Coastal walk from Folkestone to Dover

Last summer I headed out to do the two harbours walk from Folkestone to Dover in Kent, partly following the North Downs Way. This beautiful coastal walk follows the chalk cliffs with stunning views across the Channel ending at the famous white cliffs of Dover. We pass the Martello towers, Abbots Cliff Sound Mirror, Battle of Britain War Memorial, Samphire Hoe and Shakespeare Cliff.
I have to say this was one of the most picturesque walks I’ve done anywhere in the world.

The pints in a hotel bar with my Dad and sister at the end were decent as well.

This links to the walk I did from Folkestone in 2022 to visit the Hythe Sound Mirrors.

A visit to Orford Ness – the ‘isle of secrets’

Orford Ness in Suffolk was once a top-secret military research site and today operated by the National Trust. This 10-mile-long shingle spit on the Suffolk Coast is home to a range of habitats, including salt marshes, reed beds and lowland heath, and only accessible by ferry. The secretive research military research centre came into operation in 1912 and was closed in 1985 when it was taken over by the Nation Trust. For many years it was forbidden to approach the island.

I visited on the last weekend of Afterness in October 2021 – a series of installations commissioned by Artangel that included works by Ilya Kaminsky, Emma McNally, Chris Watson, Alice Channer and others. Orford Ness is an extraordinary location. Some of the military buildings have been retained and allowed to naturally decay. The site includes the Cobra Mist radar masts built in early 40’s, a former lighthouse, blast bunkers, and the remains of an experimental rocket testing site. W G Sebald wrote about a journey to Orford Ness in his book The Rings of Saturn. Sebald found it a desolate lonely place. For me it is one of the most extraordinary places in the whole of Britain. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the uncanny atmosphere of strolling along the paths that snake across the shingle, navigating my way from one defunct military installation to the next conjuring up the peculiar wartime experiments that were conducted here. It must have been an intense and paranoid place.

Orford Ness bunker
Orford Ness
Orford Ness Suffolk
Orford Ness bunker
Orford Ness bunker

Back in the village of Orford having a pint in the Jolly Sailor, the mysteriousness of the landscape sunk in. The temple-like nature of the decayed military buildings, the proximity to the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO incident (the Orford lighthouse was unconvincingly proffered as an explanation), and the great Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo. The lost city of Dunwich lies beneath the waves just a few miles north. This is a seriously surreal stretch of the English coastline – a place of deep mystery.

Map showing the alignment of Orford Ness, Sutton Hoo and Rendlesham Forest
alignment of Orford Ness, Sutton Hoo and Rendlesham Forest

Related videos:

Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail – Britain’s Roswell / Bentwaters Incident

Along the River Deben to Sutton Hoo

Sebald’s Rings of Saturn Walk Southwold to Dunwich

Exploring Jane Austen’s Worthing with Travis Elborough

Blustery old Worthing. A town overly associated with pensioners escaping risqué Brighton with its lurid temptations. Worthing is decent. But I doubt it had that reputation when Jane Austen stayed there for a few months at the back end of 1805 and used it as the setting for her unfinished novel, Sanditon. Author Travis Elborough covers Austen’s sojourn on the West Sussex coast in one of the chapters of his latest book, The Writer’s Journey. I accompanied Travis on a fantastic stroll around his hometown a couple of weeks ago to shoot a video for my YouTube channel. We looked at The Connaught Theatre, Stanford Cottage (where Jane Austen stayed in 1805), The Dome Cinema as featured in the 1987 film Wish You Were Here starring Emily Lloyd and Tom Bell, Harold Pinter’s place by the sea, The Royal Arcade, Shelley House, Worthing Pier and many more locations. It was a great day. The fish and chips were huge and the batter crispy. The wind nearly blew my beard off.

