Folkestone to Dover walk
Coastal Walk along the cliffs to Dover via Folkestone 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series of World War II installations, including a rare sound mirror (an early form of aircraft detection that was superseded by radar), and some large gun emplacements.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. This is an alternative way to climb up onto the cliffs from the Warren if the main path is blocked, or if you want to visit the Clifftop Cafe as part of a walk to Dover. This route is more wooded than the main path, but has a very exicting (though not vertiginous) finish on a zigzag path up through the cliffs, which brings you out directly by the Clifftop Cafe. It adds 1.1km/0.7 miles to main walk, making it 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 the Clifftop Cafe, which are bypassed by the main walk. Folkestone to Dover by this route is 15.2km (9.4 miles).
c) Folkestone Circular walk. This combines all the best bits of coastal scenery near Folkestone. To do this option, follow the main walk until you have climbed out of the Warren (paragraph 36): directions then take you back along the cliff top to Folkestone, with magnificent views and passing the Clifftop Cafe and the Battle of Britain Memorial. This walk is 13.9km (8.8 miles), or if combined with the path in option a) above 12.9km (8 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.
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.
Otherwise the only lunch option is the Royal Oak (01303 244 787), situated 6.8km (4.2 miles) into both the main walk and the Folkestone Circular walk (so long as you do the full circular walk and not the option a shortcut). A somewhat basic pub serving a caravan park, it serves food 12-2.30pm Monday to Saturday and 12-3pm Sundays.
The Lighthouse Inn, a pub situated 250 metres to the east of the Clifftop Cafe (and so reachable by options a), b) or c), though not the main walk) seems to have permanently closed.
The Clifftop Cafe (01303 255 588) is 6.8km (4.2 miles) into the main walk if you take the option a) route, 6.1km (3.8 miles) into the main walk via the option b) route, and 7.9km (4.9 miles) into the full Folkestone Circular 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. It is more of a tea stop than a lunch stop, since its food offering is fairly limited.
Dover has some cafes - has some cafes - eg the Market Square Kitchen in the main square and La Salle Verte in the high street. But currently (December 2021) these are closing at 3pm. That leaves a choice between Costa Coffee, open till 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 4.30pm on Sunday, and a Weatherspoons pub. There is also a station buffet at Dover station open till 5pm Monday to Friday, but only 3.30pm Saturday. It is closed on Sundays.
On the Folkestone Circular walk the Battle of Britain Memorial, half a kilometre further on from the Clifftop Cafe, 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 5pm daily.
|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. The apparent route of the zigzag path that led down to it from the cliffs above can still be faintly seen on the cliff behind it.
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: it is now almost entirely cut off from the town, only accessible by a rather obscure footbridge. The large white building at the far end of the beach was the Lord Warden Hotel, a grand establishment for cross-channel ferry passengers (now closed). 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 a busy 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. It is the long low red structure with a grey roof on the pier, a little way to the right of the Lord Warden Hotel. It remained in use until the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994. It is no longer connected to the railway but has found a second life as a terminal and car park for cruise ship passengers (for which Dover is the second largest port in the UK, after Southampton).
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 downloadable pdf for more details.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (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