Distance 10.2 Miles
I’ve loved life out of doors my entire life. Hiking. Running. At fifty I started mountain biking to save my knees and at the same time introduced myself to an entire new world of sport. Wherever I venture I try to get in a tab. Over the years I’ve hiked the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Malibu, Mount Timpanogas in Utah’s Wasatch Range, completed Commando—a hike up a rushing river and then a swim through ancient lava tubes and subterranean lakes on Hawaii’s big island and hiked passed medieval chateaus in the Languedoc in France. Still, the hike I return to year-after-year is along the English Channel in the Garden of England—Kent. Never mind the abundance of historical sites to enjoy, the timeless view of those chalk cliffs and the English Channel makes it for me a perfect hike.
Each September since 2003 I’ve visited Folkestone in Kent. A Victorian era seaside town it offers lovely views across the Channel, good hotel choices and excellent restaurants. If you have a look at the links in the sidebar you’ll find both my hotel and restaurant choices. Folkestone’s harbour arm offers a stunning view along the coastline towards Dover. I wondered what it would be like to hike along those cliffs. With a little help from the internet I found the Western Heights in Dover. This was to be my starting point. Folkestone the conclusion. The hike is part of the North Downs Way. With moderate climbs at the start, flat terrain most of the way on it and about 3/4 a mile from Folkestone a dramatic descent, at a brisk pace the 9.09 mile tab can be completed in under four hours. This schedule includes exploring the many historical sites along the way and a wee & tea break at the Battle of Britain Memorial.
Before you depart your hotel you’ll want a few bits & bobs—good walking shoes a start. I have worn both hiking boots and running trainers for this hike, dependent on weather conditions. If it’s a mild dry day running trainers will serve you well. Wet or muddy conditions require hiking boots. I’ve always worn cargo shorts and a short sleeved Polo shirt on this hike. I’ll take with me a jumper that near always ends up in the day bag on my back after twenty-minutes. I’ve worn a vest over my jumper just once in the many years of this hike, but it’s a good idea to layer just in case. English weather is notorious for change. Dress for the season. Check your weather app in the days before the hike and again morning of.
As I mentioned I wear a day bag on my back. Nothing swish, but a surplus camouflage day bag I bought from G4-Echelon on the high street in Folkestone. I recommend a visit here as they carry quite a good line of day bags. It’s just down the street from Landau Sports which carries a very good line of footwear for the hiker. So then, back to supplies. I’ll carry two bottled waters/Vitamin waters for my fiancé and I, energy bars (Cadbury Fruit & Nut) and trail mix, tissues for the odd snotter or in the event your need to spend a penny becomes a pound. Sanitary wipes are good idea as well, Go-Pro and mobile telephone. You’ll have mobile service the entire route and you are never more than a hundred-odd metres from the A20 or a B-road in case you turn an ankle or run out of puff and need to ring a taxi, although you’ll feel a hundred miles away from anyone and wonder if the Battle of Britain is still on. The perfect hike is a great time-machine, indeed.
Speaking of mobile telephones. A great app available to the hiker (and biker) is MapmyWalk. Utilizing google maps it allows you to plan your route ahead of time or just start the app at the beginning of your hike and it will map your progress. Each mile the app provides audio statistical information so you can keep your device in your pocket or day pack and hear your progress. If you create an account you can monitor your accomplishments and share with your mates on facebook. One feature I love is Live Tracking. If your friends have MapmyWalk as well they are able to track your progress live. This is a great feature in the unlikely event you get lost or injured during a tab. Best of all its a free service. For a few bob you get even more features.
The start location for the hike is Dover’s Western Heights. I chose this for no other reason than I’m usually well out of puff at the end of a tab and don’t fancy a taxi or train ride back to my hotel. After years of hiking this route I’ve learnt that if I begin at approx. 10.00 in the morning I’m back at the hotel in Folkestone by 2.00 (14hrs) in the afternoon in time for a late lunch.
The start location is at the Drop Redoubt in the Western Heights. On the opposite hillside of Dover Castle it’s riddled with Napoleonic Era redoubts and brick ditches one can spend an entire day hiking here. There is loads to see and to do. I recommend visiting during the Western Heights Preservation Society’s Open Days where you can climb the Grand Shaft and tour the Drop Redoubt. It’s fascinating.
A taxi from Folkestone should cost about £18 quid including a few bob for the tip. There is the option of taking a train from Folkestone Central to Dover Priory and then catching a taxi, but it requires more time and planning. Why not start the hike fresh?
