In Part 2 of A Perfect Hike I made mention that ahead you would see a strange concrete structure. It looms larger as you walk closer. But before I go into detail of what it is I would like to show you something that is quite dear to me. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to leave the coastal path and head across the field to the tarmac path. On the approach to the concrete monolith you’ll see on your left a concrete plinth almost hidden amongst the grass. On its face are oxidized copper pages, the representation of an opened book. This is a unique piece of artwork that also serves to describe an equally unique Spider Orchid found along the cliffs of Dover.
This part of Kent was known as Hellfire Corner during the Battle of Britain, and it was the Royal Air Force who beat off the German Luftwaffe, saving England from invasion. Dad was in the RAF and he dearly loved his years in the air-force. He died in 1999. I planted a daffodil bulb beside the artwork in 2011. Daffodils usually send up their chutes the very end of February. I can’t remember the last time I was in England then and sadly I’ve never caught the daffodil I planted in Dad’s memory in bloom.
Now onto the monolith ahead. This is one of several concrete Sound Mirrors built before WWII to detect incoming enemy aircraft. They were obsolete almost as soon as they were built and by the mid-1930’s aircraft were there and gone before their engine vibrations, detected by the mirrors, were deciphered. Traditionally I’ll stop here every year for a selfie.
Now beyond this is “the White House,” of Abbott’s Cliff. For years this house held a secret. As chronicled in the book “Secret Duties of a Signals Interceptor,” about Jenny Nater during her war years, female cryptographers were billeted here. Close by was a sensitive radio array they manned, picking up Enigma signals from Kreigsmarine traffic in the Channel and passing it along to Bletchley Park. The cryptographers were moved from the house after a strafing run, the big white house on the cliff an all to tempting target for the Luftwaffe.
Approx. 1/2 mile on you’ll have a choice to make. If you fancy a pint you can pop in the Lighthouse Inn. Brilliant pub. They do a perfectly lovely Ploughman’s lunch if you fancy it. Alternately you can press on a hundred odd metres and stop in at the Clifftop Cafe for tea and a sandwich. Clifftop Cafe has tables out the back quite literally hanging over the cliff. Here you’ll have unbroken views across the Channel. Mind you, depending on time and day it gets very busy. Also I don’t suggest requesting adjustments to an order. You’ll find the proprietress not accommodating.
After refreshment, you might find the way ahead a bit easier. Flat terrain and more and more signs of civilization in the form of holiday homes, some of which have back gardens stretching down to the trail. Lovely.
There is one stretch coming up that is a bit of a challenge, I’ll admit. Following the signage you’ll deviate from the trail, turning left down a private road and passing a very Mediterranean styled house on the left before turning right to gain the trail again. The trail is quite steep here as it descends into a ravine. There are reinforced steps to go down and up the other side. Take care if its wet. It can be slippy.
After mounting the ravine the trail becomes easier. Ahead are a pair of great grass covered lumps. These are what remains of the once enormous batteries at Capel-le-Ferne. This is also the location of the Battle of Britain Memorial. It’s worth looking in on. Not only is it an excellent memorial it also has a brilliant tea shop upstairs. They also have clean loos and a great gift shop that among other items stocks jars of Kent Honey.
Departing the museum the trail continues along a wire fence. On the other side of this—hard to see—is the subterranean Capel Battery plotting bunker and hospital. It was being excavated to be made into a tourist site. Their website is a good read with loads of information on the extent of the Capel Battery encampment. At the moment there is a works stoppage on the site and it’s closed off.
Below is a great little video of what lies beneath in the Capel plotting bunker and hospital. Very atmospheric and quite similar to Lynden Spout plotting bunker.
There’s not far to go now. Following the trail, you’ll have a final opportunity to visit, the farthest west of the Capel observation bunkers. I often take a five minute rest stop here to sit on the roof of the bunker and enjoy the view of the Warren below and Folkestone off to the right.
This last section of the trail is all downhill. Mind yourself as you can get moving at a good clip. There are some dodgy tree roots you’ll need to avoid. At the bottom of the trail you’ll cross a pedestrian bridge over Swiss Way. A bit farther on is the first of several Martello Towers. This is in fact tower No. 1. Martello Towers were another Napoleonic Era defense. They were easily defendable, cheap to produce, practically impenetrable due to their shape and had a single cannon on the rooftop. This one is being turned into a private residence.
