Monday, August 07, 2000

Walk 20 -- Sandgate to Folkestone Harbour

Ages: Colin was 58 years and 91 days. Rosemary was 55 years and 218 days.
Weather: Threatening clouds, but remaining dry and very warm, as yesterday in fact.
Location: From Sandgate to Folkestone.
Distance: 3 miles.
Total distance: 133 miles.
Terrain: Some concrete prom covered in shingle, some shingle beach and some tarmacked and cobbled streets.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None. (Colin said he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to go looking for a pub only to find it had disappointing beer!!)
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None, despite a fairground at Folkestone.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We packed up our camp at Stelling Minnis. We drove to Sandgate where we parked in the free car park overlooking the sea wall.
At the end, we walked back to Folkestone bus station and caught a bus which was 15 minutes late back to Sandgate. The fare for this two mile journey was £1.05 each! (A taxi could well have been cheaper.) Then we drove home to Bognor.

We started along the lower prom which was covered in shingle washed up from the beach and seemed to be very unkempt. The prom soon ran out and we had a bit of shingle beach to walk on—but we are getting used to that. Then we discovered Folkestone’s nudist beach! There were cliffs to our left now, the first since Pett all that way back, and lying at the bottom of these were a few repulsive bodies looking like stranded white whales! Answer me this—why is it that the people who frequent nudist beaches are always middle-aged and bulbous? There are some things in life which are best kept hidden, and fat white naked bodies come high on the list!
Colin remarked on the rocks that were on the beach, a rather nice stone with a greenish tinge. Using my geological knowledge (after all, I have got an honours degree in the subject) I surmised that they were upper greensand, a layer of harder rock which occurs just below the chalk. (My computer, however, is quite ignorant of this because it has just marked greensand as a wrong spelling!) Ever since we were at Pett, forty miles back, we have been walking on flat shingle, mostly reclaimed from the sea. But we have seen the Downs away to our left, and over the last ten miles or so we have particularly noticed the line of green hills closing in on us—the North Downs. Folkestone is where they hit the sea, so it makes sense that the rocks just before Folkestone are the thin layer of upper greensand.
The Royal Military Canal starts at Pett and goes all along the bottom of these hills to end where the flat land ends, about where we came across the Citroën garage yesterday. It is very beautiful with lovely walks alongside it, we have crossed over it many times on our comings and goings to get to these walks. It is a complete wildlife sanctuary because it was never actually used for the purpose for which it was built—defence.
It was started in 1804 when the threat of invasion by Napoléon and his cronies from across the Channel was very real. The idea was that troops and their big guns could be transported in barges very quickly along this vulnerable flat length of coast, and the soil dug out could be built into a bank to provide a screen for a parallel road so the defence forces could also move safely. By the time it was completed in 1809, Napoléon had been defeated at Trafalgar and, although the Battle of Waterloo was yet to be fought, the threat of invasion was no more. It had cost £230000 to build (multi-millions in present day terms) and was redundant even before it was completed! It was leased out for freight and passenger traffic in an effort to recoup some of this cost, but it was never very busy because it did not connect anywhere of particular importance. After ninety years or so it fell into complete disuse, but since it had no locks and was across extremely flat country it did not dry up or become derelict. It has been protected as a wildlife sanctuary for many years with limited pleasure use in places like Hythe.
Back to our walk, we only had a short bit of shingle walking before we stepped on to the westernmost prom of Folkestone, and from then on walking was a lot easier. We passed a number of beach huts at the bottom of the cliff, but not a single one was in use. All were padlocked, some with a lock so rusty that it obviously hadn’t been opened for years. We asked some passing street cleaners if they knew who owned them and if they were ever used. They said they thought that they were Council owned and that they were probably used ‘in the season’. When I pointed out that it was the season, they laughed and shrugged their shoulders!
Once more we sighed for the demise of the English seaside, and I remarked that when we restarted our seaside holidays as a family when I was twelve (in 1957) we always booked a beach hut for the week. Dad was used to doing that ever since he started booking seaside holidays in 1933, a year after he married Mum. After the summer of 1939 their seaside holidays were interrupted by the War, then they were unable to afford such luxuries for a few years with six children, then seven, then eight! By 1957 some of the older ones had left home and Dad was being paid more, so it was Lyme Regis that year, Swanage in 1958, Margate in 1959, Minehead in 1960 and Barmouth in 1962. In 1961 we went abroad for the first time and I suppose other families became more adventurous as we did, so the traditional seaside began its decline—1962 was the last time my Dad ever booked a beach hut. They were good, they usually contained a few deckchairs, a windbreak, a kettle & tea cups and a little gas stove—there was always a tap somewhere near where you could fill your kettle.
A little further along we passed another interesting feature—the Leas Lift, a Victorian water balanced lift which carries people up to the top of the cliff. It was opened in 1885 with another alongside it in 1890. Each car has a tank underneath for water, the lower tank is emptied and the water pumped up to fill the upper one. When the weight is balanced the upper one will start to move of its own accord, pulling the lower one up with a cable as it descends. If the upper car is full of people and the lower one empty, then the lift can be persuaded to work without any water at all! By 1967, the older lift was already derelict and the 1890 one went out of service too (the demise of the English seaside again!) Luckily, the local Council had the foresight to buy it, restore it and open it up again. It has been working ever since and we stood and watched it going up and down several times.
We then moved along to the funfair, and I was very disappointed that there was no Ferris wheel. Will I ever get a ride on one? There was a small log flume and I like those too, perhaps I should change my affections but I don’t want to get wet!
We walked right along the beach to the bottom of the harbour wall, then realised we had come to a dead end because there was no way up. Colin even tried a pink door but it was bolted on the other side. We started to retrace our steps, then Colin yelped because he had found a hole in the fence just big enough to squeeze through. Like two adolescents, we crawled through the gap and skitted across a car park to Folkestone Harbour Station! Again, it was Colin who discovered the way up on to the harbour wall—we walked along the station platform which curved so we were soon out of sight of the main buildings and passed the other side of the pink door which was firmly padlocked; then, turning back on ourselves we mounted a smelly stone staircase and there was a small door at the top which led out on to the wall. There was some notice about fishing competitions and not permitted if you didn’t have a permit, but we ignored it because it was about fishing.
From up there we could see the harbour end of Folkestone Harbour Station where they used to load the boat trains on to cross-Channel ferries in the ‘good old days’ of steam. The whole place had an air of dereliction about it. Only catamarans cross from Folkestone to Boulogne these days, and not very many of them. It was a very clear day and we could see a good long way, but we couldn’t see France because it was too hazy on the horizon. There were lots of fishermen up there and we walked past several of them as we made our way towards the lighthouse on the end. Suddenly one of them approached us and told us, very politely, that we were not allowed on the harbour wall if we were not fishermen. Oh, all right then; so we turned about and casually ambled back taking all the photos we wanted as we went.