The Drop Redoubt hasn’t a proper address. Simply tell the driver to take you to North Military Rd. & Drop Redoubt Rd. in the Western Heights, Dover. He’ll find his way. I recommend letting the driver know from the start to take the A20 motorway—unless its backed up—otherwise they might just try to take the Dover/Folkestone Rd. This route takes ages longer and will cost you more than you need to spend.
Once the taxi has let you off on Drop Redoubt Rd. you’ll want to walk down the road a bit, passing through a cattle stile. Just beyond the stile there is a path to the left and then left again at a narrow and rather low tunnel. This is the engineer’s tunnel dug as auxiliary access to the Drop Redoubt’s moats. Pass though if you want to have a walk around the redoubt’s perimeter. It’s dead flat and a very good warm up. If the tunnel with its low ceiling is daunting, give it a pass continue on with the hike proper.
If you decide to pass through the tunnel you’ll come out in the redoubt’s moat. The first time I saw it my jaw dropped. It’s an impressive feat of Victorian engineering. The moat is dead flat and you can complete the perimeter and be back at the engineer’s tunnel in about five minutes.
Once you’ve gained the path again, backtrack to Drop Redoubt Rd. Continue downhill
on the road. It’ll hairpin to the right. Carry on until you come to the Grand Shaft. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a big fenced off hole! On Open Days you’re able to climb down (and up) the stairs. Designed to move troops quickly from barracks in Dover to the Heights it’s considered a feat of Victorian engineering.
Back on the old parade ground, if you turn round and look up the overgrown hillside you just might make out terraces here and there. This was once covered with Victorian era barracks, ablutions blocks, kitchens and parade grounds. All gone under the plow in the 1960’s sadly.
Follow the path leading uphill, you’ll see to the left a trail leading into the hillside copse. There is a cattle stile there. Pass through and follow the trail uphill through the forest. This will lead you up and along a sloping meadow. Above this sits St. Martin’s Battery. Follow the trail up to another cattle stile and into St. Martin’s Battery carpark. Alternatively you could start the hike here. I recommend having a little look in on the Victorian era batteries, improved in WW2 to take larger calibre guns. At the far end of the battery is a small Bren Gun bunker, the first of many WW2 bunkers you’ll see on this hike. I ought mention the lovely views of Dover harbour here.
Once you’ve had a look round return to the carpark and continue out onto South Military Rd. Turn right and go up the road about thirty metres and then left onto Citadel Rd. Carry on up Citadel Rd. A hundred odd meters keep to the left on a driveway. But just before you do you’ll see a rather shit picket fence. Have a look over it. You’ll find the foundation of a Knights Templar Chapel. There is an informative plaque placed by English Heritage providing details of the site and its rediscovery.
Continue a short way down the driveway. You’ll follow the grassed narrow path to the left. After a few minutes you’ll arrive to a Y in the trail. Going to the right will put you on a meadow with an impressive view of the Victorian Era officer’s mess at the Citadel. Don’t let the concertina wire in the moats frighten you. Previously the Citadel was a refugee removals centre. It’s redundant and in care & maintenance now.
Turn round and return to the Y in the trail. Follow the left branch of the trail. This will take you along a gently sloping downhill meadow. There is signage here to guide you. Mind the cow pies. Often there are cows in the meadow eating the grass. There is a bench situated about halfway along. A good spot to sit for a few minutes to enjoy the lovely views out across Dover Harbour as the ferries come and go. If you look south-west you’ll see a long slow hill climb on the opposite side of the A20. That’s where you’re headed. Of note are the odd looking chimneys poking out of the hillside. They date to the Victorian era and although built to vent coal smoke produced from the train’s engines, today they provide ventilation for the tunnels underneath.
Right, up from the bench and follow the trail downhill. You’ll pass though another cattle stile and down a paved path behind semi-detached houses and out onto a road, Kingsrope Walk. Although there is signage to assist you, I recommend having a look at this using the hybrid feature on Google Maps as it can be a bit confusing the first time.
Follow along the street due south-west until it ends. There is a bollarded path connecting the Old Folkestone Rd. Cross over the road and follow the path. It will lead you under the A20. Climb the steps the other-side. Go to the right on the narrow path leading uphill. This path is quite narrow and with good reason. If you are able to look through the hedge you might be surprised by the precipitously steep cliff below you. The rail line at the bottom connects the Dover to Folkestone train.
Next up in Part 2…the climb and some spectacular views.