…the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
So wrote Matthew Arnold in Dover Beach and so they stood last Thursday when I launched the White Cliffs Walking Festival on Dover seafront.
The week-long festival (21-27 August) was inspired and organised by the Ramblers’ energetic White Cliffs Group and they have put on a great programme.
About a hundred people gathered for the opening
and we were joined by the Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who spoke in support of coastal access. The first stretch in Kent between Folkestone and Ramsgate will soon come into being, and the next section, from Whitstable to Ramsgate, is in the offing.
Also present were the mayors of Deal (the first Walkers Are Welcome Town in Kent) and Dover.
I highlighted the importance of walking to the economy and commended the group for its hard work on the festival and for raising money and support for it.
I also praised the group for its stout defence of paths and access and for organising work parties to clear paths for the council.
Then I joined the first walk of the festival, led by Les Preston. We took a bus to Capel le Ferne, just east of Folkestone, and walked back along the cliffs to Dover.
It’s important that we show people what we have achieved, and Les was exemplary. When we walked past Capel Battery, he explained that this area of access land had been blocked off by the owner.
Pressed by the Ramblers, Kent County Council (the access authority) took him to court and eventually got the land reopened.
On the way we stopped at the Battle of Britain memorial on top of the cliffs.
The vista back along the coast to Folkestone, with Dungeness beyond, were tremendous. We also had a clear view of France.
The coastal path coincides with the North Downs Way national trail.
At one point there is a handrail on the seaward side of the cliff path. Kent County Council had wanted to close the route some years ago claiming it was no longer used. The Ramblers objected but Dover magistrates agreed to the closure. The Ramblers appealed to Canterbury Crown Court which in 2002 ruled that the path should be opened. The council then installed the handrail. Had the Ramblers lost the path would probably have gone along the inferior cycle track which only briefly touches the cliff path. The court hearings cost the council £45,000.
We passed a wartime listening post
and a number of pillboxes. These were the first pillboxes to be built, and they uniquely have an overhanging roof. This was removed from later models because it was found that the overhang gave more surface area against which bullets could ricochet.
We soon came out on Shakespeare Cliff above Dover.
The town and motorway lap right up to the cliffs, but it was wonderful to be above them on the white cliffs.
And so back into the town. If this first walk of the festival is a guide, the rest will be terrific. There is an exciting range of activity, including history walks and a final barbeque on the seafront at Deal.
Well done White Cliffs Group, and we look forward to next year.