Waking up to sunshine in Kent… The previous day had been full of adventures: a stroll through the unexpected Samphire Hoe nature reserve, a Banksy mural, a journey through time in the WW2 tunnel of the Dover Castle, seaweed foraging even. Today called for a hike along the white cliffs, not the classic one from Dover to the South Foreland Lighthouse, but from St Margaret’s Bay to Deal, an easy 8 km.
A hearty English breakfast later at the White Cliffs Hotel later, I was on my way. The road leads easily to the beach. The Coastguard, there, actually is the British pub the closest to France and indeed my phone automatically switched to the French network at that point. There are graffiti to be found around, if you look closely: dozens and dozens of names signed on pebbles using chalk and piled here and there… An organic kind of art, to be rolled back and forth by the sea, fading away a little more each time.
From there you can join the England Coast Path, which stretches over 630 miles throughout the country. Steps in the slope, lead you through a tunnel of greenery towards the top of the white cliff. The panoramic views from up there never ceases to amaze me. So much sea, so much sky, so much space… The first part keeps you away from the cliff – there are heavily planted hedges, mixed with brambles. Maybe to slow down the erosion a little.
Suddenly, the landscape changes, opens up completely. No more houses on the left but beautiful, endless fields. Nothing between you and the edge of the cliff either, the grass and wildflowers suddenly stopped by an abrupt white line… You can ever hear the waves brushing the rocks a hundred meters down.
There is no 3G here, no mobile phone reception: it’s liberating. There are thistles and sweet peas, marble white butterflies dancing all around. Locals walking their dogs, stopping for a chat. Joggers going a good pace. It makes you feel like sitting down, emptying your mind completely, focusing on the little sounds around, the sun on your shoulders, the salty breeze.
As you reach the end of the white cliffs, civilisation reappears, the coast goes back to flat. Stairs will take you back to a major road. Regretfully – the walk is so enchanting it’s difficult not to leave a little of your heart up there.
There is another surprise a little bit further – Walmer CastleWalmer Castle, managed by English Heritage. This Tudor fortress, built for Henry VIII, later served as rural retreat for the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and even the Queen Mother, hence its exquisite interiors. Then there is the Broadwalk Garden with its impressive yew edges, almost undulating, the kitchen gardens with its many dashes of colours and the Queen Mother’s garden, a gift for her 95th birthday, complete with arches and a lily filled pond… Sitting there with a cup of tea, scones, clotted cream and jam feels is the ultimate reward!
>> To go back to the starting point, simply jump on the Diamond 15 bus from Deale, wich stops metres away from the White Cliffs Hotel.
>> More information about the region on the Visit Kent and the White Cliffs Country websites