Travis Elborough at the Dome Cinema, Worthing November 2022 - photo by John Rogers
Travis Elborough at the Dome Cinema, Worthing

Find more books by Travis Elborough here

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Folkestone & the Hythe Sound Mirror

The south coast sound mirrors first caught my eye in the brilliant BBC comedy Back to Life. I only now realise I mistakenly thought the location used in the series was the impressive array near Dungeness that is only accessible on certain days of the year. Turns out that the sound mirror featured in the show was a short distance along the coast between Dover and Folkestone at Abbot’s Cliff. Instead I decided to walk from Folkestone towards Rye to the sound mirror in the hills above Hythe – in what was one of the best hikes of the year so far.

Part of the appeal of heading for the Hythe sound mirror was that it would take in a section of the 28-mile Royal Military Canal that I picked up at Seabrook, til I spied the sound mirror embedded amongst undergrowth just beneath the ridge in the Roughs, marooned like a crashed UFO. This particular sound mirror was built in 1929 as part of a chain of coastal defences, with the aim of detecting incoming aircraft crossing the channel. It possesses a latent magic of a much older artefact. The fact a human being had to plug themselves into to this enormous concrete dish via a metal trumpet and a stethoscope to listen for the distant rubble of aircraft engines amplified its mystery.

Hythe Sound Mirror

Returning along the coast at early evening I caught the sunset on the Harbour Arm and remembered the video series I shot down here with brilliant artist Bob and Roberta Smith for the Folkestone Triennial in 2016 – Folkestone is an Art School. As the sun went down and the wind battered the Harbour lighthouse I wandered up the meandering Old High Street already making plans to return.

A Gallivant round St Leonards-on-Sea with Andrew Kötting

After watching Andrew Kötting’s debut feature, Gallivant at the Sydney Film Festival in 1997 I went straight out and bought a Canon Super 8 camera to make a film on my travels through India back home to England. There’s a direct line between that screening in the Pitt Street Cinema and my weekly YouTube videos today. So this trip to St Leonards to take a stroll round the Regency seaside town with Andrew Kötting had particular resonance. In fact it had too much significance to fully dwell upon.

A journey to an English coastal resort in winter is either an extreme display of confidence or a brash two fingers to Fate. I like to think I was doing both and Fate decided to answer back with howling winds, torrential sideways rain and plummeting temperatures. So we hid in the Goat Ledge Cafe to take refuge and feast on Goat Ledge Sunrise rolls filled with smoked haddock, chilli jam, fried egg, and chard mayo. We attempted to push on along the esplanade but the rain hammered down even harder and the wind clipped our ears, so we retreated to Andrew’s home to talk about Gallivant.

Andrew Kötting outside a Fish and Chip shop in St Leonards-on-Sea

The four-month road trip around the entire coastline of Britain with his Grandmother Gladys and young daughter Eden, was a visionary odyssey, capturing the eccentricity as well as the beauty of this mystical isle. It was the perfect re-introduction to end my three-year travels abroad. The psychogeographical revival was well underway in Britain when the film was released in 1996 with Patrick Keiller’s film London and the writings of Iain Sinclair. Gallivant expanded this scope beyond the capital to cover the entire island. So when Iain Sinclair’s review of Gallivant in Sight and Sound brought the two together on the streets of St Leonards, where Iain also sometimes resides, it was feared that the psychogeographical reverberances would crack the country apart – or at least swallow a kebab shop in Hackney. Instead we’ve witnessed a steady stream of collaborations that have seen Andrew dressed as a straw bear walking from Epping Forest to Northamptonshire, a nautical journey in a swan-shaped pedalo, a 24-hour walk around the London Overground, a quest to reincorporate the ghost of King Harold, and a pilgrimage to deliver a whalebone box to the Outer Hebrides.

The colonnade at Bexhill-on-Sea

We conceded defeat to the elements and Andrew took me for a drive along St Leonard’s Regency seafront, stopping to pay homage to the statue of Edith Swanneck before driving onwards to Bexhill-on-Sea. Gallivant opens on the beach at Bexhill in front of the majestic modernist dream of the De La Warr Pavilion. This year was the 25th anniversary of the film’s release and Andrew reminiscing about childhood visits here with Gladys seemed the perfect end to the day. Maybe Fate had been on our side after all.