The trail terminates a little further on at Wear Bay Road. But the hike does not. I’ll continue on the grass verge along the road as it’s easier on the feet. You will pass a field where the excavation of a Roman archeological site is ongoing. Pass a cricket pavilion and another Martello Tower in the centre of a pitch & putt golf course. This Martello Tower is interesting as in WWII a Bren Gun bunker was placed atop it. Follow Wear Bay Road as it veers to the right and then turn down the steps leading to the Parade along Sunny Sands. If it’s a nice day and the tide is out you can walk on the sand.
Turn right onto the Stade for some nice views of Folkestone Harbour. In the good weather there are plenty of traders selling fresh cockles, icecream vendors and a pint can be had along Fish Market. Pass Rocksalt, celebrity chef Mark Sargeant’s trendy restaurant (which I recommend highly for supper) and under the bridge where once the Orient Express crossed on the way to the Continent via the Boat Train. Sadly I never got to travel in such style, but my Mum & Dad did and I heard all about it.
Pass under the bridge and cross Tontine Street. Right here a German bomb landed in 1917, killing sixty. Again in WWII the area suffered mightily from both Luftwaffe bombs and shells from large calibre guns firing across the Channel from France. It wasn’t until the Canadians overran the batteries at Cap-Nez-Grez that the shelling ceased. If you stop in the Folkestone Museum at the bottom of the high street you’ll a German flag from the batteries on display, presented to Folkestone by the Canadians after the war. The heavily damaged Victorian era slums by the harbour were cleared after the way, but a brass plaque is present in memory of the tragic events.
Up Tontine Street just fifty metres, turn left onto the Old High Street. Now the Creative Quarter it’s cute and fun with some groovy tea shops, art galleries and restaurants. At the bottom is Blooms@ the 1/4 restaurant. Excellent location for a late lunch as you can sit outside. Towards the top of the street is Big Boys Fine Burger if you fancy going American style. Also has a nice sun drenched terrace.
Depending where you are staying you can end the hike here, but if you are staying at one of the Hotels on the Leas…follow me. Top of the Old High Street turn left on Bayle St. Fifty odd meters on turn right onto The Bayle. As you progress up The Bayle you will notice the houses getting older. This is because The Bayle is the very oldest part of Folkestone.
The residents have formed an association. Their website has loads of historical information about The Bayle. As the street elbows right you will see a pub The British Lion on the left. This is Folkestone’s oldest pub. Been a public house for six hundred years. Charles Dickens liked to sit inside whilst writing Little Dorrit. Nice fish and chips and pints had here. At the top of The Bayle and Church St. is the Parish of St. Mary & St. Eanswythe. Pass though the grounds. St. Eanswythe has the honour of being only one of two churches in all England to have the relics of its Patron Saint within. Open hours vary. If open it’s worth looking in. To the left of the alter you will see a polished brass hatch. Within are kept St. Eanswythe’s remains.
Pass through the grounds by turning left round the back of the parish. You’ll pass between some bollards and out onto a toe path facing the Channel.
Turn to the right and walk along Albion Villas. One of these was where Charles Dickens took holiday. Continue straight ahead and you’ll pass through a roundabout. To the left is the Road of Remembrance where millions of Commonwealth soldiers marched down to Folkestone Harbour to fight in France in WW1. Many never to return. A memorial to them sits in the centre of the roundabout.
Continue straight onto The Leas. Pass under the Arch, a new memorial to the Great War commemorated on the 100th Anniversary by Prince Harry. You are now in the home stretch if you took my advice and choose a hotel along the Leas. The Clifton Best Western Comes up first at Clifton Gardens. On the far end of the green farther on is The View Hotel on Clifton Rd. Just beyond Clifton Crescent where old guns from the HMS Hood were mounted in batteries during the Battle of Britain is The Grand Hotel at Metropole Rd East.
If you’ve kept a decent pace and not lingered too long you should have completed your tab in just under four hours. But don’t worry if you’ve taken longer. There was loads to see on the hike.
Nearly done. If I’m not dying for the loo I’ll have a good stretch before going in for a late lunch in the hotel and then upstairs for a nice nap.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this lovely hike as much as I do. I look forward to it every year, so much so that I begin planning for it weeks before. Really you can do this hike any month of the year. Although the wind get up a good clip in the winter months if it’s dry and the sun is out it’s an enjoyable day, indeed. My preferred months for this hike begin mid-May and continue until late September. After having lived twenty years in Los Angeles I have become climatized to mild sun drench hikes.
A short video I shot during the hike on Monday, 12 September 2016. “Calling Captain Autumn” by Haircut 100.