145. Dymchurch to Capel-le-Ferne

April 2006

After the peace of the far south eastern corner of Kent I’m now heading back through a large town and busy port and past a military firing range. Despite this there is still much of interest and some  spectacular chalk cliffs to end.

I was doing this walk from home so drove down to Kent via the M25 and M20 and then along the coast to Dymchurch where I parked near the centre of town. Unlike my previous walk it was not a sunny day but an overcast and windy day.  I was also having to use an old and basic digital camera as my newer better one had died with a jammed shutter.

I’m also interested in the ever changing character of the coast. On my previous walk the tide was out, revealing a large sandy beach, the sun was shining and the weather calm. Today the tide is in, it is windy and overcast and Dymchurch looks quite different, and less inviting. A large tanker passes close to the shore as I look out to sea.

The coast at Dymchurch

I passed the closed area of promenade where the sea wall was being repaired and continued north along the promenade. The tide is lapping very close to the top of the sea wall.

The coast at Dymchurch

Dymchurch is a long thin place. It stretches north for about 2 miles whilst width-wise it is never more than a few hundred metres. It feels like I have left the town, passing fields to my left, when I come across a Martello tower that marks the start of another part of the town.

Old Martello Tower at Dymchurch

This one looks to have been recently converted into a home, with a new path and brand new fencing alongside it and a raised roof to provide some much needed natural light.

More building work on the sea wall meant the route on top of it was closed ahead (subsequently rock armour was put all on the beach here) so I have to divert inland along the A259. It is quite a busy road though it does at least have a pavement. I continue past another caravan park and a pub and then reach the northern edge of Dymchurch, at Dymchurch redoubt. Here the Hythe ranges begin and block access to the coast ahead as there was no access when I did the walk (though I believe access is now possible when the range is not in use).

So I have to head further inland along the A259. There is at least a pavement, but I can’t see the coast behind the sea wall and the traffic is now going right past me at high speed. It is no fun so I check the map to see if there is an alternative. There is. Although not as coastal I spot a footpath heading off left alongside Botolph’s Bridge Road and alongside the back of a lake, made from gravel works. I figure that if I can’t see the sea I might as well make a pleasant walk out of it.

The path proves to be quite difficult to follow and overgrown. There are signs pointing the way, but there isn’t much sign that anyone else has been here recently (you can see the footpath marker on the post near the left, but there is no obvious path on the ground).

Footpath near Palmarsh

I make my way through the thick grass soon reaching the narrow gauge tracks of the Romney, Hythe and Dycmchurch railway.

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway near Hythe

To my right soon is the large lake of the gravel works. It might not be the sea, but at least it’s water, I do find there is something soothing about being near water.

Old Gravel works near Palmarsh

Soon my path crosses the railway line itself. It is then squeezed in between a drainage ditch and the train tracks. Walking next to the railway I keep hoping to see a train but none come.

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway

Now on the wrong side of the railway line I have to follow the path until it ends at the road. I then have to follow this minor road further inland until I’m soon alongside the Royal Military Canal.

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway

This is a pretty place but unlike most canals it’s principle purpose was not transport. Instead it was built primarily for defensive purposes, providing a barrier to cross for any would be invaders. However it could be used by barges and tolls were put in on it’s use in the hope these would pay for the cost on construction. This didn’t happen and the canal was abandoned in 1877. Today a good footpath runs the length of the canal though in this case I’m on the other side of the canal from that path.

Soon the path is again squeezed between the canal and the railway line. This time a train does pass, but I’m a bit disappointed to find it is a diesel train not the steam I’m expecting. The path ends at Hythe station, which marks the northern end of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway. The station also houses a little visitor information centre.

Hythe station on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway

This also marks the point I have reached the end of the ranges so I can head back to the coast. I don’t mind my inland diversion as after all the England Coast Path is now routed along the same path too (though it does follow the A259 for longer than I did).

It is good to be back on the coast. As with further south along the coast there seems to be a bit of a beach-launched fishing fleet moored up on the shingle beach though the equipment is kept a bit tidier in bags here rather than dumped on the beach as at Dungeness.

Fishing boats at Hythe

On the left I pass another Maretello Tower, another indication of how heavily defended the coast was. This one has been less sympathetically converted with large windows installed and now painted white, but it must make it nicer inside. Hythe is an interesting place with some fairly grand buildings in amongst ordinary housing. The Hythe Imperial Hotel is a particularly grand one, and still serving it’s original purpose as a hotel.

Hythe

Soon Hythe ends and I’m back along the sea wall beside a large shingle beach. It stretches almost as far as I can see, but despite the haze I can at least make out white chalk cliffs in the far distance.

The beach at Hythe

There is now an easy and flat promenade that stretches all the way to Sandgate with the Hythe Imperial Golf Club between me and the Royal Military Canal beyond to my left. It is an easy if not especially interesting walk.

The beach at Hythe

So I make good time here and soon reach the edge of Sandgate. This was once a separate place but now has more or less merged with Folkestone. I didn’t know much about it but it has character with some nice clapper-board fronted houses with shutters and porches.

