diamond geezer

 Monday, February 24, 2014

Postcards from Dover

In 1909 a lowly meadow behind Dover Castle won Louis Blériot a grand. The Daily Mail had offered the prize to the first man to fly across the English Channel, not thinking anyone would win, in a pioneering aviation contest. Louis had practised over land in France, increasing his flight time to almost an hour, before making his first attempt just after dawn one July morning. A ship guided him towards the invisible English coast, and to Northfall Meadow where the journalist Charles Fontaine stood waving a Tricolor. Gusty winds forced a heavy landing, snapping the blade of the propeller and damaging the undercarriage, but Blériot was unhurt. His 36½ minute flight brought fame and big success for his fledgling aviation company, and a long career in the aeronautical industry followed. Blériot's landing place is marked by a granite aeroplane inset in the grass opposite Dover Castle. Most visitors to the car park up the hill don't realise it's there, hidden a short distance away in the woods down an unsigned path. On Saturday afternoon I was the only person present, approaching the outline across muddy grass for a closer look. The field sloped more steeply than I was expecting, making steps around the top a necessity, although I guess a belly-flop landing didn't require a horizontal surface.

White cliffs rise on both sides of Dover town, but the most famous are those to the east behind the main harbour. The National Trust own the land above for the benefit of the nation, and have recently opened a Visitors' Centre below Fox Hill Down. The walk up from Dover is knackering so most drive, and a National Trust volunteer collects easy money at the entrance to the car park. Some pull up facing the Channel and merely stare through the windscreen, never feeling the need to step outside. Others wander a few yards down the grassy slope to watch the bustling port below, but never venture further along the clifftop to enjoy a more private view. Most do thankfully go for a proper walk - two are signposted, a shorter stroll or a longer hike along the coast to South Foreland Lighthouse. Off they pile from the tearoom-stroke-giftshop, kids bouncing and dogs buzzing, for what looks like being an easy amble. And then a descent is required at Langdon Hole, which should be simple because there are steps, but they're a cascade of mud at the moment so alternative routes must be sourced. Tracking the pink signs soon leads to a coastal viewpoint, not that many pause for the view, after which a gently sloping track cuts up the cliff face back to tea and perhaps cake. You should choose the To The Lighthouse walk, obviously, if you've more hours to spare.

The main privilege of visiting Dover is to watch the ferries shuttling to and fro. They're best seen from the eastern clifftop, a regular procession of great ships on a line from Calais or somewhere continental. As each nears the harbour wall they slow to pass through the gap in the breakwater, then manoeuvre into place alongside one of seven adjustable piers. It's not long before the gates are opened and hundreds of vehicles pour out, a cascade of lorries and coaches spiralling round a series of raised roads. The scale of cross Channel traffic is perhaps higher than you'd imagine, at least in terms of volume of stock and numbers of tour parties. As they arrive another batch of travellers prepares to depart, queueing in rows to drive up the ramp and escape the country. Listen carefully from the clifftop and you can just about make out the booming instructions broadcast to passengers as they prepare for embarkation. It's a clockwork operation with turnaround time kept to a minimum, every day writing another small chapter in our island story.

At the big roundabout below Dover Castle, traffic from the port disgorges. It's precisely here that both the A2 and the A20 end, the former swooping down from above and the latter heading along the seafront. Lorries belonging to logistics companies you've never heard of thunder by, as do 53-seaters laden with t-shirted tour parties and school trips. Nudged up beneath the cliff face is a narrow terraced street, East Cliff, whose back gardens you might think would need protective netting. Partway along is a pub called First and Last, a title it gained when the previous pub of this name further up the street closed down. Alas the new First and Last has now followed suit, despite a string of landlords who've recently taken it on. The ideal spot, you'd have thought, for a final pint on leaving the country or an initial beer on returning, but no. Parking's non-existent and most simply drive down the main road in front without ever noticing the place. Part-conversion to a hostel didn't help the economics, nor please the locals, hence the boarding-up of both. And I guess that means the new 'First and Last' is the bar at the Premier Inn on Marine Parade, a soulless building that better sums up the grim heart of seafront Dover. Cheers.

Across the Western Heights the sun is beginning to set. I'm sitting in a spiky shelter on the promenade, devouring my first seaside fish and chips of the year. Cost less than a fiver too, which I wasn't expecting, but no complaints. I shovel up another mouthful of cod with my plastic fork as a young family approaches. "I'll catch you up," says the son, then sits down on the wooden slats nearby and opens his rucksack. Out come the rollerblades, three fluorescent wheels in parallel under each, and he tries to slip them on. This takes some time. You can't whip off a pair of trainers and then strap yourself into rollerblades with any haste, and his velcro fastenings are proving slow and troublesome. By the time son has his blades on, near enough, his family are already some way distant. He stands, somewhat shakily, and feels his way to the end of the shelter to launch off. It's not going well. He stares down the promenade, wobbling unsteadily, considering his immediate options. And yes, it's probably for the best to retreat to the bench and change his footwear back to trainers. This doesn't take quite so long because he's expert in tying laces, and then he's off, running headlong across the promenade to catch up with the rest of his clan. I can only guess what cutting remark his sister will offer when he gets there. A seagull swoops in and stares at my fish, then eyeballs me and thinks better of it.

My Dover gallery
» There are 24 photographs altogether

I travelled High Speed down to Dover for £10 using Southeastern's 'Kent Coast' special offer. Available off-peak from London to either Deal, Folkestone, Dover or Margate from 17 February to 16 March.

» Further postcards from Dover from my trip in 2006
» Postcards from Deal
» Postcards from Margate
» ...but best hang on until the autumn to visit Folkestone for the Triennial

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards