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krisek Dover - A travel report by Krys
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Dover,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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krisek's travel reports

Walking on England's iconic White Cliffs. Dover.

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These magnificent white chalk cliffs welcome everyone coming to England by boat from France. They look incredible! Almost surreal, as if they were a mirage. The National Trust allows walking on top of them between Dover and Deal. report of the month contest
Feb 2010

At the beginning of the White Cliffs walk
At the beginning of the White Cliffs walk
For over a decade and a half I've wanted to take a walk on the top of England's White Cliffs. I remember, when I took a ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England, across the English Channel (aka La Manche) for the first time, I was very impressed with the white shores. I cannot explain why it took me so long to take a trip to see the cliffs up close. But I will try.

London is not far from Dover, yet the public transport had been seriously handicapped. I was not sure if I was prepared to sacrifice 4 hours of my life to do the 3-4 hour walking. So, I was almost ecstatic to find out in December 2009 that Britain's first domestic High Speed rail line was open between London St Pancras and Dover Priory. And when on a weekend full if sunshine I decided to go, I found out that the trains also called at Stratford International, which closer to my home.

My trip started with plenty of adrenaline. I overslept. The road to Canary Wharf Jubilee Line underground station was closed and buses on diversion were taking forever to go around. The underground was slow, for an unspecified reason, and took five minutes longer than normal. The construction work at Stratford (2012 Olympics site and Westfield Shopping Mall) enforced a very long transfer from Stratford domestic station, which also included a bus ride through the Athletics Village in the making. My train rolled on the platform as I descended from the escalator! I wish I was lucky like that playing lottery!

The High Speed train was fast! And almost entirely empty! It had comfortable seats, tables to sit at, and was clean! It had power sockets, so convenient to charge mobile phones and laptops. It was punctual, too!

The way to the cliffs from the train station is not clearly marked. Actually, Dover has only a couple of signposts vaguely showing the way. Even the trails already on the cliffs are poorly organised and although one would not get lost for a long time, it was annoying having to turn around and seek the right path.

Favourite spots:
A close up...
A close up...
The easiest way from the station is to get to the waterfront, and turn east towards the ferry terminal. Then one has to cross the busy street at the last pedestrian crossing and continue east until the first row of buildings, the last building being a hotel, and continue east along the second row of buildings (now becoming the first) and follow a narrow path leading under the ferry car loading flyover. Then the path turns steep until one reaches the top of the cliffs.

It takes about 20 minutes to reach the first of breathtaking views. But before this spot, the general view is truly spectacular! The green and brown meadows, catering for some strange looking horses, extend to very edge of the white chalk cliffs. The whiteness is actually clearly visible although the size of the cliff and how far there is to the bottom, are not.

At bays, it is possible to approach the cliff's edge and admire the total grandeur of the coast formation, when standing at one of the curve's ends.

What's really great:
This view dominates the walk...
This view dominates the walk...
The sensation when standing at the very edge of the cliff is mind-boggling. It feels almost as if the ground was slipping! The softness of the chalk combined with the cushion-like low vegetation play with the imagination. The cliff is, of course, known to collaps and fall into the Channel. And the awareness of that messes with your head! Well, a fall from a cliff like that would most definitely hurt, and in the worst case, it would hurt only for a second.

It is great to see a few walkers on the cliffs! They seem to enjoy it for sure. And most of them bring their four-legged friends, to lug branches and sticks for them! But everyone looks happy.

South Foreland Lighthouse
South Foreland Lighthouse
Along the paths, one can see all the way across the Channel to France. Weather permitting of course! The ferries come and go, several of them per hour.

Along the way, between Dover and St Margaret's Bay, there are two interesting sights. One of them is the great Castle of Dover. Its Norman architecture is fantastic, and its position on the hill overlooking Dover and the White Cliffs is superb. It is not cheap to visit the castle, but it looks also great from the distance.

The other sight is the South Foreland Lighthouse. It is painted bright white and its architecture is intriguing. The tower resembles a castle's rampart, and is unusually 'chunky'. I did not visit the lighthouse inside, and I am not sure if it can actually be visited. But the structure looks great on the brown ground and blue sky background.

Dover Castle
Dover Castle
Dover offers a number of accommodation options, the Premier Inn, right at the waterfront, yards away from the cliff paths entry point, looks like one of the best options. Although, their nationwide advertisement campaign claiming rooms for about £22 does not seem to apply for this venue, as their quote £61 for Sunday night single (room only).

Otherwise, visitors would need to opt for one of the bed & breakfast venues, based in the old Victorian structures, charging about £30 per person. Depending on the decor inside, the Victorian options are usually hit and miss. Some of them offer claustrophobic rooms, showers on the corridors, and the smell is often hmm... interesting.

