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Posts Tagged ‘Folkestone’


This is where east meets west,
Dover Road and Augusta Gardens;
Where DFLs mix with Folky born and breds,
Cold war adjourned for one warm afternoon.

Tram Road traffic crawls and curls
Around a heaving Harbour Street,
Affording passengers an extended view
Of much loved, yet loathed, Grand Burstin.

A brisk breeze, cooling the searing sun,
Sweeps champagne flutes to a watery end
In the chastening Channel spray
That laps the lighthouse;
Proof that, sometimes, weather
Can be a first to place and time.

Sinatra’s call to Come Fly with Me
Gives way to the eclectic sounds
That entertain the growing queues
For Sole Kitchen and Hog and Hop.
While the Native Oyster Band
Has the crowds singing and swaying,
Kadialy Kouyate’s kora mesmerises,
Bringing the authentic sounds of
New Orleans and Senegal to
This English coastal paradise.

Children build bricks to knock them down,
Dash between Baba Ji and Pick Up Pintxos
Or search for the iron man in the water,
(Don’t worry, kids, he will be back!).


But if the heat and tumult are too much
And it is peace you pine for,
Retire inside to the Mole Cafe
For a mug of strong, hot tea
And a chocolate swiss roll,
Reminders of a quieter,
Yet more violent, time.

Tomorrow, normal service will be resumed;
DFLs will become RTLs
(Work it out!);
The Arm will be handed back
To anglers, cormorants and
A few unsuspecting souls,
Drenched by crashing waves
Cascading over the Folkestone sign.

But is this the lull before the storm?
Eden before the Fall?
Will those blissful views across
To ancient East Cliff and to Sunny Sands
Be there to inspire us still
In three, or five, or ten, years?

Or will the thunder of pick and drill
Drown out those of bass and drum?

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A biting breeze and thin drizzle
Denote December’s arrival,
As twilight descends on the
Twisting, narrow street
Once one of Dickens’s daily haunts.

Many months have passed since
Crazy, cacophonous Charivari
Had snaked up that old thoroughfare;
And the ground had groaned
Beneath the weight of red-laced “Doc” Martens,
Worn by pilgrims strutting towards the
Grand Burstin or Gillespie’s
For an afternoon of Special Brew
To the sounds of The Selecter,
Prince Buster and The Specials.

 

I turn into that quiet, twinkling lane
And long for one last lingering look
At the dazzling, daily alchemy
Conjured up in Rowland’s Rock Shop.

The aroma of craft beer
Wafting from Kipps’ Alehouse
Cannot compete with the memory
Of the sickly sweet perfume
Pervading Rowland’s, where
Once I gaped in awe at the
Thick, long sticks of heaven being rolled,
A bag of broken bits
A highlight of my annual holiday.

It was often claimed that if it
Were to shut its doors for good,
Folkestone would die.
A prediction, thankfully,

Since proven dramatically wrong,

 

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I stumble into Steep Street Coffee House
For flat white, cake, warmth and inspiration.
The self-styled Folkestone Poet
Has vacated his customary sales pitch
Across the way at Big Boys Burger,
His heavy overcoat and leather balaclava
No more a match for declining temperatures.

The bitter cold slices through my flimsy jacket
And hastens my progress down the hill,
But not without momentary glances
On either side at steepling steps
To ancient Bayle and modern Tontine Street.

 

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I cross into the empty fish market,
Tiptoeing around the grimy puddles
That appear to assemble here
Whether it has rained or not.

A solitary gull plods apologetically past,
Pining for Spring and the reopening
Of Chummy’s, Bob’s and La’s,
When it can return to terrorising tourists
For fish and chips and tubs of whelks.

Back at the foot of the winding street,
Christmas lights flutter into action
As children huddle excitedly
Outside Blooms for tonight’s instalment
Of the Living Advent Calendar,
Jewel in the crown of
Folkestone’s festive year.

Apart from the echo of my boots
Upon the cobbles,
Silence is restored
As I drag my freezing bones
Back up the hill.

But………..
As I turn the corner
At the top
I stop.

Was that really
A childlike squeal I heard?
And did I just catch
A whiff of granulated sugar?

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Rare town of Radnor and Rotunda,
Rowland’s rock shop and remembrance;
Even on this cold February morning
You have the power to enchant;
Strange Cargo’s Luckiest Place on Earth
Is not confined to the Central station.
Newly planted winter flowers,
Primrose and snowdrop, cyclamen and crocus,
Defy the bitter wind and freezing hail
On stately Leas and Kingsnorth Gardens.

