Dover is no top tourist hot spot, more the kind of place people drive through en route to the ferry to go someplace else. We decided to buck the trend and stay a couple of nights to explore a little before our ferry crossing. Top of my list was the famous white cliffs – where we headed as soon as we arrived. Our goal was to hike to South Foreland lighthouse, up and back along the cliffs, four miles in total, hopefully getting a closer look at the chalky wonders on the way.
A National Trust area, we found a big car park and visitor centre with superb cafe and tearoom. Son took the opportunity to offload some money (burning a hole in his pocket) in the gift shop, then armed with water, hats and sun-cream we set off in search of the coastal path. This is definitely the best place to get great close-ups of the cliffs and the chalk grassland that is home to unusual plants, insects and lots of butterflies. Far reaching views over the English Channel towards the French coast too – on this bright, clear day we could easily see chimneys in France in the distance.
The cliffs are eroded by about five centimetres every year, although in winter several tonnes can fall. The battering of the sea means they stay white – were it not for this they would be covered in green vegetation. Apparently there are Exmoor ponies here which graze the grass and keep it short and manageable – we didn’t spot any. As we left Dover behind the first part of the path became super narrow with a sheer drop to the right. Not for vertigo sufferers, I however was so focussed on keeping Son away from the edge that vertigo was the last thing on my mind. After a short way it widened then we were on the cliffs proper and all could breathe a sigh of relief. Plenty of space to spread out and no danger of having to go too near the crumbling cliff edge.
Great views of the port and a reminder this is a working and industrial place. However in about five minutes we found ourselves in a rural idyll – just glorious where the chalk cliffs meet the English Channel with superb views of the French coast.
The cliff top is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the flora and insect life. The terrain was fairly uneven and undulating, the tracks were rough but there were just a few steep slopes to climb. Son found many things to catch his interest so our walk took probably a fair bit longer than that of most other people.
South Foreland lighthouse, at the end of the path and up a steep hill had a wonderful 1940’s style tea room with music playing and the best cupcakes I have ever tasted. Washed down with icy cold lemonade they were just the thing to restore flagging energy levels.
We got tickets for the lighthouse – National Trust members go free – and then did the guided tour. A wonderfully enthusiastic guide told us all the history and took us right to the top. It was built in 1843 but there has been a lighthouse on this spot for over 350 years – the infamous Goodwin Sands are nearby. This lighthouse was decommissioned in 1998. Michael Faraday came to oversee it being the first lighthouse lit by electricity, it was also the site of the first ever international radio broadcast. We were shown how the light mechanism works – Son was intrigued by that, Husband and I were intrigued by the wonderful views.
Back down to the cliff path, back across the fields and cliffs to our starting point with more of those wonderful views to keep us going as we retraced our steps. There are endless cliches about this place, you feel somehow like you know the White Cliffs even if you’ve never been there, the reality definitely does not disappoint.