We finished lunch on the far western end of Samphire Hoe Country Park, and then dropped down onto the shingle beach below. The tide was out, allowing us a passage to Folkestone underneath the cliffs. The low November sun was our only companion. This was not a populated place.
The beach gradually became more and more littered with chalk rocks. Some had been smashed in rockfalls and then worn away by the sea into pebbles. Some were still rocks or boulders. There were two large pieces in particular that impressed. One was bigger than a person, and stood firmly rooted in the sand several metres forward from the cliff face. It gave the appearance of having being skewered into the ground, as if it had plummeted downwards as a cliff overhang broke away, landing sharp end down and penetrating the surface to a depth of several metres. It now stood like an immovable iceberg, with only its crown showing above the sand.In reality, I suspect that there had been a cliff fall, but that this piece of rock was part of the bottom of the cliff. It had held its ground, and the tide had slowly eroded its base.
Just further on was another impressive piece of tide-sculpted chalk. Closer to the sea, this one was obviously covered at high tide, and was adorned in seaweed. Several limpets had made this rock their home.
Due to the softness of the chalk, the limpet scars ran deep.
As we walked, the rocks grew in number. The beach soon disappeared underneath them, and we had to draw nearer to the cliffs where walking was easier. We were dwarfed by the landscape.
Eventually we reached a concrete sea wall. Access to it was by climbing a metal ladder. The ladder was broken; the bottom section was missing, so it simply stuck out from the wall at an angle. You could get to the bottom rung by stepping up onto a boulder and from there to the ladder. At its top the arms of the ladder looped around and down and were bolted to the concrete, but the bolts were loose. The ladder had become a cantilever, and the bolts could not take the stress. In order to add some support, someone had wedged a bit of wood under the bottom rung. This may have reduced the stress on the bolts, but it did little for the stress of those willing to risk climbing the ladder! It wobbled unnervingly.
Once up on the sea wall we had a straightforward two mile walk into Folkestone – or so we thought. Just outside the town the wall ended at a small beach area. There were two possible methods of access from here to the town: a boulder field at low tide, or a muddy track up and over the ground adjoining the beach. We opted for the latter, but were soon greeted by a family skidding and sliding down the muddy path, emitting little screams and squeals as they tried to keep their balance. The mother warned us not to go up the path. “It’s really muddy and it’s a long way,” she said, suggesting that we nip over the boulder field instead.
Nip. She didn’t actually use that word, but it was the sort of thing that was conveyed. In fact, our nip over the boulder field took us an hour (it felt like two hours, at least) to walk two thirds of a mile. The boulders were large and cumbersome. They were difficult to navigate, and endless in their number. At times my GPS told me we were moving at 0.2 miles an hour. We clambered from boulder to boulder, and on to the next boulder, then the one after. We tried to find ones that would not rock unsteadily when we put our weight on them. We sometimes had to take a leap of faith and hope we were jumping onto something that would hold firm. Most did, but it was a mental effort to keep going. We tried to pick out the best looking route, only to find that each alternative was as difficult as the other. Mud or no mud, we should have taken that path up and over into the town. The mother who advised us to nip over the boulder field had no idea of the undertaking she was asking of us. At one point, as we slowly stepped from rock to rock, we saw a man asleep. I know how he felt, but we had to move on.
In fact this area is a good place to hunt fossils. We saw several groups who had ventured out, hunting between the rocks. My son raced on ahead, finding a location to search while he waited for us to catch up. He made a couple of finds.
Eventually we reached Copt Point, where the remains of some wartime bunkers stand on a concrete platform. At last! Flat, easy, concrete! But then I looked to the other side and saw the boulders continue. And so we continued too. The second half of the boulder field dragged more slowly than the first. I’ve not read Inferno, but surely there is a boulder field encircling one of Dante’s Circles of Hell. If not, he missed a trick.
We climbed a set of steps up to the clifftop, ending our walk for the day. Standing on top of the cliff was Martello Tower #3. The Martello Towers line parts of the Essex, Kent and Sussex coastlines, but are particularly prevalent around Folkestone. Standing next to Tower #3, I could see #1 and #2 a short distance away.
The Martello Towers were originally constructed as defences against an anticipated Napoleonic invasion. The name is actually a corruption of the name “Mortella”, from Mortella Point in Corsica. It was here that the British were asked to aid the island’s inhabitants by ridding them of the French, who occupied the island. Two warships, with 106 guns attacked the tower at Mortella Point. The tower itself only had two guns. Despite this, it took two days of shelling for the British to take the tower. In the process, they suffered 66 casualties. By comparison, the tower had been defended by a French officer with “eight or ten Grenadiers and some seamen…two of whom were severely wounded”.
The british were impressed enough to build some “Martello” Towers of their own. In 1804 it was decided to build a defensive line between Folkestone and Eastbourne.
The Napoleonic invasion never came. After 1850 Martello Tower #3 was used by the coastguard. Some coastguard families lived there, including a family by the name of Finn who lived here for some 15 years. It is said that one year, they fired the cannon from the roof three times to celebrate the wedding of a girl who had been born in the tower, causing an invasion scare as many thought the French were launching an aerial attack.
I wandered back down to the clifftop and watched the sun get low in the sky as we waited for our taxi back to Dover.
Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Lunch: N 51° 06.139 E 001° 15.727
- Big Chalk Boulders: N 51° 06.097 E 001° 15.245
- Copt Point: N 51° 04.995 E 001° 11.950
- Martello Tower #1: N 51° 05.480 E 001° 11.933
- Martello Tower #2: N 51° 05.305 E 001° 11.817
- Martello Tower #3: N 51° 05.115 E 001° 11.875
Walk #37 Statistics (the entire walk from Dover to Folkestone, of which this post forms the last part):
- Date of Walk: 11 November 2012
- Walk #37 total distance covered: 8.42 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 297.13 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!