Sunday 19 August: Deal to Folkstone
All on OS Landranger map 179.
On Sunday 29 July six of us extended the 12 resort Whitstable-Dover ride on to Folkstone......
(famously missing the last train home, kipping in the bandstand there, learning seagull, getting the 5am home the next morning)
...but we liked the cliffs stretch so much we decided to make a day of it...
The forecast was odd showers...lovely blue sky when I got up...the three great crested grebe chicks now nearly as big as parents...rain out of nowhere on way to station and over the repaired pothole that leapt out at Davids new bike a fortnight ago.
Celia, Chris, Kevin, Linda, Man, Richard, Roger, Sabine, Stephen and me met at London Bridge station to get the 9.07am to Deal. The network card paid for itself yet again...4 cheap day returns for £12.55 each instead of £19. No ticket queue. (two lessons...in future tell all in advance where to get tickets too...and if you buy their tickets on your railcard get the cash off them first and pay with that...if you Switch it you end up with loads of cash that then disappears too fast).
We packed the 10 bikes into the guards van for the 2 hour journey.
The guard arrived to check tickets.
"You cant get off at Deal...trains too long for the platform...get off at Dover or Ramsgate instead".
Our alternative suggestions got a bit much, guard retreated. Just as we had decided to hold the train up at some station and switch guards vans, he re-appeared..."trains running a bit early...Ill hold it at Ashford while you switch vans".
Got to Deal on time. Greyish...straight into a tough headwind. Id meant to explore Deal, swim maybe, but we headed to the seafront. (Deal and Walmers crouching castles hidden cannons both date from Henry V111...like Tilburys...and Deals timeball was made by same firm that made Greenwich Observatorys...and both used to be dropped at 1pm by the same electric signal...not a sure if thats still true. Only 3 left in world).
(See Greenwichs wobble down: www.rog.nmm.ac.uk/museum/index.html).
Theres an untacky uncommercial serious quaintness about Deal...the road past the very varied terraces soon turns into good new bike paths and then its Dungeness type shingle complete with soil-less vegetation and dragged up fishing boats. Must do the pier next time.
Deal morphs into Walmer where a man was taping off the bandstand with concert cancelled signs...wry smiles.
Then the path goes inland onto a leafy country lane at Kingsdown that soon meets the sea again where the chalk cliffs start. The OS map calls the ever-narrow road/lane/path that leads up a biggish hill into a beautiful and classic dry chalk valley Otty Bottom, then Hogs Bush.
Man spotted a slow-worm on the path...it curled itself round my fingers. Cute forked tongue and gorgeous skin. Had either just swallowed a huge slug or was very pregnant.
Weve used the (Hope?) pub in the St Margarets at Cliffe a couple of times...good garden and food. But not today.
Then its up on the road to the high fields at the back of the cliffs. The wind now seemed to be blasting us from the left, I had to concentrate to keep the bike on track.
Massive Dover Castle was suddenly sat there again...shrouded in mist, as ever.
We left the A258 to follow the Sustrans route path. This felt like a good idea and an alternative to the wet, tight bended and huge downhill into Dover. The new gravel was fine for a while...huge views over Dover harbour....but then a lot of steps...and we saw what the "wheeling route" sign meant. Get off and wheel. I prefer the road route in...through the dense valley woods.
The path enters Dover by a side door...with a pretty Victorian terrace under looming cliffs.
By now Gabriela had phoned Roger...shed turned up at London Bridge for 10.30am....no one there. So she got the train to Dover where we eventually met her at 1pm by the monument to cross-channel swimmers...(now all the band-standers were here except John).
After several look-ins we found a big pub that was doing 2 lunches for £5.99...(ok fish and chips for me)...fast service, and the rain started. So we had huge puddings too (raspberry mousse...loads of real fruit but too heavy on the cream), and coffee...the sky keep clearing and darkening again.
Once outside, Richard vanished. We looked, and gave up. He knew the route and was probably sherpa scouting the most mountainous route.