Mouldering Martello wall,
Bonaparte’s mighty adversary,
Squints out across the grey blue sea,
Searching for our Cap Griz Nezbour;
While the cliffs, slowly, surreptitiously
Slide into the stirring sea below,
Where foreign fossil hunters trip
Among the seaweed and precarious rocks,
Exposed by low tide’s obligatory return.

Opening Day still six weeks ahead, the
Harbour Arm remains a magical spot;
“Gormley” winks across the harbour entrance
At doughty mermaid on dog-filled Sunny Sands;
Cormorants, gulls and a solitary fisherman,
Usurping the space where chairs and tables
For champagne drinkers will soon occupy,
Complete this noiseless, bracing scene.

Pieces of art, products of a reimagined town,
Embellish our streets and promenades,
Making honorary Folkestone folk of
Tuttofuoco, Coley and Tracey Emin,
Wallinger, Ruth Ewan and Yoko Ono.
The Living Advent Calendar and Pride,
Triennial, Charivari and Book Festival,
All further proof of energy and wit
That far exceeds its scale and reputation.

Food town no less than Art town,
Bridge breakfasts, Brew freakshakes,
And Beano’s griddled sandwiches
Tantalise my morning tastebuds;
While Alice’s and the Cliffe, Rocksalt and Follies,
Bloom’s, Luben’s, El Diamante and Cafeteria,
To name but just a tempting few,
Contend for my evening custom.

More than half a century your admirer,
Even through the tired, toiling times;
Recently reunited in joy and wonder,
I feel blessed to account you now my lover.

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That staple of coastal living,
The pre-dawn chorus
Of ducks and gulls,
Of pigeons and crows,
And a single menacing magpie,
Echoes across a misty Radnor Park.

Untimely ripped from a fractured slumber,
I prepare for my morning ritual
Of checking if the sea is still there
And that this is not all a dream.

Caught in a leaf storm along Castle Hill Avenue
Joni in my ears telling me
She doesn’t know where she stands,
And there it is, that ever, never changing view!
Dunkirk and Dungeness
Wink from across the water.

The Leas is rife with life this morning
Walkers, joggers, mobility scooters,
Teenagers with learning difficulties
On escorted pilgrimages around town,
From each and every one
A “good morning” or “isn’t it beautiful?”.

This is such a friendly town.

Vacant, whispering benches
Call out across the century,
Remembrance of courage and sacrifice
That allow me to wallow
In this stunning spectacle today.

As the sun begins to burn,
Parched dogs yank at leads
And stop to lap at the cool water
Filling the empty margarine boxes
Left outside the Leas Cliff Hall.

Below, on windswept Mermaid Beach,
Young children sprint into the sea,
Mindless of the pebble and shingle
That scrape and bruise their fragile feet;
But soon they head for the refuge of towels,
New victims of the unforgiving Channel chill.

Across town, on the old, cobbled street,
Where art and cake have usurped rock,
A triumvirate of weary sprucers,
Unheralded heroes of this dirty old town,
Trudge past the The Quarter Masters store
Trailing bags of indeterminate bulk.

Young men, slaves to their primal needs,
Cajole reluctant wives and girlfriends
Into lunch at Big Boys Burger;
Buggies resignedly hauled over the threshhold
Wake the sleeping child within,
Soon to shatter the peace of other diners

At the foot of the winding hill,
Gleeful children squeal with ecstasy
As the newly repaired fountains,
Wedged between pub and seafood stall,
Erupt in thrilling power shower.

Gulls squawk and squabble
Over the crab and seafood remnants
Lobbed periodically from Chummy’s staff,
Before resuming their ablutions
In inner harbour pools
Left by the receding tide.

A single gull plants itself on a table behind Bob’s
And pleads silently for a bite of my crab sandwich,
Or the family’s chips on the next bench;
A staring contest ensues as I begin to eat,
Not daring to avert my eyes for one second.

I try to rationalise with my insistent guest,
Explaining that feeding it would be cruel
But it seems unconvinced
And resumes its glare.

As I finish the last mouthful and fold the wrapping
It flaps its wings and screeches its disappointment,
Before scooting perilously past my left ear
In pursuit of more sympathetic diners.

On Sunny Sands, oblivious of mermaid stare
Dogs scamper breathlessly after balls
Hurled by owners, equally relieved
At their release from summer banishment.

I head for Steep Street,
Swiftly become my second home,
To capture this all in print;
Renewed self-confidence, even nerve
To write this down and share with you,
Another thing to thank Folkestone for,
Or is that blame?

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The pace and commotion of modern life renders it all the more crucial that we grasp those increasingly infrequent opportunities to draw breath and rest awhile.

Where I would take issue with the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, who asked what is this life if full of care / we have no time to stand and stare is that sitting works just as well.

And where better to do it than on a bench in the fresh air?