Back on the station platform we noticed that the opposite platform was all nicely decorated up to top-of-head level but extremely tatty above that, it certainly looked very odd from where we were standing. Our way (the nearest safe path to the sea) led across the footbridge - which seemed airless and smelt strongly of Jeyes fluid! - over the railway and into the station building. We were looking for the loo which was on the platform, and were rather surprised to find a carpeted slope leading down to posh self-opening doors. Then all was explained—for on the doors was etched ‘The Orient Express’! Trying to relive the grand days of style and at great expense to themselves, people are brought to this semi-derelict station in their posh Pullman carriages only to cross the Channel on a catamaran! It’s all right if they don’t look up when they alight from the train, nor too much to the right or left, then they will only see the painted bits as they are no doubt hustled into a first class lounge hidden somewhere behind closed doors! (Why am I so cynical? Did I inherit it, or has life taught me a few lessons over the years?)
We crossed the station forecourt to where a Russian submarine was parked in the harbour, but we didn’t pay to go round it. Where did they get it from anyway? Did they capture it in the Cold War? Ironically, less than a week later a Russian nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea in rather mysterious circumstances with the loss of over a hundred lives. The Russians were still very cagey about others discovering their ‘secrets’ even in this day and age with the result that they didn’t ask for help with the rescue from other nations (Britain had a suitable sub and experts based at Glasgow) until it was far too late to do anything for those poor wretched men running out of air in the dark and cold.
We had to walk over the railway to get round the harbour, past a lot of stalls on a cobbled square on the other side and under the railway arches to go through the fish market. The eastern wall of the harbour is low, narrow and prohibited to the public. There were some people standing on the end of it but they had got off a boat. We decided to end our walk there.

That ended Walk No.20, we shall pick up Walk No.21 next time at the eastern wall of Folkestone Harbour. We bought an ice cream, then walked back past the top of the cliff lift to the bus station where we caught a bus which was 15 minutes late back to Sandgate where our car was parked. The fare for this two mile journey was £1.05 each! (A taxi could well have been cheaper.) On our way home to Bognor we stopped at the Citroën garage at Seabrook where we were shown a red two-year-old Citroën Xantia with only 16000 miles on the clock. We subsequently bought it having negotiated a very reasonable price including part-exchanging our present white six-year-old Renault Clio.