Sandgate

Sandgate

I quite like Sandgate. Though what I have noticed is the sky getting increasingly dark and soon there is a heavy shower. At least I’m on tarmac so it does not get muddy and it only lasts a few minutes. I pass more houses these ones backing onto the beach instead of fronting, all painted bright colours. Soon I pass another Martello Tower, again converted but this one in a similar style to the first one with the outer walls intact and a sort of “glass hat” on top.

Old Martello Tower at Sandgate

The promenade continues making for an easy walk. Ahead of me the terrain is changing. I’ve reached the end of the flat Romney Marshes and now there are cliffs starting to appear.

Sandgate

Soon I reach a cliff lift though it is closed for the season. I hadn’t expected this. I’ve always thought of Folkestone as a channel port rather than a resort and a cliff lift is something you find in resorts. For many years a ferry service ran from here to Boulogne and later also to Calais and Ostend. However the ferry services went into decline and all ceased by about 2001 with the port area becoming derelict. The reason is largely the construction and opening of the Channel Tunnel. Folkestone is still a port though, with the Eurotunnel terminal at the back of the town, it’s just that the traffic now goes by train rather than boat these days.

Ahead was an odd place. A derelict amusement park. This was the Rotunda amusement park. This was owned by the same owners as the more famous Dreamland in Margate. It had been gradually run down and by the time I walked here only the amusement arcade, housed within the dome was still operating.

The old Rotunda Amusement park at Folkestone

The rest you could freely walk about but it was derelict and run down. It was odd to walk amongst the old ghost train, wooden rollercoaster and other assorted rides.

The derelict Rotunda Amusement park at Folkestone

The derelict Rotunda Amusement park at Folkestone

Folkestone was clearly struggling with the loss of the ferries and presumably people were not coming to visit the town any longer. Now it has all been demolished and from Google Earth shows that it is now just a wasteland of concrete.

Beyond this I reached the harbour. Now quiet it was given over to leisure traffic – there didn’t look to be much in the way of fishing boats. The railway viaduct still ran across the middle of the harbour.

Folkestone Harbour

Folkestone Harbour

This was used by trains from London which connected with the ferries though these stopped running once the ferries stopped. Behind it was the derelict port buildings. Folkestone I’m afraid was not winning me over it was run down and depressing.

Still rounding the harbour things quickly improved. I passed a couple of nice looking pubs and beyond these was surprised to come across a nice sandy beach.

Folkestone

The beach at Folkestone

As I said I’ve always though of Folkestone as a port so it was nice to see it had a good beach too. I walked along the beach to the end where there were rocks making progress along the shore very hard.

The coast east of Folkeston

So rather than attempt that I headed a bit further inland and found the footpath heading up to the top of the now quite high cliffs.

View back to Folkestone

Ahead, stretched the beautiful White Cliffs which stretch all the way to beyond Dover.

The coast east of Folkestone

This is the eastern end of the North Downs, a chalk ridge that runs from Farnham in Surrey across Surrey and Kent to the coast here at Folkestone. Whilst I was hardly seeing them at their best I knew how spectacular it was having walked this stretch of coast as part of the North Downs Way a few years earlier.

I climbed up to the top and ended up in a little park by another Martello Tower. This one had not been painted and I think had been preserved rather than converted.

Martello Tower near Folkeston

The route ahead was a bit confusing now. The North Downs Way runs right along the cliff top but these are about 500 metres from the actual sea. This is because the cliffs slope gradually down to the coast and in front of them is the railway line and a road. But I was not sure if the road was a dead-end (I think it is).

The coast at Capel-le-Ferne

There was no right of way marked either so I decided to to stick to the North Downs Way as up here there were lovely views, too and I knew I could get through. I could look back over Folkestone which still did not really look very appealing, I’m afraid I did not like the town much.

View back to Folkestone

The North Downs Way that I was now following is a National Trail so was well signed and easy to follow.Given the distance and the grey weather I decided to save the walk onwards to Dover for a future visit and end in the town of Capel-le-Ferne. So I headed inland once the path was next to the road, passing the attractive little church.

The church at Capel-le-Ferne

It was a nice little town. From here I took a bus back to Dymchurch. By the time I reached Dymchurch the weather had improved and the sun was breaking through. Dymychurch looked far more welcoming than when I had left it.

Dymchurch beach

Rather than head straight home I spent a few minutes sitting on the sea wall and walking along the beach.  It was nice to end the days walk by the sea overlooking a fine sandy beach.

I won’t pretend this was a favorite walk as I spent much of the early part of the walk inland trying to get around the Hythe ranges. Once past it, Hythe was a nice town but it was followed by Folkestone, which wasn’t. But having reached Folkestone I knew the next walk would be excellent, along the top of the beautiful chalk cliffs.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach “The Wave” routes 101, 102 and 103 : Dover – Capel-le-Ferne – Folkestone – Sandgate – Seabrook – Hythe – Dymchurch – St Mary’s Bay – New Romney – Greatstone – Lydd-on-Sea – Lydd. Some buses continue past Lydd to Hastings via Rye. The bus runs 4 times per hour Monday – Saturday and twice an hour on Sundays. It takes about 50 minutes between Capel-le-Ferne and Dymchurch.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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