White Cliffs as the sun was approaching its setting stage.
White Cliffs as the sun was approaching its setting stage.
Dover is good for trekking along the cliffs and catching wind in one's hair, and watching the ferries come and go, and listening to the seagulls, and walking the dogs. It is fairly good for leaving or arriving into the country. But it is lousy for nightlife!

Once upon a time, the only club with a reputation in Dover was Nuage, but its reputation was bad. It was aiming at clientelle not older than 19 or so, and that said it all. I heard nothing new about it and I was not particularly keen on checking it out. I guess now, with the high speed train service, one could go to London to party, go boogie all night long, and come back to Dover (if one absolutely had to!) on a morning service.

Cliffs and the port of Dover
Cliffs and the port of Dover
Hanging out in Dover, luckily, is easier than easy. There is plenty of outdoors, of course, that would satisfy most travellers. The cliffs offer countless places to just sit down, hide from the world, and contemplate the sounds of the sea. It can be done solo or with companions. Equally pleasant!

The waterfront of Dover is clean and well kept. Numerous wooden benches along the promenade are perfect for resting and sipping whisky from one's hip flask (Glenmorangie Quita Ruban tastes superbly in the salty sea breeze) or tucking into the bars of chocolate or slightly salty cream crackers.

There are also pubs. On Sunday, many of them are closed, but there is one, just across the train station, run by an Irish man, which stays open all day. It is a great place to chat to the locals. The bartenders are very efficient and friendly. But the main quality is the chat with the owner. He is happy to fix you a hot toddy on a cold windy day (£2.50).

Polka, Restaurant & Bar (and also a shop)
Polka, Restaurant & Bar (and also a shop)
Right at the pedestrian underpass leading to the New Bridge square, there was this little Polish Restaurant and Bar, called Polka. It might have been one of the only two restaurants open on Sunday afternoon in the entire town. The other one being the KFC on the Market. The Polish restaurant offered typical hearty dishes like pierogi, for example and the service was friendly. I have not eaten there, but when I was chatting to a local pub owner from Ireland (he was running the pub across the train station), he told me that he often went there to have something to nibble and to chat to the Poles. The Irish and Polish cuisines have a few things in common, such as potatoes and cabbage. And both nations like their booze. Both like beer and then they opt for their whiskey and vodka.

Well, if one goes to Dover on Sunday, it is best to pack own picnic. There are countless great picnic spots on the cliffs! Offering best views in Kent!

Other recommendations:
Brown and white, and blue and green...
Brown and white, and blue and green...
Before 2009, travellers had little choice and had to spend almost 2 hours to get from London to Dover by train! While these trains still operate, out of Victoria and Charing Cross stations, faster services from St Pancras International station make the same journey in just 1 hour and 7 minutes! That is an improvement! And the trains also stop at Stratford International, East London.

The White Cliffs can be reached also by bus out of the exceptionally picturesque Sandwich, and Deal, the latter boasting three castles, connecting the villages with Dover.

The cliffs can be dangerous. The chalk collapses due to sea erosion, rain and wind, and accidents happen. A few have been fatal. One has to be really careful, as there are no barriers along the walking paths.

For photography in the morning, it is probably best to walk from east to west, i.e. towards Dover. In the afternoon, in the opposite direction, although great photos can be taken against the sun, too.

Published on Wednesday March 10th, 2010

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Thu, Apr 08 2010 - 10:18 AM rating by sujoy

gUd to c this report

Thu, Apr 08 2010 - 08:19 AM rating by hieronyma

Congratulation!!! I am enviuos and remembering a walk from Pensance to Lands End along the cliffs in Cornwal at Easter time: the wind throwing me nearly of the cliffs, the smell of the salt, the colours, not meeting anybody, what a treat.

Wed, Apr 07 2010 - 03:51 AM rating by patje64

Indeed very nice report. Been there myself on several occasions by boat and must say, every time again, the white cliffs welcome you with an exceptional view when arriving to England ;-)

Sat, Mar 13 2010 - 04:02 AM rating by bineba

I haven't been to Dover in years and even then it was really just on the way to catch the ferry or on the way back. Seems to be worth a (slightly) longer stop.

Fri, Mar 12 2010 - 04:02 PM rating by mistybleu

Great report, I really enjoyed it. I must venture out of london one of these days.

I happy to hear about the train service, as I will be doing a cruise departing from Dover and I was wonder how I would get there. So great update as well. - Nice one!

Wed, Mar 10 2010 - 04:21 PM rating by jacko1

A good, honest, report Krys, the place does not seem to have changed much over the past 30 years or so, only the link to London.When I was a kid I walked, with my dog, the same paths you describe so well and often gazed at a foreign country through a small telescope on a clear day, thank you for reviving the memories, Warm Regards, Tony.

Wed, Mar 10 2010 - 04:19 PM rating by porto

Excellent report Krys, I must visit here someday for a closer view at those gorgeous cliffs. :)

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