Friday, June 6, 2014

On The White Cliffs Of Dover

The White Cliffs of Dover
I remember hearing about the White Cliffs of Dover for years and wondered if their chalky color was as real in person as it was in the pictures I had seen. And thanks to a recent visit I can now firmly state that they are.

Soaring 350 feet above the English Channel and located about 21 miles from the northern coast of France, these chalky white cliffs are an impressive sight. The distance is so short that on a clear day, much like the one we visited, you can clearly France from the top of the cliffs. During the 1940 Battle of Britain, reporters are said to have watched the aerial maneuvers of the British and German pilots from the top of them. The cliffs themselves are composed of chalk, flint and quartz but because of their materials, are actually quite soft. This results in their eroding just under half an inch a year. Now this may not sound like a lot but over time it adds up. And sometimes, as was the case as recently as 2001 and again in 2012, large chunks of the cliffs have given way and collapsed into the sea. (Hence the reason visitors are advised to stay away from the edges of the cliffs).

Another perspective
Today, visiting the cliffs is a breathtaking experience. The day we visited defied our weather expectations as we experienced nothing but clear blue skies and lots of bright sunshine. Much of the area surrounding the cliffs is protected by the National Trust whose members may access the site for free. For the rest of us, we paid a nominal fee to park our car but were then free to rambled across the grassy cliff tops for free. (Seriously, this is one of the best value historic sites I've ever visited). There is a visitor center on site as well as the ubiquitous gift shop and cafe but the best part of the visit is just getting out and exploring. A series of well worn paths crisscrosses the length of the cliffs. Trails are both well marked and unmarked providing the opportunity to take the "high"route well away from the cliff edge or the "lower" route which follows the dips and rises of the earth as it hugs the edges of the cliff. Or you can take the in between route which offers you a bit of both. Along the way there are plenty of benches where you can sit and rest and informational placards detailing the rich history of the area. Part of the route takes you alongside a sheep pasture and fields filled with wildflowers. If these sights weren't enough to take in, from the highest point on the cliffs we could simultaneously look west and see the Dover Castle, look south and see the shores of France and east to see the South Foreland Lighthouse which was built in 1843. It was all pretty spectacular. And because we were visiting in the middle of the week we had much of the place to ourselves.

After leisurely stroll up and down the hills we treated ourselves to a traditional cream tea at a cute little tea house that shared space with the lighthouse. Sidney checked out the old cannons that were on the lighthouse grounds while I simply enjoyed the view and the smell of the sea air. I have come to realize that not all sea air is created equal; the warm sultry smells of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas only vaguely resemble the crisp Atlantic smells I grew up with. For me, the air in Dover was reminiscent of my childhood. The walk back to the car was slower; we took the "lower" route which had considerably more dips and hills, including a rather steep set of stairs that scaled a hill. But the climb was worth it. Actually the entire visit was worth it and although it was the first stop on our getaway to Kent it was by far my favorite. I dare say I would return in a heartbeat.

Worn paths crisscrossing the top of the cliffs
If you go:

The White Cliffs of Dover & South Foreland Lighthouse
Upper Road
Dover, Kent
Telephone: 01304 202756

No comments:

Post a Comment