Tour along the White Cliffs country!
White Cliffs Country, the closest crossing-point from mainland Britain to Europe, has always been on the frontline of history. And you can still experience the awesome majesty of coastal castles at Dover, Deal and Walmer. Nature, too, is at its spectacular best here and the invigorating sea air along this stretch of coast seems to encourage creative and inventive spirits – as our selection of attractions shows on this exhilarating route south.
Start in style in Sandwich with a wander around its delightful maze of streets and medieval buildings. Right in the heart of town are the aptly named Secret Gardens of Sandwich: 3.5 acres of ornamental and formal gardens by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll – maybe you’ll recognise their characteristic combination of strong architectural lines with artistic, inventive planting. Previously unseen for nearly 25 years, the gardens and lake have been restored to provide all-year colour. Come in and explore.
Another garden, another surprise: the Rare Species Conservation Centre & Zoo is set in two acres of exotic gardens on the Dover Road from Sandwich. RSCC cares for some of the world’s more unusual and endangered animal species, and sets a lead by running captive breeding facilities. Fancy coming face to face with sun bears, snow leopards or a Bali starling in Kent!
On southwards, to Deal where local ingenuity has traditionally been employed in more devious ways – smuggling! The whole of the coast was once prime territory for ‘free trading’, and preventive officers were constantly pitched in a battle of wits against the contrabandists. Step into the Timeball Tower Museum on the town’s historic seafront for an insight into the cat-and-mouse games they played, including a special semaphore system that sent covert messages about suspicious movements. Video, static and interactive displays cover three centuries of signalling, smuggling and navigation.
A parallel story is told on the cliff top at St Margaret’s Bay, where white-painted South Foreland Lighthouse stands as a striking sentinel. It was built in 1843 to aid ships navigating the dangerous Goodwin Sands, but is most famous for the work of two pioneers. English chemist and physicist Michael Faraday instigated the use of electricity in lighthouses here in the mid-19th century – South Foreland was the first ever lighthouse to display an electrically powered signal. Italian inventor GM Marconi also found it the perfect spot for his wireless experiments in 1898, and made the first ship-to-shore and international radio transmissions. Climb the tower with a guide and hear more tales, and be inspired by the breathtaking views.
St Margaret’s Bay provides another horticultural interlude. The Pines Garden is guaranteed to catch your eye with its imaginative grass labyrinth, lake, waterfall and art installations. While The Calyx, an innovative, award-winning events space points the way in sustainable, energy-efficient building.
Of course, the dazzling White Cliffs of Dover that dominate this stretch of shoreline are a natural icon of England, having been slowly created over 80 million years from the crushed remains of billions of sea-dwelling plants and animals. Browse the displays in the Visitor Centre for an overview of five miles of fantastic coast and countryside, flora and fauna.
You can set off on numerous exhilarating walks hereabouts. Up coast at St Margarets-at-Cliffe the Frontline Britain Trail wheels around a circular route revealing colourful local history and wildlife. Or trace a network of restored footpaths through Western Heights Local Nature Reserve, South Military Road, Dover: to fortifications from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as vistas of chalkland wildflowers and wildlife. Samphire Hoe, between Dover and Folkestone, is made from material dug to create the Channel Tunnel and provides all sorts of leisure activities, gentle walks, great picnic spots, birdwatching and sea angling.
Round off your White Cliffs Country tour at Europe’s finest working watermill, Crabble Corn Mill in the pretty village of River. Built in 1812, the mill demonstrates Georgian and Victorian engineering excellence, powered by nature’s great force – water. After you’ve investigated six floors of exhibits and milling machinery, enjoy a meal in the café and maybe buy some of the mill’s organic wholemeal flour from the farm shop.