Along the Way – Part 7 (Littlestone-on-Sea to Margate)
Dungeness led to a long straight piece of walking on beaches, cycle routes and concrete sea walls built to cope with the constant pounding of the sea. Littlestone-on-Sea, St Mary’s Bay, Dymchurch soon passed. By now I was walking in T-shirt, following the earlier freezing northerly winds. Approaching Hythe I could see a red flag fluttering and had heard the constant gunfire on Hythe ranges ahead. Another detour on an A road, so it was good to reach the genteel town of Hythe, famed for its Military Canal and the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railway – sadly no Santa Special running that day!
Hythe had also produced Britain’s only male gold medal winner at the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome. Racewalker Don Thompson who had won the 50 km walk in 1960 had taught at the nearby Southlands School (now Marsh Academy): he’s commemorated by a plaque set in the seawall beyond the Hythe Imperial Hotel.
The long concrete walk continued past Sandgate and eventually into Folkestone. Again, no cliff railway in service so up the steep steps to see the Step-Short Memorial above Remembrance Hill. A very poignant memorial to First World War soldiers. Looking seaward you realise just how close (and threatening) the French coastline must have appeared during WW2.
Folkestone is full of unknowns, thanks to the Creative Quarter of the town. Exhibits of ‘Folkestone Artwork’ take you by surprise, some whacky, others lifelike. The Antony Gormley sculpture looking out to sea is just one of those. A town still full of character which had seen so much action during WW2. I was sad to leave and make my way up onto the North Downs Way cliff path above the busy port.
Flight, Listening, Freight and Dover
Up on the cliffs I spent time at the Battle of Britain Memorial, dedicated to aircrew of RAF Fighter Command who fought to gain command of the airspace in the summer of 1940. The site of WW1 Royal Naval Air Station Capel was on the other side of the village. This opened in 1915 and from here the Royal Navy deployed spotting airships to patrol the Channel. It is highly likely that WW1 Wrens from the Dover Division would have served here.
En route for Dover, a redundant Sound Mirror used in WW2 came into view above Abbot’s Cliff. During WW2, Wrens who served with the Y Interceptor branch worked at Abbot’s Cliff, passing information back to Bletchley Park. Continuing, Dover gradually grew closer. The trig point on Shakespeare Cliffs indicated that I was standing directly above the Channel Tunnel, the spoils of that construction clearly visible below on the seaward side is the man-made Samphire Hoe Country Park. To my left, the A20 was stacked with freight lorries streaming into town to board the next cross channel ferry: about 2.5 million lorries pass through this port annually.
The noise, smell, rubbish and grime was constant. Hardly surprising the town has a shabby feel about it, though efforts have been made to maintain Marine Parade in seaside fashion. An array of monuments and memorials acknowledge Dover’s varied past. I noticed one to the Royal Norwegian Navy who served here in WW2 at HMS Wasp which was a large coastal forces base that hosted mine layers, torpedo and gun boats. Dover had been a key reception port for exhausted troops returning from the Dunkirk beaches, and Dover based Wrens had worked tirelessly during that dark time.