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We are so accustomed to lounging on a sofa, whether it be at home, watching mindless television, or in a coffee shop, spending money we haven’t got and aggravating our caffeine levels. Why not do the same in the great outdoors?

One answer might be that the provision of facilities to do that is not always plentiful.

But we cannot claim that excuse in Folkestone.

The town is blessed with more than its fair share, especially on the lovely Leas, once dubbed indisputably the finest marine promenade in the world,  where there are exactly one hundred wooden benches between the Step Short Arch and the Metropole Steps (seventy three alone between the Bandstand and the further of the large hotels (now apartments)). I would be surprised to learn if any other coastal resort had as many.

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So, what has sitting on a bench ever done for us?

Let me count the ways.

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To “rest our legs”.

To pause and just breathe.

To think or meditate.

To be quiet and let time pass.

To eat lunch.

To read a book or newspaper (ok, or a tablet/phone).

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To admire the view (and what a view!).

To watch the world go by.

To “people watch”.

To “sun bathe”.

To escape from conflict (at work or at home).

To grieve over disappointment or heartache.

To explore first love (within “reason” of course!).

Or a combination of any of the above.

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And then there are less conventional reasons:

To drink or take drugs.

To “hide” with a lover.

To beg from passers by.

I am sure you can think of others (conventional or otherwise).

The value placed on the view afforded by benches is no better illustrated than on the plaques that grieving families have had affixed to commemorate the lives of loved ones who have passed away.

Arguably, these benches are a more life-affirming tribute than a concrete slab in a crematorium, though they have their place too, of course.

Benches are a visible and practical demonstration of a bygone age in a hectic world. Celebratory and consolatory in equal measure.

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And, as we have seen above, they can serve so many purposes that nothing else can quite deliver.

Whilst this post has focused on the wooden benches that festoon the Leas, especially at the West End, there are others at the eastern end that sit beneath the Step Short Arch and speak movingly of Folkestone’s critical role in war.

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I may not have picked the best weather (at least in Folkestone) in which to urge readers who live within reasonable travelling distance of The Leas to rush outside and “take a pew” in the outdoors.

But wherever you may be, try to take whatever opportunity you can to “sit and stare”. Aside from improving your mental wellbeing, you might just finish that book.

Or at least your lunch.

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I am proposing to run twice, possibly thrice, weekly walking tours of Folkestone next summer (May to September 2017).

There are many practical considerations, including health and safety, marketing and potential licensing, that need to be addressed in the opening weeks of the New Year, but the crucial issue is the integrity of the tour itinerary itself.

Below are my initial thoughts on what route to take, and the issues to highlight at each stop and during the walk itself.

Currently, I envisage the tour lasting no longer than two hours.

These are still early thoughts and are subject to change. Being still a relative newbie, there is a distinct possibility that I may have missed something. This is where long term residents of Folkestone and others who have, like myself, come to love the town, can help me in fine tuning the details. I would be extremely grateful for their input and support.

I intend to finalise this by the end of February, allowing two months to work up the detailed commentary and supporting material.

I am extremely grateful for your assistance in this. Don’t feel you need to be gentle with me!

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Start: By the Earth Peace sign in front of The Grand Hotel on The Leas

Stop 1: The Grand Hotel
a. outline of tour – duration – route – stops – toilets – refreshments – approach to questions
b. history of The Leas and Folkestone as a holiday destination – English & French coast highlights
c. history of The Grand, including rivalry with The Metropole & links to royalty

d. introduction to Folkestone Triennial & Folkestone Artworks, specifically Earth Peace (Yoko Ono)

Walk 1: Along The Leas, passing the View Hotel, Ruth Ewan (clock) and Mark Ballinger’s (Folk Stones) artworks & talking benches

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Stop 2: Leas Cliff Hall 
a. history – construction – programme
b. William Harvey statue

Walk 2: Along The Leas passing the Leas Pavilion Theatre and the Leas Lift

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Stop 3: Step Short Arch
a. Folkestone’s role in war
b. construction
c. War Memorial
d. poppies

Walk 3: Down the Road of Remembrance

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Stop 4: Harbour Station / Harbour Arm entrance
a. role of trains bringing soldiers/holidaymakers
b. history of ferry / hovercraft services
c. Hamish Fulton’s metal sign
d. Grand Burstin Hotel
e. regeneration plans

Walk 4: Along the Harbour Arm, taking in views of the Harbour 

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Stop 5: Lighthouse on Harbour Arm

a. history
b. Weather is a Third to Place and Time artwork
c. Champagne Bar

Walk 5: Back along Harbour Arm and towards Harbour

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Stop 6: Harbour
a. fish market
b. history of fishing c/f activity today
c. seafood stalls
d. Rocksalt

