Folkestone to Dungeness
Saturday, 05 October 2019
It has been five and a half years since I was last at Folkestone. Since then, I had tried a few times to sort out a walk from Folkestone to Rye, but each time I was unable to find affordable accommodation and wild camping options didn’t really appeal to me either. The area around Dungeness is a completely open shingle beach with no shelter from the elements and nowhere private too, well, you know.
To make matters worse, EDF, the owners of Dungeness Power Station, now have the Nuclear Police patrol the area and move on anyone that is trying to camp there or overnight in the car parks.
So, what changed? Well, the addition of ‘Bianca Bongo’ to our family has finally made this section of the England Coast Path possible and with Susan booked in for a weekend away in Eastbourne, the opportunity was too good to miss.
I headed off down the M20 on Friday evening with a plan to arrive at Lydd-on-Sea at around 6 pm. I didn’t want to arrive earlier than that because the car park I was planning on spending the night in was free from 6 pm to 8 am the next morning.
I know what you are thinking. Spending a night in a Car Park?
Well, this particular Car Park is right next to the sea at Greatstone Beach with fantastic ‘big sky’ views toward the East and, as an added benefit, it also has toilet block which, according to my research, would be open until 10 pm. As it turns out, I was a week too late and the toilets were now being locked much earlier.
I made myself some dinner and a cup of coffee and settled in for the evening to watch some programs that I had downloaded to my tablet.
Bianca Bongo was the only vehicle in the car park and I was confident I would get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, I awoke, had breakfast and caught the bus to Folkestone to begin my walk back to Lydd-on-Sea along the coast path. The one-way ticket on the Wave 102 service was £6.20 and would take an hour.
I planned to walk back along the coast path, past the car park where I spent the night, and on to the Pilot Inn at Dungeness. A distance of approximately eighteen miles.
At Hythe, there is a firing range, and having checked the firing times online, I knew I would have to follow the diversion inland to avoid it but that was several miles away and, right now, I was more concerned with the weather. It was already quite windy and the forecast was ‘overcast’ but it looked like it was going to rain and eighteen miles in the wind and rain would be a challenge.
I left the Central Bus Station at Folkestone and walked the short distance to The Leas. The Leas is a classic victorian cliff top promenade which sits above a park area called the Lower Leas Coastal Park. The park is next to the shoreline and the official England Coast Path goes through the park.
However, I decided to walk along the promenade and see a bit more of Folkestone. The Leas has everything that a victorian promenade should have. A nice wide path, a bandstand, pavilions and a tearoom and it is dominated by two large luxury hotels, The Metropole and The Grand.
From my position, I could see right across the bay. In the distance, I could just see the outline of the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. It looked a very long way off!
I reached the end of the Leas and took a path down to the sea wall at Sandgate Beach and the England Coastal Path. I had expected to be walking on concrete but the sea wall was well and truly covered in shingle making it difficult to walk on for the first mile or so.
Eventually, the shingle returned to the beach and I was able to follow the path for several miles until I reached Hythe.
At Hythe, the red flag was flying confirming what I had read on the internet. The path ahead was closed because the military firing range was in use and I would have to take the detour. Behind the flag flying modern lookout stood two Martello towers.
The detour took me past The Green and up to the Royal Military Canal which I would have to follow for a couple of kilometres. The alternative was to walk along the edge of the range on the main Dymchurch Road which was not very appealing.
The route along the canal took me past Hythe Station, part of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR), and continued alongside the narrow gauge railway tracks for a while. I had originally intended to use the RH&DR and catch a steam train from Dungeness to Hythe followed by a short bus ride to Folkestone but, sadly, the timetable for such a route was not in my favour and, in the end, I had to take use the bus for the whole route.
Walking between the railway line and the canal I could hear gunfire from the ranges. Quite a lot of it in fact! I could also hear a steam train approaching and thought I might be able to get a good picture of it but trees and bushes shrouded the railings that separated the path from the railway line.
I walked a little quicker hoping to find a gap in the trees while, at the same time, reaching for my camera. The gun-fire intensified. Ahead, I could see a gap in the trees and ran toward it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blue flash skim above the water of the canal. A kingfisher! I now had two targets to shoot with my camera and no time. I stopped abruptly at the gap in the trees and without aim, pressed the trigger on the camera in the general direction of the blue flash, without pausing to see the results of my actions I spun around and fired my camera through the gap at the steam engine.
As the clatter of the carriages passing by merged with that of the rifles in the distance, I holstered my camera and wondered if I had made either shot. Turning back to the canal, I scanned the banks for signs of life. Nothing. I continued along the path searching for the kingfisher. Eventually, in the distance, the sound of the steam engine’s whistle signalled an end to the excitement and my search. It was time to get back to my walk.
I eventually made it back to the coast at Dymchurch Redoubt which is the other end of the Hythe Ranges and at the beginning of Dymchurch. From here I followed the sea-wall through St Mary’s Bay and Littlestone-on-Sea before walking among the dunes at Greatstone and then the shingle back to Lydd-on-Sea where I had originally caught the bus.
I continued along the shingle to the Lifeboat Station, attracted by the sight of the lifeboat sitting outside on its launcher, and then head to the Pilot Inn for refreshments before returning to the car park.
In the evening, ‘Bianca’ and I were joined by other vans ‘wild camping’ at the car park. I didn’t get to meet any of their occupants and another good night’s sleep was had.
Bongo Bianca at Lade Car Park
Folkestone from the Leas
The Grand, Folkestone
The Metropole, Folkestone
The Leas looking toward Dungeness
In the distance, Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
The Coastal Path buried under the shingle at Sandgate
Hythe – Martello Towers and Red Flag!
Scanlons Bridge – Royal Military Canal
Just a glimpse of a steam train on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
Where are the trains when you need them!
Martello Tower at Dymchurch
Water Tower at Littlestone
The Lifeboat Station, Dungeness
Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
Bongo Bianca & Friends at Lade Car Park
Distance : 19 Miles
I parked at the Lade Car Park, Lydd-on-Sea and caught the Wave 102 bus to Folkestone. I then walked from Folkestone to Dungeness Lifeboat Station along the England Coast Path with a detour around Hythe Ranges.
Click HERE for a GPX file of the route.