The way out of Dover is on pavements and alongside the very busy roads...but we were soon onto the nursery slopes of those huge cliffs. Whilst searching for not lost Linda I met a very confused Russian tourist...just arrived here off a ferry and looking for Folkstone...hed left his very loaded bike in the roughish estate on the edge of Dover and walked a few hundred yards to look for signs. Chris used his best Russian to tell him that you must always lock your bike..."But this is England" said said Russian. Yup.
A bridge out of the estate crosses the thundering main road and suddenly its gravelly bike paths a hundred feet from the cliff edge...it took a while to realise that the old cliff-top chimneys topped the rail-tunnel way beneath. And theres was big-letter writing in the gravel...R...I...chard was alive...and ahead of us. Shakespeare Cliff.
And then youre at the mouth of a long tunnel that shoots down 45 degrees to the base of the cliff. We waited for the one-way traffic lights to change and echoed down to sea-level at high speed.
This is Samphire Hoe where the channel tunnel lands...a new cliff-foot park made from chunnel diggings in the late 1980s and now looking very natural...loads of wild flowers, a small carpark and café, and some tunnel ventilation and other gear.
Its big, lonely and very impressive. We rode to the western edge and the tough concrete sea wall...the sea was wild. I went in...I love swimming in big seas and was ok with the first ten-foot waves because I saw them coming and either swam over, under or with them. Then one huge one flipped me right over and down...that awful underwater which way is up feeling of rising panic...but fine. I kicked something sharp and solid...time top get out. Then I saw that Gabriel was in too...and felt reckless, it was dangerous. But we survived. The top of my foot was covered in superficial grazing. Blood. Sore.
Then along the sea wall for a mile maybe...its on three levels. Us kids rode on the lower one by the sea dodging the waves that were coming over. Stephen and I got soaked and looked back just in time to see a monster smash against the wall, geyser up to 30 feet, hang there for a second until Richard thought he was clear, smile, and then smack down on him. Totally soaked. Much giggling.
We had tea while Richard kept hitting the hand-drier button in the gents and then cycled back up the tunnel to the cliff top. The bike path soon leaves the main road and the scenery is extraordinary...great sea views...and lots of bits left over from the wars.
Big hill now...the headwind made all of us struggle. The few of us on road bikes had to watch the patches of deep gravel.
At one point, quite unsigned, by a Sustrans marker, is a big concrete monolith. Several of us stopped to suss it out...a seaward facing vertical dish fully 5 metres across...Id read about these odd listening
devices somewhere...the Home Guard used them to hear approaching aircraft sooner...effective? Not sure. (see end for more).
Folkstone looks deceptively close now but its still 4 miles away...oddly named Capel le Ferne is bungalow outskirts...big hill down into it and then to Folkstone central and the 6.34pm train.
Nasty bit of local flavour on the platform as tough 15 year old girl with huge gold-earrings got verbally very aggressive with 3 twenty year old atomic copycats...but we got back to London Bridge about 8pm. Seven of us went to the Wibbly Wobbly.
Good long day out...20 miles that felt like more than 50 coz of the wind and the hills...spectacular scenery...must explore Dover and the castle.
20 August 2001
(next day: a number of these concrete listening ears were built along the coast hereabouts in the 1920/30s. Before radar arrived in 1938. A concave concrete parabolic dish bounced sound to a microphone in front of it and the operator got to hear the engines of planes 20 miles away. This was the early model...there are two later ones nearby on Romney Marsh...best survivals are on Malta...they worked...bit like big version of the dustbin lid and mike that birdsong recorders use or satellite dishes. It wasnt radar that made them obsolete as much as the fast improvements to plane speeds...they arrived almost as soon as you could hear them... Dr Richard Scarth is the expert. Books: Mirrors by the Sea/Echoes from the sky. This data from Romney Marsh tourist office, who do walks to explore them. 01979 367934).