Walk 6: Along The Stade to Sunny Sands

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Stop 7: Sunny Sands
a. beach & Coronation Parade
b. views to France, Harbour Arm, East Cliff, Dover Strait, the Warren & Samphire Hoe
c. Folkestone Mermaid (Cornelia Parker)

Walk 7: Back along The Stade and across to Creative Quarter entrance


Stop 8: The Old High Street
a. history
b. role of Creative Quarter
c. Quarterhouse

Walk 8: Up the Old High Street and onto The Bayle, highlighting galleries, restaurants and coffee shops

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Stop 9: The Bayle
a. history
b. Parade Steps
c. Shangri-La
d. British Lion
e. pond – child’s mitten (Tracey Emin)

Walk 9: Around The Bayle into Church Street

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Stop 10: Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe
a. history of christianity in Folkestone
b. life & sainthood of St Eanswythe

Walk 10: Through churchyard and along The Leas towards the Leas Lift

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Stop 11: Leas Lift
a. history – construction – importance
b. take lift down to Marine Parade

Walk 11: Along Marine Parade to entrance of Lower Leas Coastal Park


Stop 12: Lower Leas Coastal Park
a. background, construction & awards
b. Fun Zone
c. Amphitheatre
d. Adam Chodzko’s Pyramid

Walk 12: Through Lower Leas Coastal Park to beginning of Zigzag Path

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Stop 13: Zigzag Path
a. history

Walk 13: Up the Zigzag Path and along The Leas to The Grand Hotel

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Stop 14: The Grand Hotel
Finish by the Earth Peace sign in front of The Grand Hotel on The Leas

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If ever I need a respite from the hubbub of Folkestone town centre, there is no better area to take cover in than The Bayle. Bordering the Harbour via the Parade Steps, the Creative Quarter by Bayle Street and Sandgate Road at the end of pretty Church Street, it provides a welcome haven of peace and quiet.

Just off the beaten track, it is largely undiscovered by all but locals.

Today, I am accessing it from the recently refurbished Parade Steps that run from Harbour Street, alongside Gillespies bar at the True Briton.

Folkestone has more than its share of crippling paths and stairways, not least the Metropole Steps and Zigzag Path that link the main beach from The Leas, but the hundred or more steps that need to be negotiated here match the most difficult. Their saving grace is that they do afford the intrepid climber fantastic views of the harbour and the Channel beyond when, as is essential, they pause for a breather at each level.

At the top you encounter not only Shangri-La, now discredited as a wartime German spy centre, but also fine multi-occupancy buildings like Blue Diamond House on Bayle Street.

Eschewing the Bail Steps, that lead back down to the Old High Street, I turn left at the friendly Guildhall pub onto The Bayle itself.  Within a hundred yards I come across the Bayle Pond Gardens, lovingly maintained by the residents’ association.

The pond is home to another of the Folkestone Artworks found scattered around the town. One of Tracey Emin’s collection of “baby things”, a bedraggled, brightly coloured mitten, is attached to the railings that encase the pond.

Properties, a mix of attractive brick and weatherboarded cottages and modern apartment blocks, are sought after and, as this recent house hunter can attest, relatively expensive.

Moreover, the significance of this part of town was recognised when number 5 Bayle Street was chosen to launch the fabulous Folkestone Living Advent Calendar programme on 1st December last and, fifteen days later, the Dance Easy / Folkestone Yoga studio at number 19 took its turn in the festivities.

In addition to the already mentioned Guildhall pub, this compact area also boasts Folkestone’s oldest watering hole, the British Lion, reputedly built no later than 1500, and Charles Dickens’s local when he stayed at nearby 3, Albion Villas.

Recovered remains from archaeological digs have revealed that the area was occupied in the late Iron Age and Roman periods, but it was not until the seventh century AD that Folkestone gained its most celebrated citizen.

The daughter of King Eadbald, St. Eanswythe, an intelligent, wilful and devout young woman, rejected numerous Anglo-Saxon suitors and opted for the religious life by establishing a small nunnery and dedicating herself and other women to prayer and service of the poor. On her death in 640, her tomb became the object of prayer and pilgrimage and her relics were sought after and venerated. She was made a saint almost immediately.

Standing between bare winter trees and amidst battered headstones, the current Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe, built upon a twelfth century original, is a lovely, tranquil space.

There are several routes in and out of the churchyard. My personal favourite is to walk through the internal gate, along the path (which starts on Priory Gardens) back to the War Memorial, taking in glorious views of the Channel above the rooftops of Marine Parade.

I’ll leave my favourite rock band (again) to encapsulate how I feel about The Bayle:

Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart

You just gotta poke around.

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