see early in the walk for a Tesco where you can buy a picnic if you have not brought one with you). There are numerous places on the clifftop to stop and eat it. On the main walk or the Folkestone Circular the Warren seafront is also an option.
The only lunch stop actually on the main walk route is the Royal Oak, though the Lighthouse Inn and Clifftop Cafe are reachable via a 2km diversion, or via the option a) route. All three lunch options are on the Folkestone Circular and the option b) route.
The Clifftop Cafe (01303 255 588) is 6.8km (4.2 miles) into the main walk if you take the option a) route, 7.9km (4.9 miles) into the Folkestone Circular or if you backtrack from the main walk route, or 6.1 miles (3.8 miles) into the main walk via the option b) route. It is exactly what it sounds like: a cafe with a cliff edge situation and with panoramic views from its terrace of the Warren, Folkestone and the sea. It is open at weekends in the winter and daily from March, but all of this is “weather permitting”: ie if it is pouring with rain, it may not be open.
The Lighthouse Inn (01303 254080) is 250 metres east of Clifftop Cafe and so 7.1km (4.4 miles) into the main walk via the option a) route, 7.6km (4.8 miles) into the Folkestone Circular or if you backtrack from the main walk route, or 6.3km (3.9 miles) into the main walk via the option b) route. It serves food ("pub classics") from 12-2.30pm and 6-9pm Tuesday to Saturday and 12-3.30pm on Sundays. It is open for drinks all afternoon Tuesday to Saturday but only to 6pm on Sunday. It is closed entirely on Mondays. It has a garden and a deck with a view of the sea.
The Royal Oak (01303 244 787), is a possible later lunch stop 6.8km (4.2 miles) into both the main walk and the Folkestone Circular walk, or 7.1km (4.4 miles) into option b). It is a somewhat basic pub serving a caravan park but walkers have received a warm welcome there. When last checked (December 2016) it was serving food daily.
Dover has some cafes - eg the Dickens Corner in the main square, though this closes at 4.30pm. La Salle Verte nearby is open to 5pm Monday to Saturdays. Later tea choices include a Costa Coffee, open till 6.30pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, and a Weatherspoons pub. There is also a station buffet at Dover station open till 6pm Monday to Saturday but only 3pm Sunday
On the Folkestone Circular walk the Clifftop Cafe (see Lunch above) is a good tea choice if you are not already using it for lunch, and the Battle of Britain Memorial, half a kilometre further on has a visitor’s centre with a cafe that is open 11.00am to 5pm daily from 1 April to 30 September.
Folkestone itself plenty of tea options. There are seasonal tea kiosks by the harbour and several cafes in the Old High Street: these come and go but one that seems to be reasonably well established is the Steep Street Coffee House, open to 6pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm on Sundays. A bit further on, in the main shopping street in Folkestone, there is a Costa Coffee which is open until 6pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm on Sunday. Lastly the station buffet on the platform at Folkestone Central station is open till 6.30pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm Sunday.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk